By Kingsley Kobo
French manager Bruno Metsu passed away on Tuesday at Couderkerque-Village in Northern France, where he was born 59 years ago and where he laid the foundation for his football career. Few people heard of the attacking midfielder during his 14-year active period between 1973 and 1987, essentially with French sides such as USL Dunkerque, Hazebrouck, Lille and Nice, where he totalled 30 goals with no major titles.
However, Metsu had his heydays at Valenciennes between 1975 and 1979, scoring his highest number of club goals, 14, while playing alongside top names like Didier Six, Togo current coach and Cameroonian Roger Milla, the 1990 World Cup sensation. It would turn out to be the peak of his playing career before quickly branching out into coaching.
He began in 1987 at AS Beauvais where he hung up his boots months earlier before consequently handling his former sides Nice and Valenciennes.
“I wouldn’t have been known as a coach had I not come to Africa to work,” Metsu told Senegal press agency APS in 2003.
With little success and a fledgling career struggling to spring up, the Frenchman had no other option but to settle for a modest contract in 2000 from Guinea, where he would learn to cope with unsuitable infrastructure and a bossy Football Federation – as a coach in Africa.
“Metsu complained of so many things in Guinea. Poor infrastructure, poor management from the FA and frequent meddling in his work,” said Titi Camara, former Guinea international who was later named sports minister.
Months later, he settled in Senegal taking up the task to furbish the Teranga Lions who were returning from a near-miss mission at the 2000 Africa Cup of Nations, where they narrowly lost to co-hosts Nigeria in the quarterfinals.
He quickly whipped the outfit into shape to the admiration of both fans and officials, and outstandingly led the team to the final of the 2002 Africa Cup of Nations held in Mali. Although they lost to Cameroon on penalties, the White Witch, his sobriquet from the local press, and his charges were given a red carpet welcome in Dakar.
“I wept for the first time in football after we failed to win the 2002 Africa Cup of Nations against Cameroon. It was ours,” Metsu said later on.
He is mostly described in Senegal as a coach who inculcated the culture of bravery and relentlessness in the Lions, which subsequently influenced the junior ranks and the country’s club sides. Metsu brought a new spirit that inspired the nation’s football and stimulated young talent to see themselves as giants anywhere.
Read more about Metsu here
Senegal ate white rice
Although he was French, Metsu tasted that meal publicly for the first time upon their return from the World Cup to seal communion with locals who were beginning to adore him as a traditional chief, which motivated his conversion to Islam and assuming the name Abdul Karim.
Bowing out of the competition in the quarterfinal was an astonishing feat for Senegal, but instead of praise Metsu faced unprecedented criticism from the local press, which blamed him for fielding players it described as tired and worn out against Turkey.
Even some officials and retired players said they believed Senegal would have progressed from the quarterfinals had Metsu used the right men.
The harshest critic of all was former international Babacar Louis Camara, who told Dakar-based magazine Le Soleil that “It is horrible to say it, but we were beaten because of bad coaching.”
I'm in shock. He fought like a lion. We had a lot of things in common. It's terrible for him, for Viviane, his wife, and the little ones.
- French manager Claude Le Roy
Leaving Africa frustrated?Senegal and their onetime indispensable war lieutenant parted ways at the height of differences with officials in 2002, but when questioned if he was leaving the continent as a frustrated man he said: “No, never! I learnt life here. I honed my skills as a coach here. I made a name here and pushed the doors open to the wide world.”
With clubs and national teams beckoning from all sides, Metsu opted for the Middle East, where he signed lucrative deals at United Arab Emirates’ Al Ain and later Qatari side Al-Gharafa before managing the national teams of those countries, winning UAE’s first Gulf Cup in 2007 and the country’s first Asian Champions League title with Al Ain in 2003.
Diagnosed with colon cancer shortly after replacing Argentine great Diego Maradona at Dubai-based Al Wasl in July 2012, Metsu declared he would fight and overcome amid medical reports indicating the cancer was spreading to his lungs and liver.
Metsu will always be remembered as a lion of Senegal, Africa.