Rabah Saadane first took up the mantle of Algeria coach in 1981, and the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ will be his third appearance in the competition having previously travelled to the 1982 and 1986 editions with les Fennecs.
Saadane began his footballing life as a central defender with MSP Batna, his hometown club, and went on to enjoy a playing career for MO Constantine, El Biar and USM Blida, before moving outside Algeria to play for French outfit Rennes.
In 1977, Saadane embarked on a coaching path that has lasted over 30 years. His first role was with the Algerian youth team and after just four years he joined the coaching staff with the national squad at the 1982 FIFA World Cup Spain™. At that tournament the unfancied North Africans were drawn in Group 2 alongside West Germany, Chile and Austria. In one of the great FIFA World Cup shocks, the Algerians defeated the Germans 2-1, before succumbing 2-0 to Austria and then defeating Chile 3-2. Despite winning two of their three matches and finishing level on points with West Germany and Austria, les Fennecs were knocked out of the tournament on goal difference.
Four years later in Mexico, Saadane returned to the world’s biggest stage as head coach. However, Algeria again failed to get past the first round, this time managing just one point from a 1-1 draw with Northern Ireland and losing 1-0 to Brazil and 3-0 to Spain to finish bottom of Group D.
After this disappointing performance, the ‘Cheik’ left the national team to try his hand at club football. He joined Raja Casablanca where he tasted success for the first time, winning the CAF African Champions League in 1989. There followed a succession of short-lived posts with Etoile Sportive du Sahel in Tunisia, Mouloudia Alger and Etihad Al’asima, both from Algeria.
Saadane returned to international management in 1999 when he took charge of Algeria for the third time, but in his short stay he failed to make a significant impact. Then, in 2003, the Algerian FA recalled him for a fourth spell as coach, but despite reaching the quarter-finals of the African Cup of Nations in Tunisia in 2004, he subsequently quit and headed east to take over as coach of Yemen.
Three years later, Saadane was back in club football with ES Setif, where he won the Algerian League and the Arab Champions League. Then, after a flirtation with European coaches had failed to revive the nation’s flagging fortunes, the Algerian FA once again called on his services. Saadane set about building a squad of young players to form the backbone of Algerian football, and when he guided his team to the finals of the 2010 African Cup of Nations, that was an achievement in itself.
But more historic success was to come. When Algeria and African champions Egypt finished level in 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifying, they were forced into a play-off at a neutral venue in Sudan. And it was the plucky Algerians who sensationally ran out 1-0 winners to qualify for the world’s greatest tournament for the first time in 24 years. Ironically, the two sides would meet again in the semi-finals of the 2010 Cup of Nations in Angola where the Egyptians got their revenge, winning comfortably 4-0.
Saadane has succeeded in building a team of like-minded players capable of overcoming the perpetual problem faced by Algerian managers, i.e. a lack of familiarity and harmony that can be put down to most of the team plying their trade throughout Europe. Despite being by far the most successful manager in the history of Algerian football, like many of his counterparts in similar posts around the world Saadane is consistently stung by criticism in the domestic press.