By Robson Sharuko
Harare - The 2018 FIFA World Cup finals in Russia will feature only two African coaches - Aliou Cisse of Senegal and Nabil Maaloul of Tunisia – in yet another demonstration that gaffers from the continent are not really held in high esteem when it comes to the battle for the greatest football prize.
Both Cisse and Maaloul starred for the national teams they are leading in Russia but three other African representatives – Nigeria, Morocco and Egypt – have invested their trust in foreign coaches from Europe and South America to guide them.
Nigeria are under the guidance of German coach Gernot Rohr, who has had stints in Africa coaching Gabon and Burkina Faso and also taking charge of top Tunisian side Etoile du Sahel.
Egypt were shepherded into the first World Cup finals in 28 years by Argentinian tactician Hector Cuper while Morocco are under the tutelage of Frenchman Herve Renard, who has enjoyed a lot of success in Africa, including guiding Zambia to the African Cup of Nations success in 2012.
Relations between European and South American coaches and journalists in Africa have always been frosty, amid accusations from some members of the media that the coaches seem to come to the continent with the stereotype that those who work in the game here are not qualified to question them.
Already, the Nigeria Football Federation has been forced to dismiss allegations that Rohr accused Nigerian journalists of being a corrupt bunch ahead of the Super Eagles’ adventure in Russia, where they will be in Group D that also features Argentina, Iceland and Croatia.
The NFF said in a statement this week that “the Super Eagles handler told us categorically that he never said all journalists were corrupt. He sent us a transcript of the interview he granted and nowhere in it was the word ‘corrupt’ used.
“He did admit to stating that people, who acted as agents, put pressure on his crew on who to pick in the World Cup squad and also that the pages of the papers were awash with claims and counterclaims but never did he state that the media had no right or that they were corrupt in their approach.”
The Nigerian football leadership also added that the Super Eagles coach was in “the middle of preparing for a big assignment – negotiating the World Cup in Russia (otherwise he would have responded personally) – and all we can enjoin Nigerians to do is get behind him and our Super Eagles team in seeing that we reach appreciable heights in this forthcoming World Cup tournament.
“(For) almost two years now, Rohr has built a wonderful relationship with Nigeria – his players, his employers and we are sure that he is on amiable terms with the media.
“We would like to encourage this camaraderie and try not to allow misquotes and wrongly perceived comments to derail what the federation is trying to achieve with him for our football.”
Rohr is reported to be the third highest paid coach, in charge of an African team, at this World Cup with earnings of about US$600,000 in basic pay per year, while Cuper leads the pack with US$1.8 million a year and Renard in second place with US$920,000 a year.
Totalsportek, which revealed the salaries, said Maaloul is taking home about US$450,000 a year in basic pay while Cisse is the least paid of the coaches in charge of the African teams at the World Cup on about US$235,000 in basic pay per year.
Defending champions German’s coach, Joachim Low, is the highest paid of the coaches at the 2018 World Cup, where he is getting US$4.2 million a year in basic pay while Brazil’s Tite is second with a salary of US$4.1 million a year and Frenchman Didier Deschamps is on about US$4 million an annum.
Cisse captained his Senegalese side to a dream run at the 2002 World Cup, where the Lions of Teranga reached the quarterfinals, beating the then World Champions France in their first game before they were knocked out by a golden goal by Turkey.
“Every generation has their realities. We can look back at 2002 for inspiration but we must not necessarily measure our work with it,” he told ACLsports.
“I believe I have a good team that is hungry for success and progress. We want to fight, we want to play. Who told you Japan is a small team?
Who told you Colombia are pushovers. Even Brazil don’t want to meet Colombia. “And Poland, they’ve got lots of players in the German Bundesliga. We need to be fit and prepared 100%, and also be in a competitive mood before and during the competition. That is very important. You must soak yourself in it to be able to fly or else you would be overrun.”
The lack of trust in African coaches, though, when it comes to the World Cup, remains there for everyone to see.
When the first African side plunges into this World Cup battle, teams from the continent would have competed at this global football showcase on 44 occasions and only on 14 occasions would they have been guided by a coach from Africa.
The first African side to feature at the World Cup was Egypt in 1934 and the Pharaohs were guided by a Scottish coach James McRea, who had played for Manchester United and West Ham during his career.
Interestingly, the first victory by an African team at the World Cup was masterminded by a coach from this continent when Abdelmajid Chetali guided Tunisia to a 3-1 victory over Mexico in the 1978 FIFA World Cup hosted by Argentina.
The first African coaches from Sub-Saharan Africa to guide a team at the FIFA World Cup arrived at the show in 2002 in South Korea and Japan when Nigeria and South Africa invested into their own coaches in Festus Onigbinde and Jomo Sono.
Both did not fare with a lot of distinction.
"European coaches are different because they can offer a lot more than the matchday," former Nigerian forward Peter Odemwingie told BBC Sport.
"They can prepare better tactically rather than just relying on talent, which is what our coaches did.
"Now football has gone to sports science, nutrition… these are things some of our coaches had never even heard about.
"We're more dependent on experienced coaches but we've a problem because we're trying to grow our own managers and coaches."