African veterans see mistakes in system (Feature)
By Florian Luetticke Jun 22, 2010, 18:12 GMT
Hamburg - Utopian hopes, chaotic federations and continuous coaching changes are the biggest obstacles to success for African national teams, according to a trio of Germans with coaching experiences in the continent.
Former Cameroon and Togo national team coach Otto Pfister said not even hosting a World Cup would help African nations reach their hoped status as football powers.
'I don't expect that any of the coaches of African nations will survive after the tournament,' Pfister told the German Press Agency dpa.
According to the German coach, the past problems for African sides are largely of their own doing.
Pfister recalled one episode from the World Cup qualifying campaign with Cameroon.
'In the first game with Cameroon a player agent was sitting on the bench. That just doesn't happen,' said Pfister, who resigned as Cameroon coach in May 2009.
The ever-revolving coaching carousel is one of the biggest problems for African nations.
Just months before the South African World Cup was due to kick off, both Nigeria and Ivory Coast looked to Sweden for new coaches and picked Lars Lagerback and Sven Goran Eriksson respectively.
'You can see that the Ivorians are playing too defensive, it's against their nature. They are not really able to combine their African roots and European discipline,' said German coach Uli Stielike of the poor showing of the Ivory Coast - whom he led until 2008.
All told, the six African teams at this World Cup have seen 24 different coaches since Germany 2006. Ivory Coast alone has had four different bosses in the past two years.
'You have to plan long term, so that they can get accustomed to the mentality. You can't look into the hearts of players in such a short time,' Stielike told dpa.
Cameroon found their way into the hearts of the football world in 1990, when they became the first African nation to reach the quarter-finals of a World Cup.
That would not be a huge surprise nowadays if teams had prepared accordingly.
'I said years ago that when the organization and the bonus regulation are okay and the right coach is there - and he has time and works diligently - then a team like Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Ghana or Cameroon must reach a World Cup final,' Winfried Schaefer, who coached Cameroon at the 2002 World Cup.
The 60-year-old German coach experienced the African reality first hand at Korea/Japan. The Cameroon team fought over bonuses and had a nightmare odyssey on their way to Japan and ended up getting bounced in the first round.
And despite enjoying the services of an ultra star like Samuel Eto'o, the central Africans were eliminated from South Africa after just two group matches.
Things do not look much better with Algeria, Nigeria and Ivory Coast. Meanwhile, South Africa became the first World Cup host nation not to reach the second round.
All told, the African sextet has won just two of 13 matches, including South Africa's 2-1 victory on Tuesday.
'I am disappointed,' admitted Schaefer.
And he is not the only one not satisfied with the course of the World Cup for Africa's teams.
'The African nations have world class players everywhere, but the officials tear lumps out of each other. And the officials are not in their posts because of their knowledge but for political reasons,' said Pfister, whose first experience in Africa came with the Ruanda team in 1972.
Usually it's sports ministers - only short term in office anyhow - who want to see success at any price.
'Expectations are utopian,' said Pfister.
'Nigeria's president for example said 'We want to become world champions.' Football has so much power in Africa that even heads of states must fear for their jobs if their team fails.'
Those in the know say a solution to African football's spiral of disappointing results and over-reactions afterwards is quite easy - prepare ahead of time.
'The next World Cup is in 2014. You have to start with the preparations now. Systematically observe players, bring in good youth coaches, and try to keep the talents in your own country,' suggested Schaefer.
But his and the experiences of Pfister and Stielike speak of an entirely different dynamic.
'Africans only think about today,' said Schaefer.