The World Cup offers Sabri Lamouchi the chance to bring the best out of an aging Ivory Coast squad.
Despite having no club experience to speak of, Lamouchi got the job two years ago. He took over from Francois Zahoui, who was replaced after leading the Ivory Coast to the 2012 African Cup of Nations final, where the Elephants lost to Zambia in a penalty shootout.
The 42-year-old Lamouchi took charge of his first major tournament at the African Cup in 2013 and was not afraid to make difficult decisions. None more so than occasionally leaving Didier Drogba — the country’s all-time top scorer with 64 goals — on the bench.
Although hopes were high, Ivory Coast lost to eventual champion Nigeria 2-1 in the quarterfinals.
However, dropping Drogba sent a clear message to the rest of the squad that Lamouchi would not be pushed around or dictated to by some of the big names in a squad also featuring Manchester City midfielder Yaya Toure, Roma forward Gervinho and Lille striker Salomon Kalou.
“My job is to make sure this Elephants team is the most competitive possible, and that they make the Ivorian people proud,” Lamouchi said.
There are no favors under Lamouchi, whose watchwords are discipline and rigor, and reputation counts for little in his eyes. He has tried to bring some younger players into the squad, such as goalkeeper Mande Sayouba, thus creating a better balance and increasing competition for places.
He had to do things the hard way as a player — not breaking into the first division until he was 23. But after that, his rise was rapid.
A skillful midfielder, Lamouchi won the French league and French Cup double with Auxerre in the 1995-96 season, earning a more lucrative move to Monaco before heading to Italy for spells with Parma, Inter Milan and Genoa.
He scored 79 goals in 470 league appearances but found it hard to get a place in France’s coveted midfield, scoring once in 12 appearances for the national team from 1996-2001.
Having missed out on major tournaments as a player — he was not part of France’s World Cup success in ’98 and European Championship glory two years later — he can go some way to making up for that as a coach.
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