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Ivory Coast football fans wary of Sven-Goran Eriksson

Sven-Goran Eriksson

By John James
BBC News, Abidjan

Sven-Goran Eriksson may be a celebrity figure in England after leading the national side to two quarter-finals in the last two World Cups but he is something of an unknown quantity in Ivory Coast, where he has just been appointed national coach.

Ivorian newspapers on Monday rushed to publish accounts of Eriksson's career.

Ivorians tend to follow European clubs featuring their own players, especially Chelsea (Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou), Arsenal (Emmanuel Eboue) and Barcelona (Yaya Toure).

They did not really pay much attention to his mediocre season at Manchester City, or his previous success at Lazio in Italy.

I don't know where the federation find these odd people
Joel, football fan

"I can't say I know too much about him", said one fan Jean-Paul, while another, Guy Borgon could only say that he had "seen him once on television coaching England".

Among workers queuing up for a shared taxi in Abidjan's administrative district, there was a noticeable lack of enthusiasm about the new coach.

"I've never seen the man. I don't even know where he comes from! I don't know where the federation find these odd people," said Joel.

"They never ask our opinion on these things. Let them do what they want, we'll just watch," he said.

'Psychological problem'

Eriksson, a Swede who arrives in Ivory Coast after helping Mexico to the World Cup finals, replaces Vahid Halilhodzic, who only lost one competitive match in two years - the one that cost him his job, against Algeria in the quarter-finals of the African Cup of Nations in January.

Chelsea's Ivorian forward Didier Drogba reacts as he leaves the field after a 1-1 draw with the Blackburn Rovers
Drogba is accused of playing better for Chelsea than his country

"I don't know why we got rid of the last coach," said Martial Achi Gore, waiting for a taxi for the Treichville district.

"The guy did his work. Our problem isn't the coach, it's a psychological problem. The players need to show more commitment. It's down to the players."

Halilhodzic used to complain that he had "great players but not a great team".

The country's European-based stars rarely live up to their potential, when playing together.

Eriksson's job will be to correct that.

Hoping for a miracle

At the department of English at the University of Cocody, Abidjan's once prestigious university, there is further evidence that supporters' morale is at rock-bottom, even though Ivory Coast boasts some of Africa's best players going into the first World Cup finals being played on the continent.

Elephant supporter Dr Mohamed Lakiss
Dr Mohamed Lakiss is one of the few who thinks Ericsson is a good choice

"Bluntly speaking, I expect nothing from this new coach because we just don't have any time. Serious teams have started working since their qualification day but we are going like a snail," said student Jean-Rene Trahie Bi.

"Even if he has the abilities to do it, I expect nothing, unless there's a miracle from God…Sven has to construct a new team for us and I think he no time, so can achieve nothing."

On the other side of town in the plush medical centre run by Dr Mohamed Lakiss - one of the Elephants' most dedicated supporters - optimism is stronger.

"I think it's a good choice and he's proven himself with England and several other teams. He needs to bring my cohesion to the team. I think we could even get to the semi-finals if the players give their all."

In general though, most Ivorians are disappointed that the fans' choice, Philippe Troussier, didn't get the job.

The French-Ivorian coach, currently based in Japan, won the Ivorian national league for three successive years as coach of Asec Mimosas, and has since coached Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Burkina Faso and South Africa.

Eriksson by contrast has never coached in Africa and last week said that he suspected his lack of French would lead the Ivorian federation to select someone else.

'Proven'

The Ivorian football federation said it would been looking for a coach who had obtained "strong performances at the World Cup, a reputation as a skilled coach at the highest levels" and who corresponded to the "economic aspects".

ERIKSSON'S RECORD
1979-82 Gothenburg: 4 trophies
1982-84 Benfica: 3 trophies
1984-87 Roma: 1 trophy
1987-89 Fiorentina: 0 trophies
1989-91 Benfica: 1 trophy
1992-97 Sampdoria: 1 trophy
1997-2001 Lazio: 4 trophies
2001-6 England: 0 trophies
2007-8 Man City: 0 trophies
2008-9 Mexico: 0 trophies
2009-10 Notts County: 0 trophies

On the latter point, officials have yet to reveal how much Eriksson will be paid for his three months' work, but the previous favourite for the post, Guus Hiddink, is considered locally to have been ruled out due to cost.

Speaking on Ivorian state television, Alex Souleymane Bamba, advisor to the head of the Ivorian FA said Eriksson "was a proven and trophy-winning technician."

His objective, said Bamba, was to achieve "an honourable participation" at the World Cup finals in June, which he admitted "will be difficult".

If Eriksson repeats his feat of getting to the World Cup quarter-finals, he would quickly be hailed a legend in Ivory Coast.

In the Elephants' first World Cup finals four years ago they drew a tough group; Holland, Argentina and Serbia and Montenegro, and managed to give a good account of themselves.

This time, they have again been unfortunate - drawn in a group with Brazil, Portugal and North Korea.

Brazil and Portugal will be familiar opponents to Eriksson - but not necessarily welcome ones.

They were the teams which ended England's World Cup dreams in 2002 and 2006 respectively.



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SEE ALSO
Eriksson named Ivory Coast coach
29 Mar 10 |  African
Halilhodzic sacked by Ivory Coast
28 Feb 10 |  African
Ivory Coast reveal Eriksson talks
07 Mar 10 |  African
Hiddink pulls out of Ivorian race
13 Mar 10 |  African

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