I have had the privilege of being trained by world-class coaches throughout my career in Zambia, Belgium, Holland and Mexico. The coach is often seen as the key man at every club.
Management goes out to get the best man for the job. Planning is usually thorough, as teams want to win at all costs.
When the coach lands the job, each and every weekend is a battle for survival. No pity, or margin for error. In today’s game, the stakes are high and so are the coaching casualties at the club. Every now and then you pick up a newspaper to see that another coach has bit the dust because of poor results. The coach always carries the can, no matter who is to blame for
How do coaches come by their jobs in Africa?
Well, it was the norm in the 1970s and 80s, when I was growing up, that the most revered player and popular in the club went into coaching as their playing days were coming to an end. In fact, it was acceptable by fans and players alike. Gradually, the veteran player would take over the running of the team on the strength of playing experience, with no preparation whatsoever.
In most clubs you would find that the senior players would assist the head coach in decision making and the like. Many of the generation of outstanding players of yesteryear went on to carve a career for themselves in coaching. Did they have what it takes to make it in football? Was it that the clubs and management merely felt pity for our ageing local heroes? Without any formal education, or coaching badges, where would they start? They would look for coaching material and start talking like coaches. They just assumed the difficult task of controlling the affairs of the team.
Times have changed. Today the Confederation of African Football wants you to have the necessary papers and certificates in order to sit on the bench. FIFA introduced and insists on all member associations having a qualified technical director. Now you hear everywhere, such and such has a C license, you need an A license; so on and so forth.
The job of coach has always been a controversial one in Africa. From time immemorial, Africa has been an importer of foreign coaches and an exporter of talented soccer players; be it to Europe and elsewhere. To Zambia came British coaches Bill McGarry and Ian Porterfield; German Reinhard Fabisch to Zimbabwe; Englishman Stuart Baxter to South Africa.
In 1996, whilst in the later part of my career, I decided to follow the path to coaching in Mexico. The Club America training ground was not so far away from the FMF (Federation of Mexican Football) Technical Center. Most of us older players decided to take the courses in the hope of one day being in charge of a team. It was not easy, we had to study four modules and each one took 20 weeks! We had to go to classes on Mondays and Tuesdays from 3pm to 9pm and the language of instruction was Spanish, which did not make matters any easier. But, I was determined and earned my Technical Director diploma in 1998 after two years of hard work. Needless to say, from at least 19 footballers with whom we had started, only around six were able to cross the finish line. It took dedication, sacrifice and lots of concentration. There were long days in class and of course long hours on the pitch doing practical work, which we enjoyed. With that qualification one could train at the highest level in Mexico.
I retired as a player in 2000, with a wealth of experience, after having being on the pitch for nearly 21 years from Mufulira Blackpool, Mighty Mufulira Wanderers, as a school boy, through Europe and Mexico.
I was offered a job as assistant coach by my good friend, Eduardo Regis, around March 2001, with Potros Marte, a team that was in the second division. So really, I had not so much time to sit at home and get bored. In the same year I worked with Pablo Centrone, at Veracruz, where we won the Championship in my first full year as coach, and we were promoted to the top tier of Mexican football. So, yes, my early days on the bench went so quickly and I was up and running. When I was accepted to do the UEFA ‘A’ license by the KNVB, I took the chance and came back to do the course for a year, September 2002 to May 2003, whilst being attached at PSV Eindhoven—my former club.
In September 2003 I started my job as coach of the Zambian national team in my home country. The mandate was to qualify for the 2006 FIFA World Cup. The aspirations of the Zambian people have been to see Chipolopolo win an African Cup and be present at a FIFA World Cup. Nothing motivates the Zambian people more than their love for football.
In order to get where I was, I had some fantastic men as coaches and mentors in the game. In fact it has been a privilege for me to have worked with international coaches of the highest caliber. Among them: Sir Samuel ‘Zoom’ Ndlovu at Mufulira Wanderers and Seoul Olympics 1988; George Leekens at Cercle Brugge, who introduced me to Europe; Guus Hiddink, who was my first coach at PSV Eindhoven in 1989; then former England and Fulham coach at PSV Sir Bobby Robson; Leo Beenhakker in 1994-1995 at Club America, the people still talk about that team he ran with Francois Oman Biyik; Marcelo Bielsa, of the Argentinian national team; Manolo la Puente and La Volpe of the Mexican national team. All of these great professionals shaped my thinking as an analyzer of football and a philosopher of the game.
In 2006, I decided to concentrate on my administration career. I was also vice president of FAZ since 2004. I was elected FA president in 2008.
Many a time, I have a different view of coaches. I want to protect the image of coaches, especially in Africa. Do teams in Africa respect coaches? During the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, of six of the qualified teams from Africa four changed coaches just before the Tournament was about to start! No wonder we had only Ghana close to getting to the elusive semi-final place at the World Cup. We as Africans, fans and supporters and administrators, have no confidence in the ability of our own people to take charge of the team. So many times at club level, coaches are under pressure. They lose one game and the red light flashes; two and there is a crisis; three and the coach will be shown the door!
African or foreign coach? This is the never ending debate in Africa. My thinking has always been that as long as the coach can do the job, color or passport need not be an issue. All the people want is good football and good results. I would want to see more of our people spend more time studying for football. In South America it takes you three years at college or University to become a ‘professor’ of football. In order for our game to develop in Africa, we need more investment for the would-be coaches of our young men and women. The problem is we in Africa have so much talent that it camouflages our shortcomings. Just look in the recent past—no African team at 2012 London Olympics went far. We are making up the numbers at all international tournaments, male or female. There must be something wrong we are doing and it’s important to arrest this now. The reality is that we do have a few capable good coaches and if
given the tools and support, Africa, the sleeping giant, will awake. In Brazil 2014, I have a feeling that one African team will reach the semi finals! Africa will have turned a new page in world football. It is a bold statement we have to make, together and with patience.