While African footballers have played a prominent part on the European stage for some years now, the same cannot be said for the continent's coaches, who have made little impression in the world game. That paradox is due in no small part to the massive reliance of African football on coaches from the former colonial powers, chief among them France.
The influence of these so-called sorciers blancs (white sorcerers), some of whom have made light of low profiles in their homeland to acquire huge popularity in Africa, has been felt most of all in north Africa and in a central band of countries stretching from Senegal in the north to the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly known as Zaire) in the south.
The first wave of imported coaches brought their experience to bear and helped set up training structures across a continent that had barely been represented in the FIFA World Cup™ finals prior to Mexico 1970. And from the 1980s onwards their task involved not just guiding their teams to the global showpiece but also making an impact in the CAF African Cup of Nations.
The influence of France's African legion of coaches remains as strong today as it has ever been. Indeed, no fewer than seven sides competing in last year's African Cup of Nations in Ghana were coached by Frenchmen: Côte d'Ivoire (Gerard Gili), Ghana (Claude Le Roy), Guinea (Robert Nouzaret), Mali (Jean-François Jodar), Morocco (Henri Michel), Senegal (Henryk Kasperczak) and Tunisia (Roger Lemerre).
From the early 60s to the present day a total of around 50 French tacticians have been employed as national team coaches in Africa, some of them drawing on their charisma and expertise to work genuine wonders, while others have slipped back into anonymity after brief and unsuccessful spells in charge. FIFA.com takes a closer look at some of the French managers who have tried to work their magic in the African game.
Like the French-Algerian Kader Firoud, who coached Nimes during their late-50s glory years before lending his assistance to Lucien Leduc as a member of Algeria's coaching staff between 1967 and 1969, these pioneering coaches' immediate brief was to organise the game in their respective countries and identify an elite group of players. During the sixties such tasks fell to the likes of Jean Prouff in Gabon, Raoul Diagne and Jules Vandooren in Senegal and Andre Gerard in Tunisia.
Dominique Colonna, the legendary Stade de Reims goalkeeper, was one of several recruits who were given longer-term projects. Starting off as national coach and then becoming assistant to Raymond Fobete, Colonna passed on his know-how to Cameroon's keepers for six whole years, attempting to mould their natural abilities to the technical requirements of the positions.
Only three French tacticians have ever won the African Cup of Nations, the first of them Claude Le Roy, who guided Roger Milla's Cameroon to glory against Nigeria in 1988 before winning the Cabral Cup (a tournament for West African nations) in 1991 with Senegal. A much-travelled footballing adventurer, Le Roy has found the fame and fortune that eluded him during a modest playing career and aside from the Indomitable Lions and the Lions of Teranga, he has also enjoyed spells in charge of DR Congo and Ghana.
An experienced player who never gained the recognition his record of 95 goals in 350 first-division matches perhaps deserved, Pierre Lechantre prepared for his future career by taking out the DEPF, the highest coaching badge awarded in France. He used his education to good effect by steering Cameroon to a penalty-shootout win over Nigeria in the final of the 2000 African Cup of Nations before taking off for stints with Mali and Morocco.
The case of Roger Lemerre, who led Tunisia to glory in 2004, is slightly different. The current Morocco boss arrived in Africa with quite a reputation, having coached the French national military team to world championship success before becoming assistant coach of Aime Jacquet's 1998 FIFA World Cup-winning side and then head coach of the UEFA EURO 2000 champions. Even so, Lemerre had to start from scratch with the Tunisians, where he invested his not inconsiderable energies for six long years.
Another successful import from the former mother country was Bertrand Marchand, who took over at Etoile Sportive du Sahel after a largely unremarkable playing career with Stade Rennais and in 2007 became the only Frenchman to win the prestigious CAF Champions League.
Not every French coach has enjoyed the same success in Africa as this illustrious quartet, however. Several well-known former pros have come to grief after using their status to find alternative employment on the continent's benches.
France's Moroccan-born legend, Just Fontaine - the all-time top scorer in a FIFA World Cup finals with 13 goals at Sweden 1958 - found similar success elusive during an ill-fated spell in charge of the Morocco team between 1979 and 1981. World champion Bernard Lama fared even worse with Kenya, lasting only two months in the job, while Christian Dalger, who made six appearances for Les Bleus, was at the helm of the Mali side for just a year. And the late Robert Pintenat, a bustling centre-forward in his playing days, lasted no longer with Gabon in the early nineties.
As Nasser Sandjak, Algeria's coach between December 1999 and April 2000, once shrewdly observed, "The results of foreign coaches do not match the size of the cheques they receive."
For the likes of Philippe Troussier, Robert Nouzaret, Henri Michel and Henri Stambouli, the warmth of the African people has also proved an irresistible attraction, causing them to try their luck in a number of posts. Troussier, who never played first-division football during his career and was the first French strategist to be dubbed a sorcier blanc, has travelled more than most, chalking up spells with the national teams of Côte d'Ivoire, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, South Africa and Morocco and also holding the reins at club sides Kaizer Chiefs of South Africa, CA Rabat and FUS Rabat of Morocco and ASEC Mimosas of Côte d'Ivoire.
For his part, Nouzaret took change of the Elephants on two occasions before being appointed Guinea boss in December 2006.
A three-time French championship winner with Nantes and Olympic champion with France in Los Angeles, Michel followed a four-year stint with Les Bleus, which took in a semi-final appearance at Mexico 1986, by decamping to Africa in the mid-nineties. As well as applying his tactical savoir-faire with Cameroon, Morocco, Tunisia and Côte d'Ivoire (African Cup of Nations finalists in 2006), he has also coached at half a dozen of the continent's clubs.
Meanwhile Stambouli, a former goalkeeper with Monaco and Marseille and who hails from the Algerian city of Oran, has also enjoyed an extensive tour of Africa's footballing outposts, stopping off at Guinea, Mali and Togo and five club teams.
Despite the immense knowledge and expertise they have all brought to the African game, it was not until Korea/Japan 2002 that a French tactician managed to take one of the continent's representatives beyond the group phase of a FIFA World Cup finals. On that occasion Bruno Metsu took Senegal all the way to the quarter-finals.
With South Africa 2010 a little over a year away, there are five French generals seeking to emulate or even surpass Metsu's achievement, namely Alain Giresse (Gabon), Lemerre (Morocco), Herve Renard (Zambia), Michel Dussuyer (Benin) and Nouzaret (Guinea). No matter how well they do in the coming months, the long-running love affair between African football and French coaches shows no signs of coming to an end just yet.