Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor—
CALLISTO PASUWA is the only coach at the 2017 Nations Cup finals without the experience of either playing or coaching in Europe and will have to move mountains to transform his Warriors from rank underdogs into giant-killers in Gabon.
The 46-year-old Warriors mentor, the second youngest coach at the 2017 Nations Cup finals, will plunge into explosive tactical battles against some of the most experienced gaffers in world football when Africa’s biggest football festival gets underway this weekend.
He is only older than Senegal’s 40-year-old coach Aliou Cisse, the man who captained his country during that merry dance at the 2002 World Cup finals, where the Lions of Teranga came within minutes of becoming the first African nation to qualify for the semi-finals.
Pasuwa is just one of only four local coaches, who has been trusted by their countries to steer their national football teams’ battleships on the minefields of Gabon, with the others being Cisse and the highly-rated Florent Ibenge of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The other member of that group is Baciro Cande who has defied the odds to guide Guinea Bissau to their first appearance at the Nations Cup finals.
Just to emerge from a very tough group and qualify for the knock-out stages, Pasuwa will have to outwit the likes of 70-year-old Polish veteran, Henryk Kasperczack, who has been coaching since the Zimbabwean gaffer was an eight-year-old primary schoolboy, and who started his adventure in African football way back in 1993 when he was hired as the Cote d’Ivoire coach.
Kasperczack, who is now in his second spell as the head coach of Tunisia, has since then coached Morocco, Mali (twice) and Senegal, is considered one of the experts when it comes to African football given his lengthy spell in the trenches of coaching on the continent.
He played for Poland at two World Cup finals and was a member of the Polish national team that took silver at the 1976 Olympic Games football tournament.
Algeria, one of the teams expected to make a big impression at this year’s Nations Cup finals, are under the guidance of 67-year-old Belgian gaffer Georges Leekens who led his country to a place at the 1998 World Cup finals in France but was sacked just after the tournament when the country finished third in their group.
He was recalled to take charge of the Belgian national team in May 2010 on a two-year contract, which was later extended to four years, following promising results in the Euro 2012 qualifiers and has been coaching since 1984, taking charge of some of his country’s biggest clubs — Anderlecht, Gent, Club Brugge and Cercle Brugge — and also having stints in Poland, Holland and Sudan.
Leekens is in his second stint with Algeria and has also taken charge of Tunisia.
Pasuwa, who is making his maiden dance at the Nations Cup finals, will probably consider himself to be more experienced than Senegal’s coach Cisse who, at 40, is the youngest coach in Gabon.
Cisse was handed the big job after impressing with the Senegalese Under-23 team, which he had been a part of since 2012, and has impressed his employers by blending the professionalism that he gained from a lengthy spell, plying his trade in Europe, where he turned out for a number of French clubs, including giants Paris Saint Germain, and also played for Birmingham City and Portsmouth when the two clubs where in the English Premiership.
He was once a teammate of former Zimbabwe skipper Benjani Mwaruwari at Portsmouth.
A distinguished leader of the best national team to emerge out of Senegal, which beat the then defending World Cup holders France in the first game of the 2002 World Cup finals in one of the greatest shocks of the tournament, Cisse has earned his stripes and his Lions of Teranga won all their six qualifying games ahead of the 2017 Nations Cup finals.
His leadership qualities and great character came to the fore when, just three months after that 2002 World Cup show in Japan and South Korea, Cisse kept his focus to keep playing for his club despite losing a dozen close family members who perished at sea in a Senegalese ferry disaster off the coast of Gabon which claimed more than 1 800 people.
Cisse was handed a four-year contract but it will be reviewed after the 2017 Nations Cup finals in Gabon where his Lions of Teranga will arrive as one of the favourites to win the tournament after they soared to the top of the rankings on the continent in the latest FIFA rankings.
Cisse and Pasuwa are four of the local coaches out to make a big impression for African gaffers just four years after the legendary Steve Keshi made a case for them by becoming the first black coach from the continent to lead his country to success at the Nations Cup finals in more than 20 years after guiding the Super Eagles of Nigeria to victory in South Africa.
The other local coaches are Guinea Bissau’s Cande, the 68-year-old who had a spell playing in Portugal, but made his name coaching clubs in his tiny homeland of about 1.7 million people, which is one of the 10 poorest nations in the world, to success with Sporting Bissau winning five successive league titles under his guidance.
Cande, unlike Pasuwa, had the luxury of calling a 23-man team made up entirely of players based in Europe.
Guinea Bissau’s success in their 2017 Nations Cup qualifiers was hailed as one of the finest stories in African football and the country’s football leader was honoured by CAF president Issa Hayatou recently for transforming the country’s football fortunes.
The other home-based coach is the DRC’s Ibenge, the 55-year-old tactician who played his football in Belgium and France before coming home to revolutionise coaching in his country, leading AS Vita to the final of the African Champions League three years ago, after edging Pasuwa’s Dynamos along the way, and then guiding his nation to the CHAN title in Rwanda last year.
He was named by the influential football magazine, FourFourTwo, as one of the best 50 coaches in the world after leading the DRC Leopards to third place in the last Nations Cup finals.
Hector Cuper, the Argentine who coached Inter Milan to the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League, is in charge of Egypt while Avram Grant, a losing finalist in the UEFA Champions League with Chelsea, is in charge of the Black Stars of Ghana.
The Coaches In Gabon
ZIMBABWE — CALLISTO PASUWA Pasuwa (Zimbabwe, 46 years)
GABON — Jose Antonio Camacho (Spain, former Real Madrid coach, 61 years)
MOROCCO — Herve Renard (France, former winner of the Nations Cup with Zambia, 48 years)
ALGERIA — Georges Leekens (Belgium, 67 years)
CAMEROON — Hugo Broos (Belgium, 64 years)
BURKINA FASO — Paulo Duarte (Portugal, 47 years)
TUNISIA — Henryk Kasperczack (Poland, 70 years)
COTE D’IVOIRE — Michel Dussuyer (France, 57 years)
TOGO — Claude Le Roy (France, 68 years)
UGANDA — Milutin “Micho” Sredojevic (Serbia, 47 years)
GHANA — Avram Grant (Israel, 61 years)
EGYPT — Hector Cuper (Argentina, 61 years)
GUINEA BISSAU — Baciro Cande (Guinea Bissau, 68 years)
SENEGAL — Aliou Cisse (Senegal, 40 years)
DRC — Florent Ibenge (DRC, 55 years)
MALI — Alain Giresse (France, 55 years)