Algeria coach Rabah Saadane is currently gearing up for his team’s opening encounter against Group C rivals Slovenia on Sunday, but despite that imminent engagement he agreed to take time out to share his thoughts with FIFA.com. With his charges hoping to shine at the Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane, Saadane shed light on their preparations and his pride at being the sole African coach in the competition.
The 64-year-old is one of a kind at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, being not only the sole ambassador for African tacticians but also the only Arab at the helm of one of the 32 contenders. Unsurprisingly, many are waiting to see what ‘Le Cheikh’ (The Sheikh) can achieve and whether he can inspire Algeria on the grandest stage of all. “It’s a huge honour for me to be the only representative of African coaches,” he said.
“It’s a heavy responsibility, however, as an African coach must always put in more work than coaches from elsewhere to earn the confidence of national association officials. I know there are lots of good African coaches in every country on this continent.
"Unfortunately, people always hesitate to give them a chance and encourage them to achieve their goals. But, in my opinion, all of that will change with time. For myself, it’s an immense honour and a huge responsibility, and I’ll do my best during this World Cup to show the qualities that Africans possess.”
Some have put the limited number of African coaches managing high-profile teams down to a lack of credentials, but Saadane has a different theory. “I’ll say it again: in all honesty, we have real talents in Africa and a profound understanding of the game,” he explained.
We have to show the best of ourselves on and off the pitch, because we’re representing not just Algeria, but north Africa, Africa in general and the Arab world.
“The success of a coach comes down to several factors, though. There’s the level of organisation within the national associations, of course. If the organisation is good, an important obstacle has been breached. There’s also the quality of the officials in charge, which is of capital importance."
"They’re the ones who put their trust in the coaches and provide them with the means they need. For me, that’s where the problem lies, because African coaches prefer to move to Europe where success is easier to come by thanks, once again, to the organisation and trust of the people running the associations.”
Turning to his own success in the dugout and the reasons he was able to lead Les Fennecs (Desert Foxes) to their first FIFA World Cup in 24 years, Saadane said: “The miracle of Algeria’s qualification – and I think it was a miracle – comes down to several reasons. The most important was the trust I got from the President of the Algeria Football Association. He supported me even during the most difficult moments."
"Like I said, success like that isn’t based only on the organisation, but also on the team of officials that works with the coach and gives him the means needed to complete his task. What makes the difference is both the support and trust given in crucial moments.”
Although his troops are far from favourites in their section, Saadane is adamant that they can seal their progress to the Round of 16. “Our goal is clear,” he said. “We have to show the best of ourselves on and off the pitch, because we’re representing not just Algeria, but north Africa, Africa in general and the Arab world."
"We have a huge responsibility and it’s the same for everyone, even the youngsters in the side who’ll be defending their country’s colours for the first time at this World Cup. We’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain. We’ll give our best in every match and at the end of the group phase we’ll see where we stand and take stock.”
Speaking to reporters, Le Cheikh also explored the question of his team’s preparations for Sunday’s encounter with Slovenia. “The first game is always very important, no matter which group you’re in,” he explained.
“We saw on Friday how difficult and tight the games can be. Tactics will have an important role to play. The Slovenians play a very organised style of football and they’re consistent. They managed to beat a high-quality team in Russia during the qualifiers. On paper, people might say that they’re better than us, but in this type of match preparation is often decisive – and believe me, we’ve undergone excellent preparations and the team is all set for this encounter.”