Aliou Cissé: African Football has Really Taken Charge of its Affairs
Aliou Cisse captained and coached Senegal at the FIFA World Cup ; led Senegal to first AFCON title this year; explains the importance of developing local coaches and infrastructure.
As a player, Aliou Cisse was never satisfied just to do exercises in training. He also wanted to know why he was doing them. Cisse said that this curiosity accompanied him throughout his playing career which took him to both France and England and saw him captain the history-making Senegal side who qualified for the FIFA World Cup™ for the first time in 2002 and reached their first African Cup of Nations (AFCON) final the same year.“I needed to know why I had to run so much to play football,” he said. It was therefore no surprise when Cisse turned to coaching after ending his playing career. Having led the Senegal under-23 side from 2013-15, he was promoted to the senior team where he has stayed ever since – a remarkably long tenure in the topsy-turvy world of African national team coaches. Under his inspired leadership, Senegal have reappeared on the football map. They qualified for their second World Cup in 2018, reached their second AFCON final the following year and, in February, went one better as they won their first AFCON title, sparking joyous celebrations in the country. This has made Cisse an inspiration for African coaches, who have often struggled to find their space. He recently took part in FIFA Coach Educators’ Development Programme in collaboration with the Senegalese Football Federation, and in this interview speaks of the importance of good coaching and infrastructure, and the progress being made by African coaches. FIFA.com: Can you walk us through your debut as a coach, and tell us about your mentors and the coaches who trained you? Aliou Cisse: I’ve always been passionate about this job, even when I was playing. I was always curious to know the purpose of the drills we were doing. So, in that sense, I wouldn’t just get my head down in training as a player without knowing the whys and wherefores. I often spoke a lot with my coaches because when I was asked to run, I needed to know why I had to run so much to play football. I had this curiosity throughout my whole playing career. I think it’s a very good thing to watch what others do, but what’s more important is to have your own identity and methods. Ultimately, the objective is to be able to mix everything I experienced as a player in terms of technique and tactics into my coaching job. You’re here as part of the FIFA Coach Educators’ Development Programme in collaboration with the Senegalese Football Federation. How do you assess this programme, which is being launched in Africa by Senegal? I’m a local coach today, as I was born and grew up here. Although I lived in Europe for years, I’m still African and Senegalese. Football plays a very significant role in our country today. The fact that FIFA has come today and keeps supporting the development of our coaches here is really a great source of pride for us. It proves that African football has really taken charge of its affairs and that FIFA has put all this together in order to improve the situation in certain federations and their technical departments. To what extent could these courses improve the work of coaches at local level? In terms of coaching and coaches, we realised that we had to progress as we weren’t good enough to coach in Europe or be in charge of our national teams. In that regard, too, if you look at the number of foreign coaches at the 2019 AFCON compared to the 2022 AFCON, you notice that the number of homegrown coaches increased. It means that we’ve been training technicians, and skilled technicians. Now, I think it’s important to keep going further in terms of enhancing our techniques and abilities and strengthening our technical departments. Senegal has been very successful with a local coach. Could this inspire a new generation of coaches? I don’t know whether or not I’m an inspiration because, before me, we mustn’t forget that there were other federations who put their trust in their own coaches. What I’m saying is that, yes, things really are progressing, so it’s up to us to keep it going. We know that it isn’t easy to be the head coach of your own country. Whatever people might say, it’s a lot more difficult. There are more and more expectations, and it’s also a challenge for us to show that we’re capable of taking charge of it and to show that we’re not just meant to chase after a ball. We’re capable of being great players, but we’re also capable of thinking, planning and putting things in place, and as things move forward nowadays, we can see that other federations are putting their faith in their homegrown products with the help of FIFA, of course, who are there to help those coaches to improve. If there are competent coaches locally, I don’t see why you should go looking elsewhere; you should put your faith in them. That’s our fight, because I think that in order to manage a national team, you need to know the reality of the country and be highly competent in a technical and tactical sense; but in reality, it’s also important to know about the country’s past. For me, if you don’t know about the past, it’s difficult to talk about the future.