Ghana's Avram Grant has a lesson to learn about African football
Avram Grant ran into a storm last week over his absence from Ghana, where he been the national coach for the just over 12 months, resurrecting a prickly debate on the continent about the role of expatriate coaches.
Grant, who guided Chelsea to the 2007-08 UEFA Champions League final and Portsmouth to the 2010 FA Cup final, got off to a flying start to his latest job, taking the Black Stars to within one kick of winning the African Nations' Cup title barely one month after beginning the job. They only lost the final to the Ivory Coast on penalties, a similar fate Grant experienced with Chelsea in that Champions League final in Moscow in 2008.
But the honeymoon has seemingly faded and over the last 90-odd days, he was nowhere to be seen -- save for the occasional appearance on British television as a pundit.
And so followed a clamour for Grant to return to Ghana and spend his time watching local football rather than pontificating on European television about the Premier League or the Champions League.
Former Ghana Football Association president Ben Koufie -- also an ex-national team coach -- is among the gentle giants of the continent, elegantly mannered and softly spoken. But he had some acidic analysis of the Grant situation.
"It is wrong. He is the national team coach and must develop football of this country and that can only be done when he stays here and sees what is going on in our league," Koufie told reporters.
"I remember very well when [Grant] was being interviewed [to become Black Stars coach], I asked him whether he was going to stay here in Ghana to help develop local clubs and the coaches as well. So I don't see why the sudden change.
"To say that our league is useless and all the players are based in Europe and so you will stay in Europe is highly unfair. That was not the arrangement which the GFA made with him," Koufie added.
A letter demanding an immediate return was dispatched last week by the GFA to Grant and in the early hours of Sunday he was back in Accra, pointedly appearing at a league match in Tema, down the coast from Accra, later the same afternoon.
Grant might, in future, think twice about lengthy absences from his post and avoid being categorised what Claude Leroy famously called "Club Med coaches." It is a derisory reference to those European trainers who take on national team jobs in Africa but execute their mission without spending much time on the continent.
Sometimes, they have a valid argument, given that many African countries now only call up to their national teams players based at clubs in Europe. It might be argued his job could be better served trawling through leagues in Belgium, France, Portugal and elsewhere, monitoring African talent. But a failure to immerse in the culture of the country can be costly, leaving some gems unearthed.
Leroy, who recently gave up his job as coach of Congo, has been living on the continent for close to 30 years, stressed the importance of remaining on the continent.
"You have to be curious, passionate. If you come to Africa just to get a contract, don't bother, stop immediately. One must have travelled the country from west to east and from north to south. You must know its history and the geopolitics," said Leroy.
Herve Renard, another Frenchman and protege of Leroy, has won two of the last three African Nations' Cup titles and is also a believer in immersing one's self in the local culture. He has since built a house in Lusaka, Zambia, even if his new job is in charge of Morocco.
Sometimes there are extraordinary circumstances. Former Spain manager Javier Clemente is coach of Libya but because of the security situation in Tripoli he cannot reside there. "I have no fixed residence. They are at war: no football, no training, no nothing. When I have an international match, we get together 20 days before," he told Spanish radio.
It is remarkable that Clemente has managed to keep the north African country competitive. He took them to an improbable victory in the African Nations' Championship in 2014 -- the tournament for national teams made up of home-based players only -- and they qualified again for the 2016 finals in Rwanda despite the national league being put on hold while it remains unsafe to play football.
But Clemente's situation is an outlier, and moving forward Grant would be wise to follow the advice of European managers who have triumphed in Africa. Otherwise, like Leroy said, he shouldn't bother.
Mark Gleeson covers African football for ESPN FC.