In the run-up to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, The National’s Gary Meenaghan looks back at the figures of World Cups past who, while not necessarily the greatest the game has ever seen, were among football’s most interesting characters.
The globe-trotting Frenchman with the tousled brown locks cemented his place in footballing folklore when he led Senegal to their first World Cup finals and then defeated the reigning champions en route to the last eight. He died in October 2013 after battling cancer.
Metsu played professionally for 14 years as a midfielder but never lifted a trophy and was never capped for his country. However, in 1987 he helped Beauvais win promotion to France’s second tier, prompting a transition to youth coach. Within 12 months he was in charge of the senior team.
After an unremarkable decade coaching in France, Metsu felt he was treading water and wanted an adventure. Africa was calling. He signed on as coach of Guinea. “At the time, I felt like I’d had too much of football, but African players reinvigorated me,” he said in 2011. Within a year, he moved to Senegal and unexpectedly found his perfect job.
Metsu inherited a national squad with talent, but without cohesion. Inside two years, he had Senegal in the final of the African Cup of Nations for the first time. The achievement earned him the nickname “White Sorcerer”. In 2002, as World Cup debutants, his side beat France en route to the quarter-finals, prompting parties on the streets of Dakar and the Senegalese president announcing a national holiday.
They Said What?
“I still talk about it to my friends,” a Senegalese midfielder said of Metsu’s speech before the France match. “He managed to motivate us so much that we could not lose.”
Such was Metsu’s affinity with Senegal, he married a local woman and converted to Islam, changing his name to Abdou Karim Metsu. His secret to success, he once said, was making his players believe in themselves. When a group were found arm-wrestling at 2am on the day of the match with France, Metsu’s response to media epitomised the player-coach relationship. “I am not a cop,” he said. “Football is about joy. I know what the players can do on the pitch.”
After the World Cup, he moved to the UAE and had more success: a first Asian Champions League win for Al Ain was followed by a first Gulf Cup success for the national team. When he died last year, former national team members called for permanent tributes. He was buried in Senegal.
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