"African football has taken charge"

“African football has taken charge”

  • Aliou Cissé participated in the World Cup with Senegal as captain and coach

  • He led his team to the continental title this year and qualification for Qatar 2022

  • He returns to the need to develop coaches and infrastructures

As a player, Aliou Cissé never contented himself with performing the exercises that were offered to him in training; he also wanted to understand what their purpose was. This accompanied him throughout his career, in France and in England. He also wore the captain’s armband in the Senegal team and contributed to the first qualification of the Teranga Lions for the FIFA World Cup™ in 2002. The same year, Cissé and his teammates played in their first CAF Africa Cup of Nations final. “I wanted to know why I was asked to run so much,” he confirms. Those who knew him at the time were therefore not surprised to see him begin a coaching career as soon as his boots were hung up. After having made his mark at the head of the U-23 selection between 2013 and 2015, Cissé was called to the bedside of the national team. In office for seven years, his longevity stands out in the landscape of African football, where the slightest underperformance can be quickly sanctioned.

Under his leadership, the Teranga Lions set out to regain their place on the international scene. Qualified for Russia 2018, they played in their second CAN final the following year. Last February, they reached a new milestone by winning their first continental title, a performance welcomed with joy in the country. Finally, Cissé obtained a new Senegalese qualification for the world competition, by winning a ticket for Qatar 2022. These feats of arms have made Cissé a reference for his African colleagues, who have sometimes had difficulty finding their place by the pass. The coach recently took part in the FIFA Coach Educator Development Program with the Senegalese Football Federation. In this interview, he discusses the importance of coaches and infrastructure, as well as the progress made by African technicians.

Senegal players launch Senegal coach Aliou Cissé into the air in celebration after victory during the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations Afcon Finals Final match between Senegal and Egypt held at Olembe Stadium in Yaounde, Cameroon on 06 February 2022 © Alain Guy Suffo/BackpagePix

Aliou Cissé, since your beginnings on the bench, who have been your role models and who trained you?Even when I was a player, this job fascinated me. I was curious to know what the exercises we were offered in training were for. In fact, I was unable to get down to the task seriously, as long as I did not know the why and the how. I talked a lot with my coaches because they asked me a lot of effort. I wanted to run well, but I needed to understand. This curiosity has never left me. It’s interesting to observe what other people are doing, but I think you have to forge your own identity and find your own methods. My goal was to draw on all my experiences as a player at the technical and tactical level to become a unique coach.
Your presence today is part of the FIFA coach trainer development program, in collaboration with the Senegalese Football Federation. What do you think of this initiative and why is it inaugurated in Africa by Senegal?Today I am what is called a local coach because I was born and raised here. I have lived in Europe for a long time, but I remain above all African and Senegalese. Football plays a very important role in this country. FIFA is there to help us support the development of our coaches. This is something we are very proud of. It proves that African football has taken charge. FIFA has put initiatives of this type in place to improve the situation within certain federations and in particular in the technical departments.

To what extent are these training courses likely to improve the work of coaches at local level? As coaches, we were aware of the need to progress. We are not yet strong enough to impose ourselves in Europe or take charge of our national teams. If we look a little closer at the list of coaches who participated in the final phase of the CAN in 2019 and 2022, we see an increase in the number of Africans. It proves that we train quality coaches. It is now up to us to do what is necessary to continue to strengthen our technical departments. This is how we will refine our techniques and skills.

If there are good trainers at hand, why look elsewhere? Might as well trust them.

Aliou Cisse

You have achieved excellent results with Senegal. Can your success inspire a new generation of technicians?I don’t know if I’m a reference. We must not forget that before my arrival, other federations had chosen to entrust their selections to local coaches. Things are moving forward, but we cannot rest on our laurels. It’s not easy to coach your own country. Well, we know that. Whatever one may say, it is even much more complicated. There is the weight of expectations, of course, but also this need for us to prove that we have our place at this level and that we are not just there to chase the ball. Africans have enormous talent, but they are also capable of thinking, of anticipating, of putting structures in place. Things are changing and we now see other federations betting on local technicians, thanks to the help of FIFA, which is always there to support the coaches in their progress. If there are good trainers at hand, why look elsewhere? Might as well trust them. This is our fight. To lead a national team, it is necessary to know the reality of the country, but also to have advanced technical and tactical skills. Finally, I think it is important to familiarize yourself with the history of this country. When you don’t know anything about the past, it seems difficult to project yourself into the future.

SALY, SENEGAL - FEBRUARY 24: Senegal National team manager Aliou Cissé during a Coach Training Event on February 24, 2022 in Dakar, Senegal.  (Photo by Carmen Abd Ali - FIFA/FIFA via FactStory)

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