World Cup 2022 Was A Success For African Coaches. Otto Addo Says It’s Only The Start

Morocco was one of the stories of the 2022 World Cup. The Atlas Lions upset Belgium, Spain and Portugal – some of Europe’s strongest soccer nations – in becoming the first African country to reach a World Cup semifinal.

But this was also the most successful World Cup collectively for teams from the African continent. The five African nations at the finals secured an average of 4.8 points per team in the group stage, a record high. Each team won at least one match.

This was the first World Cup since 1978 (when only Tunisia qualified from Africa) that qualified African teams all had African managers. Cameroon, Ghana, Morocco, Senegal and Tunisia were each coached by a national. At the previous World Cup, in 2018, only two of the five African teams had an African coach.

Otto Addo, who managed Ghana at the 2022 finals, believes the tournament “opened a lot of eyes because people saw African and Asian teams can compete.”.

“I think you could see the impact of the (African) coaches being connected to the country. Also, tactically the teams were well prepared,” he tells me in an exclusive interview.

“It (sends) the message to create, not only your own players, but taking the next step to create your own coaches. And also for the federations to believe in the coaches.

“This hopefully inspires other coaches in Africa to believe in themselves, to grow and maybe to get a chance to represent their country.”

The significance was not lost on CAF, the Confederation of African Football. in a statements it said the five African managers leading their nations “represents a giant step towards the development of African football.”

Addo, who also works as a talent coach for German club Borussia Dortmund, was initially appointed assistant manager to Ghana’s previous manager, the Serbian Milovan Rajevac, in September 2021. In February, Addo was made manager and guided Ghana to the World Cup finals after a nail-biting play-off win over Nigeria.

Addo, who played for Ghana at the 2006 finals, became the first Ghanaian manager to win a match at the World Cup when the nation beat South Korea, 3-2. However, defeats to Portugal (3-2) and Uruguay (2-0) meant Ghana failed to progress to the knockout stage.

There were plenty of positives to take. Ghana played some impressive, exciting soccer. In the win over South Korea – which finished second in the group – Ghana’s Mohammed Kudus scored a fine team goal following 31 passes with 10 of the 11 Ghana players involved.

The World Cup, which finished Dec. 18 with Argentina lifting the trophy, has shone a spotlight on the success of homegrown coaches. Only one team in the Round of 16 (South Korea) had a foreign coach. Historically, no team has won the World Cup with a foreign coach and just two have reached the final.

Teams can still be successful with international coaches. Ghana’s best World Cup performance, when it lost a quarterfinal on penalties in 2010, was overseen by Rajevac for example.

But Addo believes the trend for African countries, in particular, to appoint European managers was rooted in long-standing bias.

“Our history plays a big part in this. When I look at Ghana – and this is what has been taught to my parents – it’s always ‘everything good is from Europe,’” he says.

“People find it easier to believe people from Europe when they come with a project or with an interesting idea than somebody who comes from your own country.

“People have to believe in themselves and also believe in their own people. We are role models. So if the FA puts in an African or Ghanaian coach like me, then people will see it and they will believe, ‘if he can do it, I can do it as well.’”

Addo, who was born and raised in Germany, wanted to create a culture in his World Cup squad combining “the best things of both worlds”.

From his parents and visits as a child to Ghana, he was conscious of the role of religion in Ghanaian culture, for example. From his time playing and coaching in Germany, he brought European elements of team building.

“At the end, it’s about credibility. So whatever you say needs to be believed by the players. And it’s much easier if you know the background and culture of the players,” Addo says.

In nurturing an open, collaborative culture built on trust – as other World Cup coaches tried to do – Addo wanted to respect tradition without being holden to it.

“Especially young people growing up in Ghana, for example, they are sometimes afraid to ask questions. We wanted to build this open relationship that you can ask questions. You can even ask or criticize the coach if it’s reasonable and if it’s in a respectful way,” he says.

“This is the environment which you want to create. Nobody should be afraid, even if he has other ideas to me, to tell it, to speak up.

“Sometimes the players have good ideas for set pieces or whatever and I wanted them to bring it out so that they were integrated in the process.”

He also hoped to inspire by sharing his own experiences as a player at the 2006 World Cup. In 2006 Ghana reached the Round of 16 where it played reigning champion Brazil. Before the match, Samuel Eto’o, the legendary Cameroon forward, asked to speak to the Ghana players.

“He came into our dressing room and made a wonderful speech about the importance of our game. (He said) that even though we were playing against Brazil, we should believe in ourselves,” Addo says.

“I had goosebumps that a player from Cameroon would come into a dressing room before the match, make a speech about the importance of this game and what it meant not only to Ghana, but to Africa.

“I told the players this story (to explain) it’s not about you as a player, it’s about more, especially for Africa. It’s not just a game, it’s about creating a voice for Africa.”

Though Addo’s contract with the Ghana Football Association ended after the World Cup, he wants to help build a legacy for future coaches.

The managers of Ghana’s youth teams at Under 17, 19, 21 and 23 level were invited to the World Cup with the senior squad. Addo has already spoken to the FA about returning to Ghana to present to coaches on strategy and the World Cup experience.

Guiding the next generation has been a focus throughout Addo’s coaching career. It began managing the Under 19 side of German club Hamburger SV, where he helped develop the Tottenham Hotspur and South Korea star Son Heung-min.

He then had a spell as assistant manager at Danish club FC Nordsjællandwhich is owned by the African not for profit Right to Dream.

In 2020, Addo joined Dortmund as a talent coach. The wide-ranging role entrusts him with the on and off-field development of the club’s most talented young players. Addo is “very happy” in the role but knows in football it is “very difficult to predict” what’s around the corner.

“When something comes in that is interesting for me, surely I’ll be open for that. But I could also see myself in that role (with Dortmund) for the next 10 years,” he says.

While most top clubs in Europe now have players of African descent in their squads, there are few African managers in the biggest leagues. In the big five European leagues, the only current manager with African heritage is Crystal Palace boss Patrick Vieira, who played for France but was born in Senegal.

“Football at the end of the day is just a reflection of society,” Addo says.

“In decisive positions, you don’t see many people of African descent in Europe and sometimes not even in Africa. In football, it’s the same. A lot of people are trying to change their mind a little bit now but it’s a slow process.

“People don’t think about Africans as great thinkers, as strategically good. This is really blocking, I think the coaches to get further. This is a mindset which needs to change.

“We showed it at the World Cup – that African teams changed their way of thinking. Now it’s also about Europeans, for example, to change theirs.”

During the World Cup, Morocco’s widely-praised manager Walid Regragui said it was “impossible” top European clubs would hire Arab and African managers.

Addo is more optimistic. He hopes the performance of Morocco, and the African teams led by African coaches, can be a key moment in changing the perception of managers from the continent.

“You know how it is: the more you win, the more people will listen to you and the more of a voice you get,” Addo says.

“It’s very important for people to see that African cultures can do something. They’re also good and there’s no difference if you’re white or black. You can have the same good strategies.

“At the end it comes with somebody brave enough, or more people being brave enough, to do this and take these decisions based on performance and not on how you look.

“I’m very confident it will come. I don’t know when, but it will come because in the end it’s about success and if clubs want to have success, they have to be colorblind.”

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