New coach Francois Zahoui unveiled to the media

The public unveiling of new Ivory Coast coach Francois Zahoui was a rather muted affair, several months after the national and international media last gathered on the top floor of the Ivorian Football Federation. Then, the room baked like an oven as everyone struggled to get a glimpse of Sven Goran-Eriksson.

This time the tone was clearly more subdued: instead of the mega-expensive foreign coach that would lead Ivory Coast in Africa’s first World Cup, this was the unveiling of an Ivorian coach on considerably less money but, the FIF hopes, here for considerably longer.

“I’ve not selected Zahoui for ‘patriotic’ reasons”, said the president of the FIF, Jacques Anouma, who did most of the talking. “We’ve been planning to have a national in charge since 2002. We couldn’t agree terms with either Eriksson or Gerard Gili. Zahoui was in charge as caretaker for the friendly match against Italy, and that made up our minds that he was the right man for the job”. Ivory Coast won that match 1-0, without captain Didier Drogba.

“I respect the decision of those who don’t accept our choice – they have a right to hold their opinions”, he said, referring to the criticism in some sections of the local press that Zahoui’s limited track record disqualified him for the job. “We may well slip up, but we’ll get back up again. If things don’t work out, we’ll find out why and move on, but this project of having a local coach is not a failure from the get-go. We hope he can do better than his predecssors”.

Anouma stressed both that he would let Zahoui take his own decisions without the interference of the boss, while at the same time saying Zahoui, a former captain of the national team, would be given lots of support. He said the FIF had been looking for someone to be based full-time in Ivory Coast but added that appointing a local coach wouldn’t mean he had less resources and said “Zahoui can go to Europe as often as he wants.” There’ll be more stress on developing the local infrastructures: “A great footballing nation is not just about having stars at the big European clubs”. Responding to some pointed questions from the press, Anouma said “This is not a step back for Ivory Coast”.

Zahoui said little himself though, and perhaps looked a little nervous. He stressed that other coaches (Platini) had gone from success as a national team player straight into coaching the national team and that at nearly 50 years old with 4 children, he felt ready for the job. His first press conference with the team will be on Wednesday ahead of Saturday’s first qualifying match.

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