FIFA’s self-contradictory stance on African football: Dumitru

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As the world, including Africa, anxiously awaits the commencement of the world’s biggest soccer extravaganza, one wonders if this is not going to be yet another sad episode that exposes Africa on the world scene. Previous World Cup tournaments have one story to tell for Africa: “You still have a long way to go!” This reality is further affirmed by our great anticipation of the first African team that will reach the semifinals of this tournament, let alone win the world championship.

But what is even more disconcerting about Africa, it’s football development and coaching issues, is that the football’s highest office, FIFA, has the much-sought answers for African football’s development and coaching quandary. However, these answers may not benefit Africa since FIFA, itself, takes a compromising and inconsistent stance on the influence of foreign coaching mentalities in African football. This worrisome conclusion was arrived at following a careful study of FIFA’s Technical Report on the 2010 Fifa World Cup, comprising close to 300 pages of technical, tactical, match summaries and observations on football trends.

In that report, Spain is generously praised for its ‘highly attractive football’ – a style that makes Spanish team ‘a contender for the team of the century’! FIFA’s Technical Study Group tentatively suggests that the trend of the future in the game would be a complete skilful, inspirational and dynamic football as demonstrated by Xavi, Iniesta and Xabi Alonso, which ‘looks pretty and even playful’.
The FIFA committee then criticises the Netherlands team for their dreadfully physical tactics in the final – an approach ‘littered with fouls’ – the inconsistency of the referees, the ball factor, etc.

However, the most significant and rather provocative aspect in the report, as far as African teams are concerned, is the self-contradictory conclusion reached by FIFA’s Study Group concerning the hiring of foreign coaches by African countries.
The FIFA technical experts found that the factor that mostly contributed to the failure of four out of five African nations rested with the trend of employing foreign coaches who did not identify with the African culture, mentality and lifestyle. 100% spot on, but quite rich coming from FIFA!

What makes this conclusion even more intriguing is the fact that the pre-requisite of having native coaches at the helm of their respective national teams has been preached by wise men of previous FIFA’s Study Groups since the 1982 World Cup. But, obviously with no success!

Elements of African players’ inborn characteristics, constitution, temperament, mentality, local traditions and culture are generally disregarded in the content of coaching qualification schemes endorsed by the very same FIFA, UEFA, and CAF

Let’s turn back the clock.

The year is 1982! Fifa World Cup Study Group specifies:

“The enthusiastic and positive performances of Brazil, Spain, Algeria, Honduras, etc, were managed by qualified, native coaches who knew how to adapt inborn qualities such as temperament, constitution, etc., to the elements of technique, tactics and fitness. They sought their own style as well.

The technical analysis and honest assessment of own players’ competitive strengths and weaknesses are the pre-requisite for increased performance with one’s own elements of style. A compatriot’s commitment to supervise the national team serves as a basis for this target. Only him can be familiar with his players’ physical and physiologic traits, character, speaks their language and share the same background.

Imitating a style even if is done with some success by other teams is rejected by most players on the basis of their mentality and past experience. One expects successful performance when contemplating one’s own strengths.”

Subsequent research and discoveries in the fields of players’ bio-social and cultural specificity, regional differences on playing mentality and temperament that influence performance make the above findings and consequential conclusions of the 1982 FIFA’ Study Group an exceptional prerogative. It is the key to improving performance and progress of the game, particularly in Africa.

If consideration and respect is duly given to this commitment of developing highly successful native coaches in Africa according to the continental and its regional specificity then FIFA’s role in this process is essential and massive.

These FIFA’s men would agree that if culture, mentality and lifestyle have a strong impact in the way the game is played, by any nation, then the concept of coaching that produces that particular type of football also differs from a country or region to another. It is well known that the development and application of ball skills, tactics and fitness in Barcelona, Chelsea, or Bayern Munich’s training regimes differ – fundamentally, in some aspects – from one another. Even more so if compared to the approach in practice at the elite of Brazilian or Argentinean clubs!

But why then is African football allowed to be victimized by grossly irrelevant foreign technology and its inapt coaches?

As it stands now – and immeasurably detrimental too – the elements of African players’ inborn characteristics, constitution, temperament, mentality, local traditions and culture are generally disregarded in the content of coaching qualification schemes endorsed by the very same FIFA, UEFA, CAF as well as the National Associations in both African context and global coaching syllabuses.

Unlike in Spain, Brazil, Germany, etc., where the philosophy of FIFA’s Study Groups applies perfectly, e.g., “only native coaches know how to adapt inborn qualities such as constitution, temperament, etc., to the elements of technique, tactics, fitness and develop own style”, African coaches, in particular, are fed wrong recipes (read coaching syllabus).

