20 January 2013

Rwanda: Foreign Coaches - Do We Need Them?

The African Cup of Nations has gotten underway in South Africa, and once again our 'national pride,' Amavubi, is reduced to being spectators. It is a sad reality that, after more than a decade of big paychecks to foreign coaches, there is absolutely no result. Zilch!

Whatever hope might have been sparked by the 2011 participation in the U-17 world cup in Mexico, has long since evaporated. And yet the Ministry of Culture and Sports together with Ferwafa insist on working with foreign coaches whom they pay lavish salaries.

It is the same on the rest of the continent. Despite the rise in prominence of African football with an fast increasing number of players shining in the major European leagues, and several African teams doing rather well in the World cup, most countries continue to be skeptical about employing local football coaches for their national sides.

Thus the continent has become a goldmine for European coaches, some even with rather flimsy resumes, who promise to turn around the fortunes of national football teams. The allure has been so enticing that local football federations have fallen for these coaches at the expense of the game and local coaches.

Most African football powerhouses like Cameroon, Senegal and Nigeria have their success stories mirrored down on their respective foreign coaches. When Cameroon reached the quarter finals of the 1994 World Cup in the USA, they were under the tutelage of Russian coach Valeri Nepomniachi.

When Senegal replicated the feat in 2002, Frenchman Bruno Metsu was in charge. It was the same story with Ghana's Black Stars when they reached the quarters during the 2010 Fifa World Cup in South Africa with Serbian coach Milovan Rajevac at the helm. Last year, when Zambia's Chipolopolo clinched their first ever African Cup of Nations title, they were under Frenchman Herve Renard.

The role of foreign coaches in African football has always been a sticky issue. While some of these coaches have made some great achievements, others have simply failed despite huge perks. A case in point is Rwanda's senior national football team, the Amavubi Stars. It is said that the team's head coach Milutin 'Micho' Sredojevic' pockets a staggering US$ 16,000 in monthly wages.

Since Rotamir Djukovic's heroics in 2004 when he guided the Wasps to their first and only African Nations Cup, seven foreign coaches have taken on the mantle but with no significant contribution. Surprisingly, that has not deterred the Ministry of Sports and Culture (Minispoc) from continuing to spend lavishly on them.

There is no problem paying huge wages when the coach in question is delivering. Unfortunately, that has not been the case. In particular, Ferwafa's incompetence was exposed in 2007 when Josip Kuze relinquished his position as Amavubi head coach after just five weeks at the helm. The Croatian who had signed a three-year deal in November 2007 walked out on the Wasps in January 2008 after receiving a better offer from Japan's J-League side JEF United Ichihara Chiba (his stay in Japan lasted only four months).

This of course raises a tricky issue: if a club team from a not so prominent league can outbid a government, then indeed you have to offer a decent wage package to those coaches. Yet in Rwanda's case, only have they failed to qualify Amavubi for the Nations Cup or the World Cup, even regional success has continued to elude the Wasps considering that their only success in Cecafa dates back to 1999.

Local coaches overlooked

So the question is, why has Minispoc continued to spend such insane amounts of money on foreign coaches?

According to Edward Kalisa, the ministry's permanent secretary, it won't be long before the trend changes. "We have already made headway with local clubs as far as giving our local players more playing time is concerned and believe me, it won't be long before we have our very own coach for the national team," a very optimistic Kalisa said.

However, some other officials who preferred anonymity argued that local coaches still need to improve their standards. "It is not about being local or foreign; it is about having the qualifications. Most of our local coaches don't have that qualification and that is the biggest problem," one official explained.

This vice is not only limited to Rwanda. Tanzanian clubs have turned to foreign coaches, believing that they have what it takes to win local and international tournaments. Simba, Young Africans (Yanga) and Azam have stopped making use of local coaches because they believe that local coaches are incapable of turning around their fortunes.

