At the 2002 World Cup Senegal beat the holders, France, in the opening match before reaching the quarter-finals. Their captain then coaches the current side.
Aliou Cissé is a Senegalese football coach and former player. He has previously played for English Premier League club Birmingham City and later Portsmouth. Cissé was a defensive midfielder who has, on occasion, played at centre back.
It is hard not to agree with the Senegal captain’s assessment of Aliou Cissé. Sixteen years after the former midfield enforcer for Birmingham and Portsmouth led his country past the holders, France, in the opening match and into an unlikely place in the World Cup quarter-finals the suave and sophisticated 42-year-old is preparing for the Lions of Teranga’s big return.
Cissé, appointed to replace Alain Giresse in 2015 after a successful spell in charge of Senegal’s Under-23 side, whom he led to the last eight of the 2012 Olympics, is the lowest-paid of the 32 managers in Russia by some distance with a salary of £175,000 compared with Germany’s Joachim Löw at almost £4m.
Despite facing some criticism for adopting a pragmatic approach to qualifying with a squad having an array of attacking talent including Liverpool’s Mané, Keita Baldé of Monaco and the rising star Ismaila Sarr of Rennes, there is a quiet confidence at home that history may be about to repeat itself.
“This is a great generation,” Cissé said during last year’s Africa Cup of Nations, when Mané’s penalty shootout miss in the quarter-finals led to them bowing out against Cameroon. “What we’re changing is the mindset. It’s not just about playing a pass or some technical skill, it’s about raising the whole level of African football. That’s our objective.”
His coaching journey began a few months after the defeat by Turkey in the 2002 quarter-finals when Cissé lost 11 members of his family in the Joola ferry disaster. In total nearly 1,900 people perished in what remains one of the worst maritime accidents in history. “Senegal is only a small country,” said Oumar Ndiaye, an official at the Senegalese Football Federation. “More than 1,000 people died and everyone knows someone who knows someone. We are all affected by something like this.”
Cissé took a leading role in organising a charity match against Nigeria to honour the victims, arranging for both sets of players to attend, coaching the Senegal team and donating £5,000 to the cause from his own pocket.
He had arrived in England by then after joining Birmingham from Montpellier, having played for Lille and Paris Saint-Germain. He spent two years in the Midlands before moving to Portsmouth but, by the time Cissé was invited to become the coach of Senegal’s Under-23 side three years after retirement in 2009, the success of Korea and Japan had become a distant memory for a country that has continued to produce top-level players despite failing to win a major international title.