Ivory Coast gambles on TV pundit coach
13 May 2014, 11:51
Abidjan - Sabri Lamouchi went from TV pundit to coach of top-ranked African team Ivory Coast in a move that took even the former France midfielder by surprise.
Frenchman Henri Michel, Bosnian Vahid Halilhodzic and Swede Sven-Goran Eriksson were established names who had guided the 'Elephants' over the past decade.
But after local Francois Zahoui was fired in mid-2012, Ivorian officials hired French TV football analyst Lamouchi.
Ivory Coast boast a galaxy of stars like Didier Drogba, brothers Yaya and Kolo Toure, Gervinho and Didier Zokora.
And they take instructions from an industrious midfielder who played club football in France and Italy, won 12 international caps, but has no coaching background.
"It was a decision that took everyone by surprise -- including me," Lamouchi admitted in an interview.
The gamble delivered mixed results with the Ivorians losing only one of 12 competitive games under the rookie coach, but failing last year to lift the elusive Africa Cup of Nations.
Ivory Coast lost 2-1 to eventual winners Nigeria in the quarter-finals.
Michel, fellow-Frenchman Gerard Gili, Halilhodzic and Zahoui went after unsuccessful attempts to deliver the most prized African football trophy.
Having survived amid an Ivorian media clamour for his dismissal, elegant dresser Lamouchi knows he must reach the second round at the World Cup or face the axe.
He is desperate to succeed in Brazil after suffering World Cup heartbreak 16 years ago when he was included in the preliminary France World Cup squad only to be omitted from the final list.
Zinedine Zidane-inspired France went on to become champions for the first time, walloping Brazil 3-0 in the final at the Stade de France in Paris.
Unlike Michel and Eriksson, who faced near-impossible tasks with opposition that included Argentina, the Netherlands, Brazil and Portugal, 42-year-old Lamouchi cannot complain about the 2014 draw
Ivory Coast are in Group C with Colombia, Greece and Japan -- arguably the most open of the eight mini-leagues with all four teams realistic contenders for a last-16 place.
"Ivory Coast have never reached the second round so it would be a wonderful achievement to do so," Lamouchi told reporters at a pre-World Cup coaches' gathering.
"Anything is possible once a country reaches the knockout stage.
"My mission is to ensure the 'Elephants' do their best, are competitive in every match, and make the 22 million Ivorians proud."
Should the west Africans progress from the first round, they would face England, Italy, Uruguay or Costa Rica for a quarter-finals place.
Lamouchi drew encouragement from a 2-2 warm-up draw away to fellow qualifiers Belgium with the Ivorians snatching a stoppage-time equaliser after trailing by two goals.
"That match gave me a clear picture of our real worth. I was particularly proud that the team refused to accept defeat."
Born in Lyon to Tunisian parents, Lamouchi played for Auxerre and Monaco in France and Parma, Inter Milan and Genoa in Italy before returning home to join Marseille.
He won league titles with Auxerre and Monaco and cup medals with Auxerre and Parma.
Lamouchi wound down his career in Qatar.