Aliou Cissé, Senegal’s World Cup hero in 2002 “under great pressure” to lead them to glory

Senegal, who are constantly tipped to win the Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) before reaching the finish line in 2019, hope that they will finally fulfill their promise at this year’s African football bonanza in Cameroon. Senegalese fans’ high hopes put pressure on the coach, former World Cup star 2002 Aliou Cissé. Jowhartakes a look back at Cissé’s rich career as both player and coach.

Last time, Senegal looked like a solid bet to take home the CAN trophy – with a cruel presence at the front in the form of Liverpool winger Sadio Mané – ahead of Napoli defensive rock Kalidou Koulibaly and powerful goalkeeper Édouard Mendy – Senegalese fans had every reason to believe they would win the Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt 2019.

It would not be. An Algeria 1-0 victory in the final denied the Senegal trophy they had long coveted.

It was not the first time Senegal had to settle for CAN silver medals, and lost to Cameroon on penalties after a goalless draw in the 2002 final. Yet, later that year, they captured the attention of the football world with an astonishing form at the World Cup in Japan and South Korea. In an astonishingly upset battle, the Teranga Lions’ World Cup winners beat France – Thierry Henry’s and Patrick Viera’s mighty Bleus – to sail through the group stage. Senegal beat an impressive Sweden in extra time to enter the quarterfinals, where they lost 1-0 in extra time in Turkey’s hands.

The captain of Senegal when they humiliated Les Bleus was none other than Aliou Cissé. Does he have what it takes to give the Teranga Lions another annus mirabilis, two decades after the famous David and Goliath victory over France? The stakes are high – as many African football observers say he is likely to lose his job if Senegal do not win this year’s CAN.

Aliou Cissé was born in the city of Ziguinchor in southwestern Senegal on March 24, 1976. His family emigrated to France when he was 9 and settled in the Paris suburb of Champigny-sur-Marne – the same place where his rival, Algeria’s manager Djamel Belmadi, also grew up. As a child, Cissé dreamed of playing for PSG before starting his career as a teenager in Lille. After a year in Sedan in France’s eastern Ardennes, Cissé got his dream move to the Parisian club.

“Dutiful, hardworking”

“He was ambitious and hard-working,” Cissé’s former Sedan teammate Pierre Deblock told AFP. “We had to go cross-country running every Monday and a bunch of us older players had found a shortcut on the track. He had just arrived, he was very young – and he fired us. It made me laugh; it showed you how much he wanted to succeed. ”

It was this combination of drive and authority that made Cissé the perfect candidate for captain of the Senegalese national team. Then Senegal’s manager Bruno Metsu chose Cissé as his leader on the pitch for the 2022 World Cup because he “was not a flamboyant player but one of the hard-working, hard-working players performing unglamorous but necessary tasks on the pitch”, Salif Diallo, manager. of sports by the Senegalese press agency, told FRANCE 24.

Diallo resembled Cissé’s style of play with Didier Deschamps – France’s captain dismissed by the iconic Eric Cantona as a pure “water carrier”. Deschamps lifted the 1998 World Cup before handling Les Bleus when they won the 2018 World Cup.

Cissé’s club career never really lived up to that moment of honor as Senegal’s World Cup captain in 2002. He played 43 international matches for PSG from 1998 to 2002, when their fortunes waned after the heyday of George Weah and David Ginola in the mid – 90s. After inconspicuous periods in Birmingham City and Portsmouth in the Premier League, Cissé returned to Sedan in 2006, before ending his playing career in Ligue 2’s Nîmes three years later.

Cissé soon worked for its management brands. He quickly made a big breakthrough and became an assistant to Senegal’s Olympic coach Karim Séga Diouf. Cissé then took up the position as Senegal’s youth leader and trained the country’s beginners in the Francophonie Games 2013.

Cissé then took the top job in 2015 and replaced the Frenchman Alain Giresse as Taranga Lions manager at a low point for Senegal, after they crashed in the group stage at that year’s CAN.

“He was the choice of Senegal fans,” Diallo noted. “We wanted Giresse to go after CAN-2015 and we wanted someone local to replace him,” he continued.

“Senegal has become a machine under Cissé,” Diallo added. “Maybe our style of play sometimes leaves a bit to be desired – but the important thing is that Senegal continues to win.”

The 4-2-3-1 formation Cissé has been the key to Senegal’s success, enabling their top stars Mané, Mendy and Koulibaly to play on their strengths – with PSG’s Idrissa Gueye linking them together as a midfielder.

“Cissé is like an older brother to his players,” said Diallo, noting that Cissé does a particularly good job of protecting his players from the glare of media attention.

“Great pressure”

Senegal has gone from strength to strength under Cissé. Teranga Lions left CAN-2017 in the quarterfinals – but it was against this year’s unstoppable juggernaut Cameroon, who continued to win the trophy.

On paper, Senegal’s exit in the group stage of the 2018 World Cup is disappointing. But the Teranga Lions were split in second place with Japan – with the same number of points (4), the same goal difference (0), the same number of goals scored (4) and the same number of goals conceded (4). Since Senegal and Japan were evenly matched by all these measures, the team with the most yellow cards had to go home – and they were unfortunately Teranga Lions.

Then at CAN-2019, Senegal’s record was damaged only by their first and last matches, both losses to their Algerian enemy.

Cissé got Senegal to an Africa Cup of Nations final but Senegal fans want more. Not only do they demand victory, they are also looking for a more aesthetically pleasing style of play – especially after a series of awesome 1-0 victories marked their CAN-2019.

“The fans want Senegal to play a beautiful match,” said Diallo. “They put the ball in the air too much; “People say it’s the only way to win in Africa – but Belmadi’s Algeria shows that you can win matches with aesthetically pleasing football.”

The raw statistics speak well for Cissé: 40 wins, 14 draws and 8 losses in 62 matches. In addition, Senegal has climbed up the FIFA rankings during its term of office and has become the highest ranked African side in 20th place.

But Senegal fans are worried as they enter CAN-21: “We are seen as one of the favorites thanks to past performances and the quality of our players; but everyone is struggling to imagine victory,” said Diallo. “Cissé is under a lot of pressure . Many of the supporters do not want to lower him. The squad is full of players for big European clubs. The government and the Football Association strongly support the team; it has never had such stability. So people would not forgive Cissé if it is something other than taking the trophy or at least getting to the final again. ”

This article has been translated from the original into French.

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