Things always get busy whenever you’re not in the country. This week I’m missing out on reporting on what’s been dubbed ‘Lamouchi-gate’. The scandal, and it really does seem pretty scandalous, has been the sacking of the country’s national football coach, Francois Zahoui, and his replacement by former French international Sabri Lamouchi. The move has touched a raw nerve for a number of reasons.
Firstly, Zahoui was an Ivorian – one of the few national team coaches in Africa who actually came from Africa (and indeed the country he was coaching). His appointment after Sven Goran Ericsson was much criticised because of his lack of experience, but in the end his time in charge looked quite good. Ivory Coast won every single qualification match prior to the Cup of Nations, and then at the finals he got the final against Zambia without conceding a goal and only lost the final on penalties. That’s about as close you can get to the key prize without actually winning it (something the country has only done once). The final aside, he only ever lost one match out of the twenty was in charge of, a friendly against Poland on a cold night in Poland. Zahoui won over quite a few fans for his cool approach, apparent level-headedness during the wild moments in Gabon/Equatorial Guinea and his tears just before when retired footballer Emerse Fae turned up at training.
After the Cup of Nations, his future was deemed uncertain. But here comes a change out of the blue just days before the country’s opening World cup qualification match against Tanzania. Those who argued that he needed replacing, wanted someone with the sort of coaching experience that would get more respect from the squad’s big names. Lamouchi doesn’t appear to be that person. In fact he’s never officially coached a team in his life. He picked up his coaching licence less than two weeks ago. His playing career doesn’t have much to it either. His future salary looks to be about 40 times what Zahoui was paid. Rather unusual for someone without a track record.
On the surface this looks like a sad case of the ‘white sorcerer’ – that colonial-era mentality that a white (well North African) will always be much better at the job than an Ivorian. Maybe the Federation know something we don’t, but it seems hard to justify, and by all accounts the Minister of Sport did a very poor job of justifying the decision on television this week. Some fans are trying to organise a boycott of Saturday’s match in Abidjan. Otherwise, expect the usual Elephants’ win against Tanzania, followed by Miss Cote d’Ivoire, followed by a healthy night for the city’s nightclub owners.