Taking Senegalese Soccer to New Heights, With Pride and Style

Taking Senegalese Soccer to New Heights, With Satisfaction and Type

DIAMNIADIO, Senegal — Standing on the sidelines of Senegal’s brand-new nationwide stadium, Aliou Cissé, the largest fan of his personal workforce, waved his arms at 50,000 followers, exhorting them to cheer even louder, his signature dreadlocks bouncing on his shoulders.

Followers roared again, clapping and blowing their vuvuzelas at a extra deafening pitch. Minutes later, Senegal defeated its fiercest rival, Egypt, incomes a qualification for soccer’s World Cup, which begins this November in Qatar.

“After we are collectively, Senegal wins,” a grinning Mr. Cissé, 46, stated at a postgame information convention. Or, as he likes to repeat in Wolof, one of many nation’s nationwide languages, “Mboloo Mooy gagner” — “Unity brings victory.”

If Senegal feels proud and patriotic as of late, it’s thanks largely to its nationwide workforce — and to Mr. Cissé, a former skilled participant who has reinvented Senegalese soccer and constructed what’s presently the perfect workforce in Africa.

“The barometer of the Senegalese society at present is soccer,” Mr. Cissé stated in a current interview with The New York Occasions in Diamniadio, a newly constructed metropolis on the outskirts of Dakar the place the brand new stadium sits. “Individuals watch us play they usually’re proud to be Senegalese, proud to be African.”

Mr. Cissé led the squad that received the Africa Cup of Nations earlier this yr, the nation’s first soccer title. In doing so, he proved to the Senegalese folks that considered one of their very own might succeed the place nobody else had.

European managers have lengthy coached many African nationwide groups, together with Senegal’s, however that’s altering, a shift embodied by Mr. Cissé.

From Algeria to Zimbabwe, Sudan to Burkina Faso, a rising technology of African managers are constructing a brand new teaching tradition on the continent. Sixteen groups now have native coaches, and the three sub-Saharan African groups going to Qatar later this yr — Cameroon, Ghana and Senegal — all have former nationwide gamers as managers.

“Increasingly skilled gamers on the continent need to be coaches,” stated Ferdinand Coly, a former teammate of Mr. Cissé’s. “Native experience is gaining floor.”

Though Mr. Cissé maintains that European coaches have achieved quite a bit for African groups, that period is fading.

Born within the southern Senegalese area of Casamance in 1976, Mr. Cissé moved to France when he was 9 and grew up within the suburbs of Paris, one of the world’s best pools of soccer talent.

His trajectory is just like many African gamers who had been raised in Europe or joined youth academies there. “Once I was out, I used to be French, however at house I used to be really Senegalese,” Mr. Cissé stated about talking Wolof and following the household’s customs whereas in France.

Mr. Cissé joined the youth academy of Lille, in northern France, at 14, and performed in French and English golf equipment within the Nineteen Nineties and 2000s, together with the French powerhouse Paris St.-Germain, Portsmouth and Birmingham Metropolis, which competed in England’s high league.

On the 2002 World Cup, he captained a Senegalese squad taking part in its first World Cup — one which shocked France, the world champions on the time, in a shock victory that many nonetheless check with with heat nostalgia. Senegal reached the quarterfinals, the workforce’s greatest achievement thus far within the competitors.

As a coach, Mr. Cissé now appeals to each Senegalese gamers raised of their native nation, and to those that moved to France of their youth like him, constructing a bridge between the squad’s “locals” and its “binationals,” as they’re referred to among the many workforce’s workers.

It has been an extended highway to success. When Mr. Cissé took over the workforce in 2015, Senegal had been performing poorly on the Africa Cup of Nations and had didn’t qualify for the final three World Cup editions. Mr. Cissé’s predecessors had been fired one after one other.

Seven years later, Mr. Cissé, nicknamed “El Tactico,” for his environment friendly however restrained method to the sport, will carry Senegal to its third World Cup and his second one as a coach. The period when African groups had been “observing,” is over, he says, and one will win the coveted trophy in the future.

“Why not us?” he stated.

Régis Bogaert, a former French youth coach of Mr. Cissé’s at Lille and now his deputy on the Senegalese workforce, stated Mr. Cissé had conveyed a way of mission to his gamers. “He’s making many individuals need to be the following Aliou Cissé in Senegal and in Africa,” Mr. Bogaert stated.

Soccer, a nationwide ardour, is in all places in Senegal, whether or not within the youth academies nurturing future skills, or on Dakar’s seashores, empty development websites and pitches dotting the town’s corniche alongside the Atlantic Ocean.

“To be the coach of the nationwide workforce at present is to be a politician,” stated Mr. Cissé, who typically repeats that he lives in Senegal and feels the nation’s stress each day, in contrast to his gamers or the overseas coaches who reside overseas. “It’s about figuring out the economic system, the tradition, the training and historical past of your nation.”

His humorousness and style tastes have additionally helped along with his reputation: Mr. Cissé typically wears shiny white sneakers and thick black sq. glasses, and he retains his dreadlocks below a New York Yankees or Crew Senegal cap, giving him the air of a cool father. He has 5 kids, whom he makes sound as difficult to handle because the nationwide workforce.

If Mr. Cissé has shared Senegal’s greatest successes, he has additionally skilled a few of the nation’s worst traumas. In 2002, he misplaced 11 family in a shipwreck that killed greater than 1,800 passengers off the coasts of Senegal and Gambia.

Senegal’s victory on the Africa Cup of Nations earlier this yr got here 20 years after Mr. Cissé missed a penalty within the last of the identical event, depriving the workforce of its first trophy again then — a reminiscence that lengthy haunted his nights, he stated.

Since then, Senegal has been having happier days on the pitch, and the nationwide pleasure surrounding the workforce was on full show final month when Senegal defeated Egypt in a penalty shootout in its first recreation in Diamniadio’s stadium.

Some followers stated they’d slept exterior the stadium the night time earlier than to ensure they bought the perfect seats. Hours earlier than kickoff, hundreds extra lined as much as enter, the sounds of whistles and drums filling the air.

“It’s an important day for Senegal,” stated Sally Diassy, a French-Senegalese 30-year-old who lives in France and stated she was visiting Senegal to help her favourite workforce.

The jubilation on show after the win echoed the triumphant return of the Senegalese gamers after they received the Africa Cup of Nations in February. Tens of hundreds of followers greeted them as they paraded within the streets of Dakar. President Macky Sall rewarded the workforce and Mr. Cissé’s workers with some land within the capital and in Diamniadio, together with about $83,000, an exorbitant sum that set off some minor protests in a rustic the place practically half of the inhabitants lives below the poverty line.

However some gamers have additionally given again: Sadio Mané, the workforce’s star, has constructed a hospital in his native village. Kalidou Koulibaly, the captain, purchased ambulances for his father’s village.

“Gamers need to be position fashions in their very own nation,” stated Salif Diallo, a veteran soccer journalist who has adopted Mr. Cissé’s profession as a participant and a coach. “This workforce is altering the notion that Senegalese have of themselves.”

Those that know Mr. Cissé say that after he’s achieved with the nationwide workforce, he’ll need to play a higher position for his nation.

“I’ve tried to set an instance,” Mr. Cissé stated of his profession as each participant and coach. “If a Senegalese participant strikes to Birmingham or Montpelier or wherever I’ve performed tomorrow, I hope he can be welcomed as a result of they are going to do not forget that Aliou Cissé was a superb man.”