In this article, Bleacher Report’s African expert Ed Dove profiles five of the best African coaches in football today.
Nigeria boss Stephen Keshi profited from the heightened profile afforded to the African game during the recent Cup of Nations to highlight the dearth of homegrown managers testing their mettle at the top level of the continental game. Despite Frenchman Herve Renard’s victory with Zambia 12 months previously, Keshi suggested that the only way the African game would develop would be with native bosses helming their respective national sides.
The Naija boss lent weight to his own claims by guiding the Super Eagles to their first Afcon victory in almost two decades; this article considers some of the coaches that vindicate Keshi’s advocacy of homegrown stewardship.
Few figures, if any, have been as central to the recent successes of Egypt as Hassan Shehata. The Pharaohs dominated the continent’s competition during the noughties, but it would hardly have been possible without "The Emperor" holding the reins and guiding the Egyptian egos through a series of gruelling Afcons.
With three Cup of Nations victories during the decade—in 2006, 2008 and 2010—Shehata oversaw an unprecedented era of success. Backed by talent of the calibre of Mohamed Abou-Treika, Hossam Ghaly and Mohamed Zidan, Shehata guided the Pharaohs with passion and guile, never afraid to ruffle a few feathers or to make the big call when the occasion demanded it.
My personal favourite moment was his touchline dispute with Mido in the 2006 semifinal; Shehata’s decision to replace the former Tottenham man with Amr Zaki was met with petulance and aggression, but the replacement’s winner, moments later, saw Egypt into the final.
Whilst World Cup qualification may have eluded both manager and squad, the boss will be eternally remembered for securing such a memorable hat trick of continental triumphs and for making the most of a talented but temperamental squad; the recent disappointments of Cameroon have illustrated how easy it is for things to fall apart.
South Africa may have endured a troubled recent Cup of Nations on home soil, but with Gordon Igesund at the helm, things may well pick up for Bafana Bafana in the near future.
A former player in Austria and his homeland of South Africa, Igesund received the national job after demonstrating an almost unrivalled knowledge of the domestic league and of the country’s football as a whole.
More than 15 years of managing nine different clubs within the South African leagues has given Igesund a profile and a status that the Bafana selectors couldn’t refuse as they attempted to find a new direction following the stewardship of Pitso Mosimane and Steve Komphela. Having won the domestic league with Orlando Pirates, Manning Rangers, Santos and Mamelodi Sundowns, the coach also has the success to match his knowledge and expertise.
The issue, however, is that the raw materials available to him at the national level hardly match Igesund’s pedigree. Having managed to turn around Bafana’s Afcon campaign following the opening, underwhelming draw against Cape Verde, Igesund will need to invigorate the squad once more—they currently sit third in their World Cup qualifying group with only the top team advancing.
Cape Verde provided one of the finest fairy tales the Afcon has ever known as the minnows overcame Cameroon in the qualifiers to make their debut in the continent’s premier footballing competition. The "miracle" didn’t end there, however, as Antunes’s XI managed to hold hosts South Africa to a stalemate in the opening match before escaping from Group A into the knockout rounds.
The dream ended here, however, as the Blue Sharks were unable to best the Black Stars of Ghana and were sent home to a hero’s welcome. Despite the defeat, the islanders performed admirably during the competition and were potent up front whilst also remaining organised and composed in defence. Antunes must take a great deal of credit for their assurance on the continental stage.
Ulisses Indalecio Silva Antunes memorably managed the country’s youth sides on a part-time basis while also working in a full-time capacity as an air traffic controller in one of the islands’ primary airports. Nicknamed "The African Mourinho," it’s safe to say that the talented young boss is unlikely to be returning to his former position any time soon!
Barker’s golden days may be behind him, but the South African coach has contributed so much to the continent’s sport that it would be a travesty to exclude him from this list.
His finest hour came in 1996 when he guided Bafana Bafana to a Cup of Nations victory on home soil. With apartheid ending in 1994 and South Africa only being reintroduced to the international scene two years previously, the Afcon had the potential to unite the disparate populace of the Rainbow Nation, as well as giving South Africa an opportunity to show off their burgeoning community to the rest of the continent.
Nicknamed "The Dog," Barker’s man management skills and his ability to thrive under the pressure of the expectant public inspired Bafana to a victory that will never be forgotten. The side were heralded as "nation builders" as their success injected an ersatz of national community and patriotism into the isolated corners of the country—enough to carry the Barker-led South Africans to their first World Cup in 1998.
The experienced boss is currently managing back in his homeland, where he stepped into the breach at Bidvest Wits following the resignation of Antonio Lopez Habas in January of this year. The Clever Boys currently sit in seventh place, a marked improvement on their 12th-place finish last season.
The rigmarole concerning Stephen Keshi’s future and his threat to resign had the potential to overshadow Nigeria’s recent Africa Cup of Nations victory. The Big Boss didn’t spend the immediate aftermath of his success celebrating and basking in his moment; instead, he endured a wrangle with the federation, whom he had previously accused of lacking faith in his approach and his decisions.
Keshi has agreed to stay on, and his mind has quickly turned to World Cup qualification, with Kenya lying in wait on March 23.
Naija could be on the cusp of something great: The raw materials are there, the nation, as ever, boasts talent and the current young crop of Eaglets could be among the country’s finest generation. What the likes of Oboabona, Omeruo, Moses, Musa and the others required was a guru or a mentor, a personality around whom they could develop, blossom and build.
If Keshi can resolve his differences with the federation and secure safe passage to the World Cup in Brazil, then this young, precocious side could emerge as one of Africa’s finest national units.