Michel out for a golden fifth
Henri Michel is back on familiar ground to take another tilt at CAF Africa Cup of Nations glory. At 60, the France-born coach returns for a fifth tournament, seeking to go one better than the last edition when he led his Côte d'Ivoire team to the final but ended up on the losing side.
Michel might have been captain of France and manager of Les Blues at the 1986 FIFA World Cup Mexico™, but his name is now inexorably linked with Africa. Since his first job on the continent with Cameroon, whom he led at USA 1994, his has been a familiar face on the African coaching circuit.
Michel now takes charge of Morocco for a second time, appointed in September to lead the team to Ghana 2008 and then further ahead to the 2010 FIFA World Cup finals in South Africa. In his first stint, Michel coached the side for five years, the longest spell of a coaching career that has included spells in Egypt, Greece, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates.
He was in charge of the Atlas Lions from 1995 to 2000, and ironically it was because of a poor performance at the Africa Cup of Nations finals in Nigeria that he was sacked.
The competition also cost him the chance to coach at the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan. After qualifying Tunisia for the world finals, he looked forward to the regional finals as a competitive environment forum in which to fine-tune his preparations. Instead, Michel was fired five months before the trip to the Far East when his team failed to score a single goal and crashed out in the first round at Mali 2002.
Turning the tide
For a while it seemed the African championship was a poisoned chalice for Michel, but he swept that aside by taking the Ivorians on a run that saw them reach the Egypt 2006 final and only lose to the host on penalties after a dramatic goalless draw at Cairo's International Stadium.
Michel has looked genuinely enthusiastic in recent months with a return to the Morocco helm. Results have also gone his way with a draw against France in a friendly and a handsome win over fellow qualifiers Senegal in their last game, a warm-up friendly at Colombes near Paris.
His departure seven years ago was a bitter one, but Michel says he could not stay away from the challenge when the opportunity came around again. "I know it's more difficult the second time round but it's an extraordinary challenge," he said before his first match back.
Michel has set his first priority on a strong performance in Ghana, where Morocco have been paired with the hosts, the unpredictable Guineans and an unheralded Namibia side. "We hope to do as well as possible but the whole world knows how hard it can be with the climatic conditions," he said. "But the true objective is to qualify the team for the 2010 World Cup finals."
Michel last worked in his native France in 1991, as coach of Paris Saint-Germain, and has since found employment in nine countries, five of them in Africa. He likes to joke that it has been forever since he last saw any snow.
It seems, however, that he is very much at home in Africa. "He has African football in his blood," enthused Morocco full-back Mikael Chretien.