NELSPRUIT, South Africa: Victory for Ghana or Nigeria at the African Cup of Nations won’t only end a long wait for the title, it’ll also bring the first success for a black African coach at the tournament in over 20 years.
In a sideshow to Wednesday’s semifinals, Ghana’s Kwesi Appiah and Nigeria’s Stephen Keshi will again push forward the reputation of black coaches against the foreign white managers who have dominated African football for decades.
Former national captain Appiah leads Ghana against Belgian coach Paul Put and Burkina Faso. Keshi, also a former skipper, takes charge of Nigeria against Frenchman Patrice Carteron and Mali.
Appiah and Keshi are former cup winners as players making the rare graduation to national coach. And both believe black coaches are making progress on a continent where Europeans have generally been trusted with the top teams.
Ivory Coast’s Yeo Martial was the last black African coach to win the cup in 1992.
Appiah said the problem, in his experience, had been black coaches being undermined and allowing themselves to be “pushed around.”
“I have total respect for white coaches but once a black coach is given the opportunity ... if they get the support needed, they can do the same as anybody can do,” Appiah said. “The most important thing is the black coach being strong and not allowing people to tell you what to do. Most of the time that’s what happens.
“They may find out we’re black and people take the opportunity to push you around.”
Keshi captained Nigeria to its last cup title in 1994, when the coach was Dutchman Clemens Westerhof.
Since then, South Africa won under white coach Clive Barker, Cameroon won back-to-back titles under Europeans, Tunisia succeeded with French coach Roger Lemerre, and Zambia won last year with another Frenchman, Herve Renard.
Even Hassan Shehata’s three straight titles with Egypt from 2006-10 couldn’t be celebrated as victories for a black African coach.
In the buildup to the semifinals in South Africa, Keshi said the time of appointing white coaches in Africa just because they were European should be over.
“Do not bring a mediocre coach, a carpentry coach from Europe and tell me he’s better than me, I will not accept it,” Keshi said. “And this is what we Africans are doing. Because if you want to bring in a classic and experienced coach from Europe, I am ready to learn from that coach, because he is better than me, he has more knowledge than me.
“We have quality ex-African players, coaches now, that can do the same thing, but you are not giving them the opportunity because they are just black dudes. I don’t like it, that’s all.”
Appiah’s argument that black coaches were well-suited to the cup appears to be backed up by his own team’s history. Ghana won all of its previous four titles under local coaches. Former player Charles Gyamfi won three titles and Fred Osam-Duodo one.
But recently, Ghana has failed to recapture the title under the likes of Claude Le Roy of France and Serbian trio Ratomir Dujkovic, Milovan Rajevac and Goran Stevanovic.
Appiah’s appointment signaled a return to local knowledge for Ghana, and the decision would be vindicated if the former Black Stars defender led the team to its first cup triumph in 31 years.
While he had “total respect” for white coaches, it was a question of black African coaches being more confident in their own ability, he said.
“Once you are strong, you’ll be fine,” Appiah said.