Talented Ivorian Elephants ready to rumble
PULL the other one, Kolo Touré. The Ivorian defender fooled about three people on this goodly earth, all of them dozy newborns, when he claimed that Ghana are favourites to win this African Nations Cup.
After a bit of desperate Googling for evidence to support his claim, Touré offered the following bits and bobs: the Black Stars reached the quarters at the 2010 World Cup and have shown impressive recent form. The Manchester City defender also noted that a shortage of big names is no obstacle to winning the continental trophy, as Zambia proved so annoyingly last time around.
Fair enough. But the Elephants cannot shrug off the psychological weight of their own power so easily. They have Unfinished Business, with big capital letters. It would be a proper travesty should Didier Drogba and Yaya Touré, two grandmasters of modern football, complete their playing careers without a Nations Cup medal to display alongside their European Champions League golds. Touré will have other chances in future editions, but Drogba probably will not.
And other Ivorian players have more modest points to prove. For example, Gervinho needs to demonstrate that he is a footballer — and not a skilful but buggy footie robot awaiting a crucial software update relating to kicking the ball.
Emerging kingpins such as Max Gradel, Wilfried Bony and Cheikh Tiote are also feeling the heat: they need to demonstrate this month that they are worthy long-term successors to the old guard of Drogba, Kolo Toure and Didier Zokora. Such is the depth of the Ivorian talent base that excellent rivals are snapping at every regular’s heels.
And while we are on the topic of pressure, how about Elephants coach Sabri Lamouchi? The Ivorian football public had a minor freak-out when Lamouchi’s predecessor, Francois Zahoui, was sacked last year in the wake of the agonising defeat to Zambia in Libreville. Despite that failure, the taciturn Zahoui was widely respected for the work ethic, unity and humility he instilled in the side.
A theory advanced in the Ivorian media is that senior players used their influence to get rid of Zahoui and have him replaced with a pliable, inexperienced outsider. Lamouchi, a former French international of Tunisian descent, has a decent playing pedigree with Marseille and Inter Milan, and he seems a calm and intelligent customer. But it remains a mystery why a promising Ivorian coach was replaced by an unproven French rookie — especially as the continental mood is for increasing faith and investment in the intellectual capital of African coaches.
Perhaps the Ivorian Football Association wanted some Gallic voodoo a la Herve Renard. Perhaps they reverted to the musty old theory that only a foreign coach can remain impartial in selections and keep the jostling egos in check. Whatever the reasoning, Lamouchi has been handed a hell of a task for his first coaching assignment.
But something tells me he may have lucked out. These Elephants are ready to rumble.