In recent years, bicultural coaches have been making their mark in African football, challenging the dominance of both “white wizards” and local coaches. This trend has been exemplified by the success of Aliou Cissé, Djamel Belmadi, and Walid Regragui, who have all led their respective national teams to significant achievements. As the quarter-finals of the 2024 Africa Cup of Nations approach, three bicultural coaches, Kaba Diawara (Guinea), Éric Chelle (Mali), and Emerse Fae (Ivory Coast), will be aiming for a spot in the semifinals, suggesting a quiet revolution is taking place in African football.
Both Djamel Belmadi, the coach of Algeria’s victorious team in 2019, and Aliou Cissé, who led Senegal to the final in 2022, hail from the “9-4” area of Champigny-sur-Marne in France. While perceived as African coaches, they possess dual Franco-Algerian and Franco-Senegalese nationality, respectively. This bicultural background may have played a role in their success, as it likely did for Walid Regragui, the Franco-Moroccan coach who guided the Moroccan national team to the 2022 World Cup semi-finals. These three coaches have undoubtedly brought a different perspective to their teams, and their achievements raise questions about the future of African national teams and the potential benefits of having bicultural coaches.
Claude Le Roy, a veteran coach who has worked with several African national teams for over 30 years, explains that while competence and talent will always be critical, the dual nationality and cultural understanding of bicultural coaches provide valuable insights and expedite the process of adapting to local realities. Aliou Cissé’s ability to fluently communicate in Wolof, Manding, and French with his Senegalese players, as well as Djamel Belmadi’s proficiency in Arabic and French, allow for smoother interactions and understanding. Le Roy emphasizes that being on both sides, intimately familiar with both the coach’s first country of origin and the realities of the second, provides a shortcut to success.
As the quarter-finals begin, three out of the eight qualified coaches are bicultural—Kaba Diawara, Éric Chelle, and Emerse Fae—while the remaining four are “white wizards” from Europe, and one is a locally born coach. Kaba Diawara, born in Toulon, France, and former Guinean international, has successfully guided the Syli to their first quarter-finals since 2015 and could lead them to their first semi-finals since 1976. Meanwhile, Éric Chelle has ended Mali’s four-tournament streak of failing to reach the quarter-finals and will face Ivory Coast, coached by Emerse Fae, who has rejuvenated the team after a lackluster group stage performance and a heroic victory over the defending champions, Senegal. Fae’s profound understanding of Ivorian culture, combined with his experience growing up in France, has significantly influenced the team.
This new wave of bicultural coaches in African football demonstrates that a coach’s dual cultural background can be a valuable asset. They possess unique perspectives and insights that bridge the gap between their players’ backgrounds and broader international football culture. As African national teams seek further success on the international stage, the rise of bicultural coaches may provide an effective pathway.
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