Magazine article New African

Talented but Troubled: With Four Managers in Four Years, an Unstable Cote d'Ivoire Team Could Struggle to Make an Impression at the World Cup, Even with Their Depth of High-Quality Talent, Says Barney Cullum

Magazine article New African

Talented but Troubled: With Four Managers in Four Years, an Unstable Cote d'Ivoire Team Could Struggle to Make an Impression at the World Cup, Even with Their Depth of High-Quality Talent, Says Barney Cullum

Article excerpt

Having barely 20 days to work with his charges before a tough World Cup group campaign against Brazil, Portugal and North Korea, Sven-Goran Eriksson knows reinventing the tactical wheel could be disastrous for a side lacking managerial stability.

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"Before we talk about the tactics, let me start to work with the players. It will [though] be a system that suits the players," Eriksson says.

"You can't, in a couple of weeks, try to make a revolution and do something completely different which the players aren't used to. That's impossible."

The former England and Mexico manager, who took charge of Cote d'Ivoire in March, is the country's fourth manager in as many years, after the sacking of Bosnian Vahid Halilhodzic, following their untimely exit from the Nations Cup.

Although Eriksson has stuck rigidly to his favoured 4-4-2 approach throughout a coaching career that has seen him lead teams in the diverse football cultures of Sweden, Portugal, Italy, England and Mexico, he may have reservations about imposing it on a Cote d'Ivoire squad used to the 4-3-3 style under Halilhodzic.

Sticking to the system should be no problem for the West Africans, who have several skilful, deep-lying forwards who can cause havoc from a starting position just behind Didier Drogba.

Salomon Kalou, Gervinho, Kader Keita and Bakary Kone are all capable of probing in the space Drogba creates with his muscular hold-up play.

Fielding three defensive midfielders--Yaya Toure, Didier Zakora and Cheik Tiote--might also afford Cote d'Ivoire some protection against Portugal and Brazil, their star-studded first two Group G opponents. Against North Korea, Tiote might be sacrificed for a more creative force, such as Sevilla's recalled Koffi Ndri Romaric. Eriksson was impressed with the way Wigan's Steve Gohouri finished the English Premier League season and might partner him with Kolo Toure in central defence at the expense of Sol Bamba, who held the position at the African Cup of Nations in Angola.

Emmanuel Eboue, who played on the right wing for Arsenal this season, can offer defensive width from the right back position for the Elephants, while Siaka Tiene or Arthur Boka will do the same from the left.

Boubacar Barry is expected to hold on to the goalkeeper's jersey despite slipping to third choice at his club. The Belgium-based player--converted from a midfielder to a keeper when he was seventeen--lacks stature and confidence but the Elephants have very few options.

"We have good players but we need to be better organised defensively," Barry said recently, stressing the need to avoid a repeat of their poor defensive showing in Germany four years ago.

With just over two weeks to work with the team--at a camp in the Swiss Alps--Eriksson will have little scope to address Cote d'Ivoire's leaky defence before their opening match against Portugal.

But improving the side's confidence, teamwork and unity is vital, as former coach Halilhodzic revealed "some of the team do not want to play together", a fact Kolo Toure appears to agree with.

"At the moment, we have great players but we are not a great team."

Star player:

Didier Drogba

Ivorian newspaper Le Jour Plus recently ran an article under the headline "The Didier Drogba Enigma", in which it curiously suggested that "black magic" could be responsible for the regularity with which the national icon has been affected by injuries on the eve of international tournaments. Carrying an injury at the last Nations Cup, Drogba only scored once and was muted throughout the event. …

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