Indeed I am the only black coach in this tournament. It’s a painful reality that annoys me. I believe that football is universal. I believe that skin colour has little importance in the game.
Those are the words of Aliou Cisse, the only black coach at this year’s World Cup, and one of the youngest coaches at the tournament.
On Tuesday, he led Senegal to claim the first African win at the 2018 FIFA World Cup after they crashed Poland by 2-1 at the Spartak Stadium in Moscow.
The victory came at a time when many Africans had lost hope of their chances in the tournament considering the humiliating defeats recorded by Nigeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt.
This has also thrown more spotlight on Cissé, a man who captained Senegal to the World Cup quarterfinals in 2002 and the one with a significant appointment considering the huge number of Europeans who end up coaching African teams.
Cissé, after his team’s win over Poland, said he believes it was important for his side to win after other African representatives disappointed.
“Senegal represents the whole African continent,” he said.
“We are Senegal but I can guarantee the whole of Africa is supporting the Senegal team. I get calls and lots of people are proud and we are proud to represent the African continent.”
What more do we know about the leader of The Lions of Teranga?
Born in Ziguinchor, Senegal, the 42-year-old played for Senegal from 1999 to 2005 and won 35 caps for his team.
He was also part of the Senegal team that emerged the runners-up in the 2002 African Cup of Nations.
Cisse further captained Senegal on their amazing journey through the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea, where the team reached the quarter-finals.
His first coaching job was while he was still playing. He helped organize a charity match against Nigeria after losing 11 members of his family in the 2002 Joola ferry disaster, one of the worst maritime accidents in history.
Three years after retiring as a player, Cissé worked with the Senegal Under-23 squad as an assistant manager. At 33, he led the team to the quarter-finals of the 2012 London Olympics, where they were unfortunately beaten in extra-time by Mexico.
His major appointment was in 2015 when he took over as the head coach of The Lions of Teranga, making him the first person to have been the captain and coach of the team.
The Senegalese international had before the above played for English Premier League club Birmingham City and later Portsmouth.
The often defensive midfielder and centre back also played in Ligue 1 with Montpellier, PSG and Lille.
Cisse, who is receiving all the praises now for the remarkable performance by his players at Tuesday’s game, said he is confident that his team will go far at the tournament.
“We would also love to reach the quarter-finals. We’ve got a young squad with a lot of talent, but they lack experience at the highest level. We’ll have to go there without an insecurity complex, play our natural game and stick to our African identity, which defines our football,” Cissé said.
And if the team is able to compete for the next four weeks, then it’s perhaps time African countries refocused on African coaches to move the continent forward.