Indigenous Coaches Lead Africa’s World Cup Campaign

Ghana Black Stars Coach Otto Addo


At the first-ever World Cup to be hosted on Arab soil, there is another unprecedented topic of near-equal significance especially for the African representation at football’s most prestigious event. When Morocco parted company with national team coach Vahid Halilhodzic last month, three months before the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, the country’s football federation (FRMF) said it was a decision reached because of internal disagreements on how to prepare the Atlas Lions for the Mondial. However, that decision created an opportunity to appoint a coach whose ideals aligned perfectly with the FRMF’s preparation strategies for the country’s senior men’s national football team. The Federation eventually settled for Walid Regragui, a former Moroccan international, who played as a defender for club and country, garnering no fewer than 46 caps during an active career that spanned 13 years. That decision to pick Regragui has historic significance for the African continent because it means that, for the first time, all five African representatives that have secured tickets for the quadrennial spectacle will be led by native, indigenous coaches.

THEWILL looks at the pedigree of these coaches, Walid Regragui of Morocco, Rigobert Song of Cameroon, Otto Addo of Ghana and Aliou Cisse of Senegal, all of whom played international football for their different countries, and Jalel Kadri, who will be in charge of Tunisia at the Qatar tournament to identify what they bring to their teams. Herein, it shall also be established what this significant occurrence means for the continent and the immeasurable benefits that will accrue to the continuous development of the local game if they are successful in carrying their teams to making exploits when hostilities kickoff in Group F for Morocco, Group G for Cameroon, Group H for Ghana, Group A for Senegal and Group D for Tunisia.

The choice of Regragui by the Moroccan Football Federation to manage the Atlas Lions at Qatar was a no-brainer for those conversant with football competitions on the continent. If there was confidence in any homegrown talents to improve on the coaching of Halilhodzic, the 46-year-old Regragui fitted the bill. He had the experience to organise a winning team through the rigours of an international competition and the marathon of a local league. The 69-year-old Halilhodzic who took charge of the North Africans in August 2019, led the Moroccan team to the quarter-finals of this year’s TotalEnergies Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon and then secured World Cup qualification in March following a 5-2 aggregate win over DR Congo before the disagreements that led to the two parties amicably parting ways.

Regragui has the record to match the confidence reposed in his capacity to take this team progress to a level befitting their participation in Qatar. He was born on September 23, 1975 in Corbeil-Essonnes, France meaning he was eligible to represent Les Bleus but he elected to stick with his country of origin, Morocco. As a right-back, there was not much in terms of standout records from his playing career. In between representing the Moroccan national team, he was a player for Racing Santander, Toulouse, Grenoble, and AC Ajaccio. In the summer of 2009, Regragui transferred from Moroccan club Moghreb Tétouan to Grenoble for the last move of his active days as a player before making the switch to football management.

In September 2012, Regragui started working as an assistant football coach for Morocco’s national team. On October 1, 2013, Rachid Taoussi was fired as head coach, and, as assistant, Regragui’s contract was also terminated. He accepted a head coaching position at Fath Union Sport for the 2014/2015 season on May 8, 2014 and, by mutual accord, he left the team on January 22, 2020 after leading the team to life the Moroccan Throne Cup in the 2013/2014 season and the Botola Pro trophy in the 2015/2016 campaign. Regragui was named the Wydad AC head coach on August 10, 2021. He guided Wydad AC to its third CAF Champions League championship in May this year, defeating reigning champions and African football powerhouse Al Ahly in the final as only the second Moroccan manager to win the African Champions League after Hussein Ammouta’s triumph with Wydad in 2017. It is this winning mentality he hopes to incite in the team as they head to Qatar.

Alongside the Moroccans, Cameroon’s coach Song is no stranger to the high stakes of World Cup competitions, as he takes charge of their challenge for the title in November. Born July 1, 1976, he was a constant feature for the national team between 1993 and 2010 before transitioning to become coach of his country’s Under-23 national team. Renowned for his defensive prowess, he was irreplaceable in the defense line and participated in a record eight Africa Cup of Nations competitions, captained five of them (apart from South Africa 1996, Burkina Faso 1998, and Angola 2010) and holds the record for the most consecutive games played in the competition with 35 first team games. He was part of their triumphant teams at the 2000 and 2002 AFCON competitions, where his contributions were vital to their victories.

