In Cisse, a man Senegal trust with their heart and soul
Coach has successfully managed to lift African nation from tough times; Under his watch, Senegal won African Cup of Nations title in 2021 and are now in the knockouts of the ongoing World Cup in Qatar
Published: 01st December 2022 01:05 AM | Last Updated: 01st December 2022 01:05 AM | A+A A-
Every World Cup has that standout figure — someone who might neither be the best manager or the player, but is nevertheless memorable enough for fans to remember long after the tournament. Everyone remembers the way Roger Milla broke out into dance after his goals in 1990, Carlos Valderrama’s head full of bouncing orange fizz in 1994, Fabien Barthez’s shiny bald head in 1998 being kissed by Laurent Blanc after every game.
In Qatar 2022, that figure appears to be Aliou Cisse. Social media is awash with comments of his dreadlocks, his energy on the sidelines, his apparent resemblance to the rapper Snoop Dogg (a topic on which Snoop Dogg himself commented). He is indeed the flavour of the month, a distraction from the rather serious socio-political issues that have otherwise dominated the discourse in Qatar.
Casual fans might have only discovered Cisse now but he has been around for a long time. He was there in Russia, with the same hairstyle — he is one of the select few coaches to return to Qatar as manager alongside the likes of Didier Deschamps, Tite, Roberto Martinez and Gareth Southgate. There might not be a more important figure for Senagalese football. He was the captain of the miracle team of 2002 which beat world champions France and reached the quarterfinals.
In 2015, with Senegalese football seemingly in the doldrums, his country turned to Cisse again. Senegal had not qualified for the World Cup since their only appearance in 2002. They had just exited the African Cup of Nations in the group stage. Cisse’s task was not only to get Senegal back to where they were, but to also take them one step forward — for all their talent, Senegal’s golden generation did not win a major trophy.
It is easy to imagine why everyone thought Cisse was the best man for the job. On various occasions, former teammates have talked about his quiet determination, an insistence on getting on with things no matter the setback. Perhaps the best illustration of this lies in the greatest tragedy of his life.
In 2002, MV Le Joola, a ferry owned by the Senegalese government, capsized off the coast of Gambia, killing 1863 people. Among the victims were eleven members of Cisse’s family. Karren Brady, managing director of Birmingham City FC for whom Cisse was playing at the time, wrote that he kept that tragedy to himself for days before the club found out. “Naturally we invited him to take indefinite leave but that wasn’t his way of mourning,” she wrote in The Sun. “He stayed with us for all but a few days, going about his business with dignity, asking for no favours, showing incredible mental strength.”
By 2018, Cisse had led Senegal back to the World Cup and restored their status as an African powerhouse. However, here too setbacks lay in wait. They exited the World Cup in the group stages by virtue of having accumulated more yellow cards than Japan — every other metric had them tied. Then, in 2019, they lost in the final of the African Cup of Nations to Algeria, the same hurdle at which Cisse had faltered as a player.
Cisse, though, had his revenge on fate. Senegal won their first-ever African Cup of Nations title in 2021, beating Egypt in the final. And now, they have erased the pain of 2018 by qualifying for the knockout stages. Sometimes, quiet determination is all you need!