Whilst top Tanzanian clubs turn to foreign coaches for salvation, local coaches in Tanzania's Vodacom Premier League have their own stories to tell. For instance, they claim that it is very difficult to win against top clubs in the league because more often than not they are 'let down' by their club.

Some top local coaches who have had the opportunity of coaching Simba and Young Africans claim that during their time with the two clubs, the kind of assistance they got was a far cry compared to what foreign coaches get. Not only are foreign coaches better paid, but they are also more listened to.

Their argument is that had they been given the same treatment, they could have done better and who knows, such clubs may not have required the services of foreign coaches. Indeed, when Simba reached the continent's CAF finals in November 1993, it was under the management of Abdallah Kibadeni.

And the same happened in 1980 when Taifa Stars qualified for the first time in its history for the Africa Nations Cup in Lagos, Nigeria; it was under the stewardship of Joel Bendera. Therefore, although foreign coaches are pampered and more listened to by top clubs, the truth still remains - they have miserably failed to deliver.

Last week, Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi strongly criticized the role of some white coaches in African football. "They are coming to Africa just for the money. They are not doing anything that we cannot do. I am not racist but that's just the way it is," he said.

Keshi, who won the Nations Cup as a player in 1994, was also critical of the attitude taken by some of the continent's governing bodies. The former Togo coach feels that there is a substantial difference in the way that local and foreign coaches are treated by football associations across Africa.

"African coaches, when [federations] employ them, [the federations] want them to win the World Cup, the Africa Cup of Nations and every game instantly. Meanwhile, foreign coaches are given all the time in the world to acquaint themselves with the country, the players and so on. That is unprofessional and is one thing that is killing African football," Keshi grumbled.

Eric Nshimiyimana shares this sentiment. While interim coach for Amavubi, the APR coach concedes that the federations don't have confidence in local coaches. "It's just a question of having a little faith in someone to execute their duties and I don't think it is a big ask because foreign coaches get it in abundance."

Of the 16 coaches in South Africa for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, nine hail from either Europe or South America while seven are from Africa, although many believe that local coaches seem to be closing the gap on their foreign adversaries as far as Nations Cup success is concerned.

Out of the 28 editions of the Nations Cup, 15 have been won by foreign coaches while locals have won 13. Ivory Coast won the 1992 Africa cup of nations with a local trainer in Yeo Martial, South Africa did the same in 1996 with Clive Barker, Egypt had a triple winning streak with Hassan Shehata, Ghana also won titles with Charles Gyamfi, just to name a few.

National pride

It is irrational for Africa to continue to maintain an unproductive status quo, and to keep on spending piles of money on foreign coaches most of who do not end up achieving results. Rwanda of course has had a good number of such joker coaches who come, reap and go.

The list includes Roger Palmgren (2004-2005) who was recently sacked by South African Premier Soccer League (PSL) side Amazulu, Michael Nees (2006-2007), Josip Kuze (five weeks), Raoul Shungu (interim coach), Branko Tucak (2008-2009) and Micho's predecessor Ghana's Sellas Tetteh (2010-2011).

These foreign coaches do not have a sense of patriotism and allegiance, in terms of nationality or natural connection for the countries they coach. Many of them care more about money and maybe professional success, but that sense of nationality, one which inherently makes a coach go the extra mile to achieve success at the World Cup, is missing.

As such, these coaches don't feel that sense of passion while sitting on the bench. There is also a possibility that they don't connect with the players as much as a local coach would, particularly when you account for potential language barriers.

For a national coach it is very important to realize the passion, pride and culture. But for a foreigner, it takes more time to achieve that.

That said, while African coaches have become experts at junior tournaments, where they win laurels, put them in charge of a senior side and they often disappoint. Tetteh was celebrated in 2009 for becoming the first African to have won the Fifa Under-20 World Cup in Egypt after having won the African version a few months before. Rwanda immediately gave him a well deserved promotion to be in charge of the Amavubi only to fail miserably.

Ferwafa and Minispoc urgently need to revise their strategy.

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