The Legend of Aliou Cisse exploded after leading Senegal to the Africa Cup of Nations title in January. The former international midfielder didn’t have the most decorated playing career, but he did manage to infuse the likes of superstars Sadio Mane and Kalidou Koulibaly into a substantial and tight team.
Cisse was under pressure to deliver the AFCON title, and after winning their first ever Continental cup, he now gets the chance to lead his country on the world stage, with dreams of making it past the group stages in Qatar.
The 46 year-old was born in Senegal, but his family immigrated to France when he was nine. He began playing football and was picked up by one of France’s top academies, Lille OSC. However, he didn’t stay with the Ligue 1 side for long, and soon moved to CS Sedan Ardennes, and then the great Paris Saint-Germain, before they were one of the richest sides in Europe.
While playing for PSG he drew the attention of the Senegalese national team, and made 33 appearances for his country, and went on to captain the team. He also played for Birmingham City and Portsmouth when both were in the Premier League.
Whilst in the UK, he lost 11 relatives in a tragic accident when a small boat sank, sailing from Gambia to Senegal. Experiences like this help create the toughness that has helped him as a manager, and is evident in his progression from Senegal’s assistant coach to being a cup winning head coach. To date, Cisse has been involved with the national team for over ten years in his various roles.
When Alain Giresse was sacked after failing in the AFCON against Algeria in their last group, Cisse was appointed in his place, despite never having been a first team head coach. His efforts, however, worked out well, taking the team to two AFCON finals consecutively, and eventually bagging the trophy, as well as qualifying for two FIFA World Cups.
Senegal have had some great players like El Hadji Diouf in the past, but they failed to live up to their potential, and Cisse deserves a lot of credit for the great work he has delivered. He will be without Sadio Mane for the opening game against the Netherlands, so the team will need to step up. The Lions of Teranga are now a proper setup, and they are still tipped to make it out of the group.