Written by Oluwaseun Oyediji
The interim coach of Cote d’Ivoire senior men’s national team, Emerse Fae has rejected the tag of ‘Special One’ in which the locals call him after masterminding the the Elephants’ resurrection at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) on home soil.
The 40-year-old coach has a chance on Sunday to join an elite list of Africa Cup of Nations-winning managers just weeks after taking charge of a first senior match when his side come up against Nigeria in the final in Abidjan.
He took over from Jean Louis Gasset who was dismissed after a disappointing 4-0 loss to Equatorial Guinea in the last Group A match which left the host’s hope of qualification in a tight thread.
Fae has led the team to victories against 2021 winners, Senegal (Round of 16), Mali (quarter final) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (semi final) after a tough group stage campaign.
“That’s a tough question. The easy answer is no. I am not a special one,” Fae responded to the tag while responding to questions from journalists during the pre match press conference in Abidjan on Saturday.
“I am fortunate to know the team for about two years now. When we took over, we knew the players well. We tried to focus on building this team chemistry. I haven’t invented anything but doing the most basic thing. The most important thing is the group and making sure that all players feel important and equal to feel that they are on the same playing field. I don’t think I am a special coach.”
It would be an extraordinary achievement for the French-born former Ivorian international, who played for his country in the 2006 final albeit on the losing side.
He had been assistant to veteran French coach Jean-Louis Gasset over the last 18 months but was thrust into the top job when Gasset was sacked at the end of a disastrous group round at the tournament.
Nigeria’s run to this Sunday’s Africa Cup of Nations final against hosts Ivory Coast is a personal triumph for coach Jose Peseiro, the veteran from Portugal who had been the subject of stinging criticism in the run-up to the tournament.
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The 63-year-old coach had been widely written off in Nigeria as the wrong man for the job long before they opened their AFCON campaign with a 1-1 draw against Equatorial Guinea in Abidjan on January 14.
Yet four weeks later he will lead the Super Eagles out at the same Ebimpe Olympic Stadium for a showdown against the host as Africa’s most populous country aims to become continental champions for the fourth time.
The way in which Peseiro has done it has been somewhat counter-intuitive.
Nigeria scored more goals than any other team in qualifying for this Cup of Nations, and in prolific striker Victor Osimhen they have the reigning African footballer of the year in their ranks.
Peseiro also has a wealth of other top-class attacking options, and yet he responded to that poor opening result by changing to a new system featuring three centre-backs.
The emphasis would now be firmly on not conceding goals.
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