2014 FIFA World Cup
Previous Clubs/Countries: None
The Ivory Coast Football Federation (FIF) sprung a double surprise after the 2012 African Nations Cup (ANC) final. Despite taking his team to the continental showpiece, Francois Zahoui was sacked after a dramatic penalty shootout defeat to Zambia. Then, the FIF appointed a man who had no coaching experience and had never been in charge of a national team; Sabri Lamouchi was given one of the biggest jobs in African football less than a week before qualification for the 2014 World Cup began.
A former midfielder, Lamouchi was best known for making 12 appearances for France between 1996 and 2001. He played at the 1996 European Championship but was left out of the ultimately victorious squad that played at the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000. He had a lengthy club career and turned out more than 100 times at both Ales and Auxerre before spells at Monaco, Parma and Inter Milan. His playing days tailed off in the Qatari league.
The Ivorian football federation (FIF) gave no reason for the Zahoui axing, nor the Lamouchi appointment, and the vacuum the organisation left was filled with resentment. Zahoui was a local coach who had achieved satisfactory results with an Ivorian side filled with greats, even though he had not won the ANC. Fans were skeptical over how Lamouchi would handle their golden generation of players, given how green he was.
For the first 11 matches, they did not have much to complain about. Under Lamouchi, Ivory Coast won the opening exchanges on the road to Rio and reached the quarterfinals of the 2013 ANC. Lamouchi benched Didier Drogba during the continental tournament, though, which raised eyebrows that ascended even higher when Ivory Coast lost in the last eight to Nigeria.
Speculation was rife that Lamouchi's tenure would end there but it did not. An unusually patient approach from the FIF, whose president Sidy Diallo said "sacking the coach after defeat is not a good idea," gave Lamouchi the time to achieve his other target of qualifying for the World Cup. They sailed through the group stages unbeaten and then overcame Senegal in a West African derby.
It was hardly a surprise that the over-riding emotion Lamouchi felt that day was relief. He knows that the scrutiny will not end there and, given the group Ivory Coast find themselves in at the World Cup, reaching the round of 16 will be a minimum requirement if he wants to continue in the job.
He claims to have the support of the players and has insisted the team spirit is at an all-time high. He wants to improve their work ethic and cohesion, which matches such as the friendly played against Belgium (a 2-2 draw) will do because, according to Lamouchi, it provides a test against tough opposition. Lamouchi's approach is to combine discipline with determination and he hopes that will realise the Ivorian dream. Having missed out on a global showpiece as a player, there will also be some personal satisfaction in journeying there as a coach, too.
Strengths: Any coach willing to dispense with someone of the stature and reputation of Didier Drogba has to have fortitude in abundance. With the veteran striker between spells in China and Turkey following Ivory Coast's disappointing 2013 ANC, Lamouchi had no hesitation leaving him out of the team to play Gambia and Tanzania in World Cup qualifiers. Although Lamouchi recalled Drogba in August last year, the coach has shown he is not afraid of change or of making big calls.
Weaknesses: Having never coached at any level before, Lamouchi's inexperience has earned him criticism. When the team lost 4-1 to Mexico in August 2013, he came under fire for lacking a cohesive strategy, failing to control the squad and making substitutions that had no impact.
Career high: Being appointed manager of Africa's top-ranked team in his first ever coaching job and overseeing their qualification for the 2014 World Cup
Career low: Losing to Nigeria in the quarterfinals of the 2013 ANC, a tournament Ivory Coast were tipped to win.
Tactics: With a wealth of attacking talent, Lamouchi does need to think too hard about how his team should line-up; 4-3-3- is the obvious choice and one he has regularly employed in the past.
Quotes: "We have a generation of players who are coming to the end of their careers and for some of them it will be their last World Cup. Nobody's giving them much of a chance in the World Cup but they have the talent to trouble the big teams. And if we're going to do that we need everyone to rally to the cause 100 percent." Lamouchi wants to see the Ivorian golden generation head into the sunset in style.
Trivia: Lamouchi is regarded as a European coach, but he does boast African heritage as both of his parents are Tunisian.
Words: Firdose Moonda