Senegal will draw on the spirit of the late Bruno Metsu, the maverick French coach who led them to the 2002 quarter-finals, when they face Poland today in their first World Cup match in 16 years.
Aliou Cisse, who captained the side which Metsu famously fired up to stun defending champions France 1-0 in Seoul in their opening game, said he was thinking of his mentor.
Yet as the only African coach in this year’s competition, he is determined to stamp his own generation’s mark on world football.
Asked if he had taken up Metsu’s style of teamtalk, when he worked on their anger at being dismissed as outsiders in their first finals, Cisse told reporters: “No. Bruno’s talk was Bruno. I’m the coach now, I have my own way of managing my team.
Metsu, whose side lost to a Turkish golden goal in the 2002 quarter-finals, died five years ago of cancer, aged 59.
For decades, many of Africa’s most successful teams have had European or Latin American coaches, but Cisse reckoned it was time to move on: “Sure, I’m the only black coach in this World Cup. But these are debates that bother me. I believe football is universal and the colour of your skin doesn’t matter.”
Cisse cited Florent Ibenge, the coach of Congo’s national team, as a sign of progress.
“I think we have a new generation that is working, that is doing its utmost, and beyond being good players with a past of professional footballers,” Cisse said.
Cisse insisted his side were feeling confident and set on enjoying their return to the global stage, unfazed by talk of pressure after the three African countries to have played so far have failed to score or get a point.
No African team has bettered Senegal’s 2002 achievement, Cameroon, in 1990, and Ghana in 2010 also reached the quarters, but Cisse said he was sure that one would one day win the World Cup.
His side were ready to work hard around Liverpool’s Sadio Mane — a “unique” world-class player in Cisse’s view, able to make the difference in a host of different ways.
In Group H, they will also face Colombia and Japan.
Captain Cheikhou Kouyate said Cisse had pushed them through particularly demanding training in the past month: “The coach didn’t let up,” he said. “The coach has worked us like dogs.”
A lack of minority managers also has been documented at club level. Britain’s Sports People’s Think Tank said in November there were just three minority managers among the 92 English professional clubs.
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