Cameroon’s Minister of Sport and Physical Education has confirmed the appointment of Paul Le Guen as head coach of the country’s football team. His statement also confirmed French media reports that Le Guen would come along with his assistant, and a physiotherapist. This sparked controversy as some local media and posters on online forums wondered why he should come with a crew and criticised government’s decision not to name Cameroonians as his assistants.
The following article, originally published in September 2007 in the Herald newspaper’s column: Geof’s Game Plan, is in favour of a big staff with clearly defined roles and picked by the head coach. Considered from that perspective, a staff of three (pending further appointments) is not even enough for the Lions!
**The context on the week of 23 September 2007
Last week FIFA released its monthly rankings of national football teams. Cameroon dropped nine places from 16th to 25th. From first in Africa, Cameroon is now second –behind Nigeria. The two defeats to Japan and Equatorial Guinea have cost the Indomitable Lions 145 points. The media have in unison cried out for the naming of a national team head coach to set the rudder and decide the course to take for this aimless ship. [How time flies and things repeat themselves!]
But a coach alone, however great, may prove insufficient to steady the Lions’ course and divert the ship from troubled waters into a glorious direction. Cameroon needs a (properly organised) staff.
The current practice within modern national teams is to replicate the structure of European professional clubs. This involves a strong and purposeful manager/head coach leading a backroom staff of between 10 to 25 persons (in some clubs). This personnel is often divided into technical, medical, nutrition, administrative and media relations staff.
The Backroom staff
In such a set-up the technical staff is made up of the head coach, two to six assistant coaches, with specific responsibilities.
For instance, in France Raymond Domenech is the head coach. His technical responsibilities are to conceive and implement team strategy and tactics,select and train players to obtain the best results for France. Five coaches assist him: Pierre Mankowski (trainer), [Alain Boghossian (trainer)] Bruno Martini (goalkeeping coach),Fabrice Grange (assistant goalkeeping coach) and Robert Duverne (fitness).
One could also add Thierry Marszalek (video/IT), whose job is to gather and edit images of all matches played by France and its potential opponents and prepare them for video sessions. He also re-creates virtual images of tactics, formations and strategy to support the head coach.
At specific competitions the staff could even be enlargened to include scouts to detect new talent and supervisors who study the game plans of opponents.
For players to be at their optimum, they need quality medical follow up. Hence the need at least one physician (doctor) and a physiotherapist, a sport psychotherapists to diffuse stress and build positive energies, a nutritionists/ cooks to decide on the type and quantity of food to be served the players. [The French team currently has 1 doctor and three physiotherapists].
There is usually a media and administrative team of close to ten persons working with the team. This includes, one or two press officers, a superintendent, a travel officer to organise trips, arrange training and lodging facilities, a translator (should the coach speak another language), and an officer in charge of relations with sponsors.
My game plan
For the Indomitable Lions to succeed, an adequate structure as presented above should be set up. Moreover the federation and sport ministry should act as in France and England where the authorities only appoint the Head coach and he decides on his backroom staff.
The Italian, Fabio Capello, took over the England national team with his staff that includes Italian assistants Franco Baldini and Italo Galbiati, goalkeeping coach Franco Tancredi and fitness coach Massimo Neri. It was Cappello who discussed with FA director Trevor Brooking about possibly having an Englishman on the coaching staff. They eventually agreed on Stuart Pearce, the England Under-21 coach.
Such a process allows the coach to stamp his authority and places full responsibility for his successes and failures at his doorsteps.
The practice now in Cameroon is to appoint a coach and append to him a national [Cameroonian] that he would only discover on the job as his assistant. The foreigner also comes and meets a medical set-up he does not know and that he may doubt. This also goes for the administrative director of national teams who is a ministerial appointee. Often this dis-jointed network hardly works in tandem and there is no real sense of organisation, hence failure.
In 2001-2002 when Winfried Shaffer reached the height of success in Cameroon it was down to the fact that he had a big backroom staff of German trainers, translators, physios and doctors who worked to prepare the team before that memorable African Cup of nations in Mali. Cameroon won the trophy without conceding a goal in open play.
What is more telling is that once his German (support) staff left him after conflicts with Cameroon’s sporting officials, his results collapsed.
We definitely need a staff and not just a coach.
**Article written for and published in the Herald newspaper column: Geof’s Game Plan in September 2007
Annotations to update certain facts