Professionally, Song started at Metz where he won the Coupe de la Ligue in 1996 before joining Salernitana, newly promoted to Serie A two years later. In 1999, he had successive stints with Liverpool, West Ham United and 1. FC Köln, but after failing to hold down a first-team place, he returned to France to play for Lens until 2004 when he moved to Turkey with Galatasaray to win two Süper Lig titles and the Turkish Cup. In 2008, he switched to Trabzonspor in 2008, won the Turkish Cup and stayed until 2010. Song is the only player, aside from Zinedine Zidane, to have been dismissed in two different World Cups, once against Brazil in 1994 and once against Chile in 1998. He was 17 years old when he become the youngest player ever to be dismissed from a World Cup. But, it is hoped that he will bring a solid disciplinary arc and indomitable winning mentality to the team going to Qatar.

In line with the theme of being born abroad but choosing to represent one’s country of origin, Ghana’s coach Addo was born on June 9, 1975 in Hamburg, West Germany. Playing as an attacking midfielder and winger, he spent all of his playing career in the German football scene with stints in clubs like VfL 93 Hamburg, Hannover 96, Borussia Dortmund, Mainz 05 and Hamburger SV, where he finished his active career. At the highpoint of his Bundesliga days, he won the 2001/2002 Bundesliga trophy with Dortmund, the club’s third in their history. He also turned up for the Black Stars of Ghana during the period for seven years beginning in 1999. In his debut, Ghana walloped Eritrea 5-0 in February 28, 1999. He rose to prominence on the global stage when he served as the nation’s captain during the 2000 AFCON.

In 2009, Addo began his coaching career with his old team, Hamburger SV first as a youth team coach and then, as assistant manager. Prior to the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations, Addo was appointed head scout of the Ghana national football team, succeeding Ibrahim Tanko. In April 2019, became “talent coach” for former side Dortmund after serving in a same capacity at Borussia Mönchengladbach. As an interim assistant to Edin Terzić, he won his first trophy as a coach after Dortmund defeated RB Leipzig in the finals of the 2020–21 DFB-Pokal. In February this year, he was made interim coach of the Black Stars and helped them qualify for Qatar on the away-goal rule against favourites Nigeria and will be hoping to give the Ghanaian team their best World Cup outing ever.

Of all the African coaches, Cisse is the oldest at the job who also played for the national team. The most recent recipient of the CAF award for best coach led the Senegalese team to their first ever victory at the AFCON in the Morocco-hosted edition to the jubilation of a grateful country. It was redemption for the coach who was born on March 24, 1976, as 20 years ago, when Cameroon defeated Senegal to win AFCON, Cisse missed the decisive penalty attempt in the shootout. But, the Teranga Lions recovered from that sad loss months later to shock France at the 2002 World Cup, defeating the tournament’s defending champions 1-0 in their opening match. They advanced quickly to the quarterfinals of the Korea/Japan event but were eliminated by Turkey through a “golden goal” in the final eight fixture.

Having played for Paris Saint-Germain between 1998 and 2002, Birmingham City and Portsmouth, in his active days, he in the defensive midfielder and occasionally as a centre back positions, he retired at Ligue 2’s Nîmes in 2009. He soon ventured into management and started off as the assistant coach of the U-23s in 2012 and 2013. Fortunately, in 2015, he replaced Frenchman Alain Giresse as the Teranga Lions coach after they crashed out of that year’s AFCON at the group stages and had gradually built the team to the level of champions that they finally attained this year and demonstrated when they beat Egypt again to pick the ticket to Qatar. He will be closely watched as Senegal look to improve on their world cup record this year.

Of the five indigenous coaches only Tunisia’s Kadri, born December 14, 1971, did not play football before taking up managerial duties. This possibly allowed him the luxury to have managed at no fewer than 20 teams in a coaching career spanning the years from 2001 to the present. With the experience coaching clubs as diverse as EGS Gafsa, Jendouba Sport, US Monastir, Al-Ansar FC, Al-Nahda Club, CA Bizertin, Emirates Club, Al Ahli Tripoli amongst others, his appointment as Tunisian coach still had the hand of good fortune with Nigeria’s Super Eagles playing a big role in the process. At the knockout stage of this year’s AFCON in January, Tunisia met Nigeria and Kadri had to replace the first coach, COVID-19 infected head coach Mondher Kebaier in leading the team. They beat Nigeria, regarded as the best team in the tournament, 1–0 to progress instead. By the end of January, he was made head coach and qualified Tunisia for Qatar with a 1-0 aggregate over two legs against Mali.

The five African coaches’ participation in the FIFA World Cup in Qatar is a significant step in the growth of African football. This is sufficient evidence that, when and if given the chance, local expertise can also work effectively. The entire world will have the chance to learn about the skills of African tacticians. The benefits are numerous, and one of them is that the money spent on the coaching staff will support economic growth in the nation. Furthermore, it means that, should they succeed in Qatar, they would offer a realistic model that other nations will be urged to use for the ongoing advancement of football on the continent.