Selection of a New Coach: A Process Full of Twists and Delusions

Many football pundits regarded 2013 as a vintage year of Ethiopian football. The national team, the Walias, qualified for the African Cup of Nations (Afcons) after an absence of 31 years; reached the play offs against the Nigerian Super Eagles in the 2014 World Cup qualification; and participated in the CHAN 2014, a competition of African nations with their home-based players, after a superb qualifying campaign. 

The Walias were nominated by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) for the 2013 Glo-CAF National Team of the Year and their hit striker, Salah El Din Ahmed Said, was on the list of the top 25 African Players of the Year. Getaneh Kebede and Adane Girma were also nominated for the Player of the Year Award for the African-based players’ category. 

But the national team’s dismal performance at the CHAN 2014 in February brought the sacking of the national team’s coach, Sewnet Bishaw, who has been credited for much of the team’s success. What followed the firing of the coach and the process to replace him has been one of the most intriguing events in Ethiopian football.

In February, the Ethiopian Football Federation (EFF) invited applications for the selection of the national coach. Twenty seven coaches submitted applications for the vacant position. Two Ethiopians —Wubetu Abate and Yohannes Tesema — applied for the top position, as well as three Argentines and two people from each of the following countries: Italy, Serbia, Netherlands, Portugal, Romania and Brazil. The applicant pool also includes coaches from Germany, Belgium, Turkey, Bulgaria and France.

In late March, the EFF announced its list of finalists: Goran Stevanovic (Serbia), Lars Olof Mattson (Sweden), Diego Garzito (Italy), Mariano Bareto (Portugal) and Zoran Filipovic (Serbia). The biggest surprise, however, was who didn’t make the list: Tom Saintfiet, who formerly coached the Walias, and Serbian Petrovic, who had earlier been considered a favorite.

From the shortlist, former Ghanaian national team coach, Mariano Bareto, was said to be selected as the first choice and negotiations were set to be held. But without announcing the process of the negotiations, the Federation added a twist to the process: news regarding its selection of the Serbian Goran Stevanovic over Mariano. 

A few days later, drama and intrigue continued to develop after reports leaked stating that the negotiation with Stevanovic failed because he demanded several things that the Federation can’t afford. He requested USD30,000 per month and demanded to bring  two assistants – one from Belgrade and another from Greece – each of whom would be paid USD10,000 monthly. Furthermore, he requested frequent travel between Ethiopia and Belgrade to see his family.

“We cannot afford what Stevanovic asked for and we find it ridiculous because he demanded to bring onboard two assistants, yet as EFF we feel he will not be able to transfer the knowledge to our Ethiopian coaches whom we intended to appoint as his assistants,” an official told Super Sport on the condition of anonymity. 

The local media have been requesting explanations but the Federation was unresponsive and many started to speculate. The speculations heightened the existing conflicts the EFF has with local media. 

The EFF announced the appointment of Portuguese Mariano Barreto, this time the news come through the BBC. The 57 year-old is the former Ghana National team coach who helped players like Michael Essen, Asamoah Gyan and Sulley Muntari achieve their current level of success. He has also been a coach for different clubs, having served as an assistant manager to Russia’s team, Dynamo Moscow.

The EFF will pay a net salary of USD18,000 per month and will cover other benefits such as vehicle, fuel and housing expenses for the coach.

Mariano’s main task will be to lead the National Team to the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations in Morocco. Ethiopia is one of 21 nations who have gone straight into the group stages of the African Nations Cup qualifiers, which will begin in September 2014. In Group B, Ethiopia will play against Mali, Algeria, and the winners of two matches: Sao Tome & Principe Vs Benin and Malawi Vs Chad.

Mariano told the press that his success “depends on the level of his own work.” He added: “I know Ethiopian players have natural talent but most of the national team players are above the age of 26...  so we have to look for ... young boys if we want to qualify for tournaments, so we’ll work to improve and change this situation. In all the countries I have worked I have produced top players, so I hope when I leave Ethiopia I’ll see a top player on TV.” 

For many Ethiopians, however, the amount of money that will be spent on hiring a coach from abroad raises many questions, especially since prior foreign coaches didn’t do much to change the team’s level of success. Many say it was an Ethiopian coach who made it possible to rejoin the AFCON tournament that Ethiopia has missed for decades. They also question the fairness of the amount of money paid to the foreign coach, while it is possible to send potential Ethiopian coaches abroad to study modern coaching techniques of which the country is in need. 

Yet the enigma of why Ethiopian football is not progressing as much as its football-crazed fans wish still persists.  Whether having a foreign coach will be a solution to this issue, among others, will be a matter of time.

2nd Year . June 2014 . No.15


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