Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi intends to prove a point about the prowess of African coaches when his side take on Burkina Faso in Sunday’s African Nations Cup final.
The former international defender could become only the second man to win the title as a coach and a player – he was captain when Nigeria last won the title in 1996.
Proving African coaches have as much ability as the many European and South Americans who come to work on the continent is a major driving force for the 51-year-old who has caused a furore with disparaging remarks about expatriate trainers, many of whom Keshi asserts are “mediocre”.
At various points throughout this year’s Nations Cup he has addressed the issue in media conferences.
“The white guys are coming to Africa just for the money,” he said. “They are not doing anything that we cannot do. I am not racist but that’s just the way it is.
“I am never against a white coach in Africa, because I’ve always worked with white coaches,” Keshi said.
“If you want to bring in a classic, an experienced coach from Europe, I am ready to learn from that coach, because he’s better than me, he has more knowledge than me.
“Meanwhile, we have quality African players, or ex-African players, who can do the same thing, but they’re not given the opportunity because they’re just black dudes. I don’t like it.”
It is a sentiment shared by Ghana’s Kwesi Appiah, whose side missed out on a place in the showpiece match after a shootout defeat in their semi-final against Burkina Faso on Wednesday.
“Black coaches need to be stronger than the white coaches because most times they tend to pushed around. In our own country the media does not give the same support, they don’t believe a black coach can do it,” he told Reuters this week.
Up against Keshi on Sunday will be Burkina Faso coach Paul Put, whose achievements in taking the unfancied Burkinabe to the final lifts him above the ‘mediocre’ tag but whose own journey to Africa has been born out of necessity.
He was banned for three years for match-fixing in Belgium, and after the suspension was lifted was unable to find a club willing to hire him in his home country.
The 56-year-old Put journeyed instead to Africa, first to scout in Guinea, then in charge of the Gambia and on April 1 signed a contract with Burkina Faso.
Put has made it clear he sees the job as a stepping-stone and a change to rehabilitate his profile.
“I know it looks difficult but I want a new chance in my own country,” he said last week.
Of the 16 teams at the Nations Cup this year, nine have been coached by imports and seven by African-born coaches.
Honours in the previous 28 Nations Cup have been evenly shared – 14 titles for locals and 14 for foreigners.