A symposium on the technical aspects of the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations in Ghana was held in Cairo to evaluate what happened. Inas Mazhar
surveyed the field
A gathering of 60 seasoned African Football Federation (CAF) experts, whether coaches, players, representatives of teams at the Nations Cup in Ghana or other stakeholders in the game, met for three days in Cairo to take a meticulous look at the state of African football.
The objective of the star-filled workshop was to review the 26th Africa Cup of Nations in Ghana and also identify key challenges in the pursuit of developing African football. Among the topics discussed was a presentation on how Egypt won the Nations Cup twice in row, the importance of the medical records of players, and an evaluation of the Cameroonian and Zambian teams in particular. Egypt beat Cameroon 1-0 in the final and had tied 1-1 with Zambia in the group stage.
The participants also looked into ways of developing African football, which included how to attract African professional players abroad to participate in national teams with the same exuberance they exhibit at club level.
Also on the agenda was the new African Nations Championship (CHAN), scheduled to debut next year in the Ivory Coast, and its impact on the future and development of African football. The tournament will include only African-based players. Egypt has decided to opt out of the new tournament to focus instead on qualifying games for the 2010 World Cup.
"This is the first time that an elite gathering of Africa coaches judges the level of our competitions. It also had a great impact on the coaches, who openly expressed their difficulties, the pressure they faced from all directions and ways it can be checked," said Hussien Abdel-Moniem, CAF's director of development.
The Cairo symposium is the third after making an initial appearance in Ghana 2004 followed by Morocco. The Egyptian Football Association (EFA) had already applied to host the symposium long before the Pharaohs claimed the African Nations Cup in Ghana in February after beating Cameroon in the final in Accra. It was simply a coincidence that Egypt was the winner of the tournament while the symposium was also held in Egypt.
According to Abdel-Moniem, known in Egypt as Shatta, a former star player for Ahli in the seventies and early eighties, the importance of players' medical records featured prominently "because the significance of a player's health status cannot be taken for granted at any level of our competition."
Head of the CAF medical committee Dr Hosni Abdel-Rahman admitted they were taking the matter seriously after the recent sudden deaths of football players in football pitches in Africa and abroad. "Medical records existed before, but were optional. Now we insist that they be obligatory for all players in clubs and national teams and at all levels. Anyone who plays the game should have a medical record and history to go back to when needed," Dr Abdel-Rahman said.
CAF will also introduce a licensing system which will force coaches to meet specific criteria before coaching in Africa. The rules mean all coaches must hold either a management diploma or a Pro License coaching certificate.
According to Shatta, the new system is aimed at weeding out ill-equipped coaches in Africa. "Many coaches in Africa are now working haphazardly, using only their own experience and whatever talent they have, but this is not right.
"Without these licenses nobody can approach the clubs or national teams to be a coach in any part of Africa in future. Coaches in Africa must pass an exam, a written one, to have a license before coaching at any level in Africa. We will work jointly with the federations across Africa to ensure that this is successful. With the aid of this CAF license, a coaches category can be identified and graded accordingly," said Shatta.
On the other hand, a member of the CAF technical director team Ben Kofie said he was impressed by the quality of the participants. "We had quality participation such as coach Claude Le Roy, Otto Pfister, Roger Lemerre and many other experienced coaches from the associations. Most associations were represented by both their coaches and technical directors. The contributions they made will go a long way in football development if implemented.
"And the implementation of this will depend on individual associations. CAF is the policy-making body and we will ensure that whatever takes place here will be forwarded to local associations for implementation," Kofie added, explaining that the African Nations Championship will compel the associations to go into grassroots football development.
The symposium featured presentations from renowned coaches on the continent like Le Roy, Lemerre, Pfister and Hassan Shehata. Each tackled a different topic.
Tunisian technical director Lemerre spoke about the development of football, and the need to groom players at a very early age through football academies because they are the future of any aspiring nation in the world of football.
