Mark Gleeson

Coach debate: local v foreign

2009-03-24 12:42
Sport24 columnist Mark Gleeson (File)
Mark Gleeson

The dismissal of Henri Michel on Monday has once again brought into the spotlight the vexed subject of foreign coaches and the actual extent of their input to the local game.

It can be argued the Frenchman was the highest profile coach to ever work in the 50 years of professional soccer in South Africa, with a CV unsurpassed by any one else who has previously coached in this country.

He had taken France to third place at the 1986 World Cup finals and won Olympic gold in Los Angeles in 1982. Michel later coached Cameroon at the 1994 World Cup finals, Morocco in 1998 and in 2006 took Cote d’Ivoire to the tournament in Germany, where they were among the most exciting side to watch. As a footballer, Michel captained France from midfield, winning 58 caps and three league championships in a glittering career.

It was this career history that seduced Sundowns’ billionaire owner Patrice Motsepe to pay him a reported 45 000 Euros monthly to coach a collection of well-paid stars in a bid to return to a dominant position in South African football.

Motsepe had forsaken local talent for a costly reputation, to fit in with his own international jet-setting image.

But what he got was a taciturn Frenchman, whose body language was one of Gaulish annoyance and contempt.

Not for a moment do I believe Michel was dispassionate about the job but he certainly was not one to modify his approach and adapt to the more carefree and convivial South African nature. For him rather, a cagey approach of total self-belief in his ideas and tactics, by all accounts not once ordaining to take advice from assistants or those close to the club on the potential strengths and weaknesses of his players. He was intent on finding out for himself and for months we saw players used out of position and out of their depth in the most public of experiments.

It was bewildering that he would not dip into a fountain of local knowledge.

For a man of his experience and reputation it seems a baffling approach and for that kind of money Sundowns must surely feel short changed.

Massive influence

Now if that is what the top level of world coaching has to offer, why bother with importing coaches? If anything Michel did much to boost the cause of local coaches, by pressing home how important local knowledge is to success.

One needs only point to the success achieved by Gordon Igesund, Pitso Mosimane and Gavin Hunt in recent seasons. And Clive Barker at Bafana Bafana level.

By then do not forget the massive influence on the South African game from foreigners over the decades from Mario Tuani, to Joe Frickleton, Jeff Butler and Ted Dumitru. And have Pirates not looked a vastly improved outfit this season since Ruud Krol started working with them?

It is a vexed question – to employ local or not? Foreign coaches bring fresh ideas and possible tactical insights not previously seen on our shores but oftentimes don’t have the mental flexibility to deal with the local footballer. Man management remains a major part of the job and it is here many fall short. Frenchman Arsene Wenger seems to have achieved both at Arsenal in England, as did Jose Mourinho when he went to Chelsea.

Whenever a high-profile foreign coach like Michel, or before him Ernst Middendorp at Chiefs, fails, the clamour goes out for locals to be handed the top jobs. But when they fail to deliver, then the clarion call is for imports. Either way, fans are only satisfied with success. But do we continue to import in the hope we hit the jackpot or should there now be a concerted effort to give our local guys proper opportunity?

Mark Gleeson is a respected television commentator and Editorial Director of Mzanzi Football.

Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.


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