As Cape Verde’s home-born coach Lucio Antunes takes his team to an unprecedented quarter-final, he shows that foreign managers might not be the answer for African sides.
As Heldon tucked the ball past the Angolan goalkeeper in Port Elizabeth on Sunday night to seal the Islanders’ victory, a minor sporting miracle was born.
Debutants Cape Verde – the smallest nation ever to take part in part in the Africa Cup of Nations – had qualified ahead of continental big-guns Morocco.
In the wild celebrations that followed, the focus was on one man in particular – Antunes, the Blue Sharks’ head coach.
It’s been well-documented that the home-born Antunes does not manage full-time – on his off days, he is an air traffic controller at Praia Airport.
Taking into account his remarkable story, the success of Antunes raises questions for African football, and more specifically African coaching.
A depressing fact about this year’s Afcon is that out of the 16 nations taking part, only seven coaches are home-born – the other nine are expatriates, the vast majority European.
Taken at face value, this might be considered normal – the African coaching system lags well behind its European counterpart, only taking first steps toward professionalization in 2008.
But if we look closer, we can see all is not well in the state of African football – most of the continent appears to be some sort of thrall to the European coach.
A European can often get a job at an African nation on the flimsiest of CVs – Togo coach Didier Six has not managed since the 1980s, yet still found a job with the Sparrow Hawks.
Similarly, the Ivory Coast gave the coaching reins of Africa’s strongest side to an untested manager in the Tunisia-born but France-based Sabri Lamouchi.
Conversely, local coaches often find themselves ostracised – Ghana’s Kwesi Appiah, previously an assistant under Frenchman Claude LeRoy, stands alone among the tournament’s front-running sides.
It is naïve to suggest the Blue Sharks’ performances could bring around wholesale changes in the African coaching system – its inadequacies and prejudices are too deep to be banished overnight.
But hopefully, Antunes’ story might help African football shed its inferiority complex – if a native coach can succeed where nomadic Europeans have failed, why can’t this happen again?
By Ed Owen