The majority of those ‘imported ‘coaching theories and practice are non-African in nature content and thus, unscientific in content. They are all in the name of indiscriminately globalized ‘modern football’. In the South African case, for instance, there is a ‘FIFA-approved’ coaching syllabus that astonishingly amalgamates coaching theories and norms from the German and Dutch coaching with flagrant disrespect for the unique and rich nature of local players and culture and traditions of the SA game. As a result, such irrelevant content is not too different from what CAF-organized coaching courses are offering.

In this atmosphere of coaching abnormality it is seen as normal to hire foreign coaches from Europe as their philosophy is strongly represented in the way ‘modern football’ and its coaching tools are enforced on the current African approach to the game. This imported ‘cultureless, ghost’ coaching requires unconditional acceptance of:

• Limited technique – not too fancy! – No improvisation!

• Only simple tactics – No risk! – No unnecessary dribbling! – ‘Play the ball forward only! – One-touch football, regardless! – Play percentage football, not attractive! – Hard and uncompromising tackling!

• Fast and furious with physical dominance and war mentality, etc., etc.

Currently, it is prohibited and regarded as absurd for any coaching mentality in Africa to apply creativity in using ball skills and improvised movements of African players and develop tactics where defenders can dribble in the opponents’ box and score goals. Spanish defenders Pique and Puyol, arguably with less natural ability than African defenders, can do it in La Liga but it is forbidden in African football where those trades reign supreme. Such tactical ‘indiscipline’ will not be allowed in African football!

Hello Africa!! Is anyone there to understand that to succeed in football, players’ inborn qualities must be first recognized and then embroiled into a playing mentality that reflects the best of those qualities? Nothing yet can substitute this principle.

Out of five African teams in Brazil, only Ghana and Nigeria has native coaches.

The vast majority of foreign coaches coming to Africa are not aware that, for instance, African players are capable of taking tactical risk with amazing efficiency when their superior technique, intricate moves and dynamics are properly recognized, developed and employed. Very few, Carlos Alberto Parreira being one of the few, have shown interest and knowledge in the local culture, mentality and lifestyle. Some of such coaches have come from a football environment like the Brazilian scenario where the influence of Afro-Brazilian factor helped them in their coaching mentality to recognize and use the abilities of South African players.

Unfortunately, local coaches, even if they are aware of such attributes of their players, the imported coaching practice at their disposal do not provide solutions to optimize their players’ strengths.

The conclusion of the 2010 World Cup FIFA’s Technical Study Group that Spain produced ‘fantastic, highly attractive football’ actually and sadly, exposes the same FIFA’s chronic inability to promote the ever important need for coaching diversity in the game’s context of regional/national specificity. If FIFA applauds Spain’s own style of ‘attractive football’ then the World football governing body must play its part in ensuring that Africa is NOT misled to accept wrong coaching doctrines anymore. It just has to reinforce its preaching about the decisive influence of respective national ‘cultures, mentalities and lifestyle’ in football performance.
Cross-coaching mixtures of various football cultures can only produce hybrid players who are, in the case of African football, alienated from their own nature. At best such surrogates can only deliver between mediocre and average performance. (See SA U20, U17, Women U-17/senior)

For as long as African countries depend on foreign coaching mentalities and do not produce their own approach(es) to the development of players and performance, the partisans of imported coaching ideas will still exploit the technical naivety of the continent and unemployed below-average coaches from Europe and elsewhere will continue to distort football on this continent.
For South African football it is self-destructive to continue to believe that development and improvement in local football can be expected from foreign coaches and players. This belief is fast sinking local football into further depths of despair. In today’s sophisticated world of high performance “coaching concepts, systems, training solutions, etc., do not work outside of the culture that created them.” (Wayne Goldsmith, 2010 WC, ‘Facts and Performance’)

Instead, the answer should come from developing own specific coaching philosophy under the sacred principle of ‘one football nation, one mentality and one style’. The existing conceptual divisions among groups and individuals still under the influence of divergent foreign football ideologies should be dealt with promptly and uncompromisingly.

The proof of patriotism in football is not only in getting emotional while singing the national anthem or waving the flag; it rests with the strong desire, commitment and effort of developing a valuable and an internationally respected national football identity reflected in a competitive and attractive style. Those who attempt to minimize the role of exquisite ball technique, creative and disguised movement, unlimited tactical skills, improvisation… …those who are hell-bent undermining the significance of unreserved mobility that would produce a style based on competent possession, solid defence organization and overall attractive football should be exposed.

While the question as to how long is Fifa still going to misinterpret the solutions to African football’s advancement remains, an even more pertinent question needs a prompt answer: ‘With all the answers presented to Africa, why does she still have to wait a day longer before a coaching methodology, which is in accordance with Africa’s continental and its regional specificity, is compiled?’

By Ted Dumitru

Ted Dumitru is a former Kaizer Chiefs, Orlando Pirates, Mamelodi Sundowns Bafana Bafana mentor.


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– By Analysis: Ted Dumitru