Ghana's coach Le Roy spoke about professional African players based abroad and their influence with their national teams when they return to play with their teams. "We have all seen the famous European- based players in Ghana and how their performance affected the results of their teams and the relationship between them and their teammates. It's good to have them within the team."
Chief Onigbinde, CAF technical committee member, tackled the same subject and looked into some of the ways to develop football in Africa and ways of attracting African players to participate in their national teams with the same enthusiasm as they do in their individual clubs abroad. The millions that African players receive in club money in Europe is said to prevent many of them from giving their all when playing for their country.
The coaches of Senegal, Sudan, Cameroon and Nigeria gave a brief on their national teams and the way forward.
The coaches taking part in the symposium were happy with the results. "This is quite a remarkable forum," Onigbinde said. "Coaches speaking out and also for us emphasizes the importance of African coaches stepping out to work outside their borders just as foreigners come into ours. It is healthy for the development of our game."
"I am happy CAF is organising such an event because it will have a great impact on African coaches and the development of football in the continent. I am very happy to be here. It's my second time attending such a gathering," said Shehata of Egypt, who gave a presentation on his experience with the Egyptian national team and how he led the Pharaohs to the title twice in succession. Shehata spoke about the plans and strategies he used for the past five years with the team and how he tested these plans and players in order to reach optimum results.
"For the first time, this is the most productive symposium because apart from analysing, we had an opportunity to discuss and propose steps to be taken on performances and the problems we face and how to overcome them. I urge CAF to continue with this type of symposium once the competitions are over," said Sunday Kayuni, Tanzania's technical director.
"This gathering was very necessary but I think once every two years is not enough. There should be an assembly of technical directors every year. This will really help especially when there is a change of technical directors, thereby giving them the opportunity to keep abreast of current events," said the German Pfister. Pfister also spoke about Cameroon's performance in Ghana 2008.
Pfister, a former coach of Egyptian club Zamalek, told Al-Ahram Weekly that he believes football had developed a lot in Egypt since he left, especially with the national team. "When I was here I remember the football association used to change a new coach every six months, and switching coaches wasn't good for the game or the players. But now, Hassan Shehata has been with the team for about five years and I think that's why the Egyptians are improving. The players have known stability and they are dealing with one system," Pfister said.
"This was really a great atmosphere, giving participants the opportunity to bridge the gap existing among coaches. Learning from others and hopefully going back to put them in practice. The introduction of the African Nations Championship is a good thing to happen, which will really have a positive impact on the development of talent," said Patrick Naggi, technical director of the Kenya Football Association.
"I am happy to be here because it is my first time. It is really encouraging for me to meet these big coaches in Africa discussing development issues. Especially for me, being one of the youngest coaches present here, it is quite an experience," said coach Ali Mbae of the Comoros national team.
"This was a big gathering of the football family. A variety of people came together for a common goal. Personally, I have really gained a lot," said Danny Laurette, Seychelles national coach.
"It is really a great event. It gave us the opportunity to interact with each other. Different issues were discussed including camping, health and general management of teams and players," said Samir Adli, manager of the Egyptian national team.
"This is a great thing because it is good for coaches to come together, interact and share ideas on African football. Africa is a big continent and there is a great need to share ideas openly and for everyone to express his views. By this way we can go a long way in improving ourselves," said Kalusha Bwalya, a member of the CAF technical committee and the new president of the Zambian Football Association.
Bwalya, one of the best players in the history of Zambia, told the Weekly that he believes the Nations Cup is getting stronger and stronger every time. "It wasn't the same when I used to play. Now, it's the biggest event on the continent and attracts the attention of everyone outside the continent. In my opinion, Ghana 2008 was the strongest of them all in terms of the quality of football and performance of the teams."
"It was really a great experience listening to coaches like Hassan Shahata and Otto Pfister. There is always something new to learn from an event like this. I hope this will continue and also help us in our job," said Coach Mohamed Abdalla Ahmed of Sudan.