The Senegal Football National Team has a few star players that stand out and help the team succeed. Players like Sadio Mane, Edouard Mendy, Kalidou Koulibaly are those famous names in their team. But Senegal has a world cup hero who guides all these players to perform consistently. He used to carry the team as a player in the past, and now he is commanding them as a manager. He is Senegal’s 2002 World Cup’s hero – Aliou Cisse.
Aliou Cisse was captain of Senegal when they played in their first-ever World Cup tournament in 2002. Now he’s their manager. He led his country to the 2002 World Cup quarter-finals in South Korea and Japan. That was a highlight in a career of mixed fortunes. Senegal lost the Africa Cup of Nations final to Cameroon in Mali in the same year. He ended his football career in 2005 without a trophy for his country.
After retiring from his playing career without a title for his national team, he was determined to win one as a manager. He was the head coach of Senegal’s U-23 side from 2013 to 2015.
In early March 2015, Cisse was officially appointed as the head coach for the Senegal national team. The team qualified for the 2018 FIFA World Cup on 10 November 2017, with a 0–2 away win against South Africa. Ultimately, Senegal was knocked out in the tournament’s group stage after becoming the first team in FIFA World Cup history to be eliminated due to fair play tiebreaker rules. “This is one of the rules. We have to respect it,” said Cisse. “Of course, we would prefer to be eliminated another way. It’s a sad day for us, but we knew these were the regulations.”
Cisse coached Senegal at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations tournament, helping Senegal to its first-ever final since 2002, a tournament in which Cisse himself also participated when he was the team’s captain. However, his Senegal was defeated 1–0 in the final by Algeria, after losing by the same score in the group stage, and missed out on its first-ever African trophy.
It will be heartbreaking for any footballer to lose the title twice, and if it happens as a manager, it will be more painful. But Cisse will not give up.
Senegal has reached the final in the ongoing AFCON after a 3-1 victory against Burkino Faso. It will be the third chance for Senegal’s hero to gift the title to their fans.
Salif Diao, who played with Cisse between 2000 to 2005, remembers him as a fighter. Diao says he also remembers Cisse vowing, “If I don’t win it as a player, I will win it one day as a coach.” Yes! The opportunity has arrived, and Cisse will not give up. He will fight till the end.