Nine games into a mixed campaign and already there are doubts about Jean-Louis Gasset's ability to lead the revival of the Côte d'Ivoire Elephants. Is the French coach a good choice or a casting error?
Gasset no longer meets with unanimous approval in Côte d'Ivoire
Jean-Louis Gasset has just played his 9th match with the Elephants. Looking at the numbers, his record so far is flattering, with six wins, one draw and two defeats. The last of these (3-0) came on 17 June 2023 against Zambia. It's a setback that is still causing a stir among the Ivorians, who are beginning to doubt the ability of the sixty-year-old Frenchman to steer the Ivorians to success just a few months ahead of the CAF Africa Cup of Nations, scheduled to take place in Côte d'Ivoire in January 2024.
Gasset, a hold fashion coach?
Jean-Louis Gasset was appointed coach of the Côte d'Ivoire national football team at the end of May 2022. His appointment came as a surprise to many. Particularly as names such as Kombouaré, Laurent Blanc, Philippe Troussier and Frédéric Antonetti were leaked when the results of the call for candidates to succeed Patrice Beaumelle were announced. In the end, Gasset was chosen. His statistics at the clubs he has played for do not speak in his favour. Nicknamed 'Mr Chess', Gasset has 86 wins from 252 games at Montpellier, Bordeaux and Saint-Étienne. That's a ratio of one victory every 3 games in his career.
Poor stats that would not even have worked in his favour with the last African nation in the FIFA rankings. But, as we all know, an experienced coach is judged by his results and his contribution to the teams he manages. Thirteen months after his arrival on the shores of the Ebrié Lagoon, Gasset and the fans are beginning to have serious doubts about his technical abilities. What's more, a number of his choices are questionable and have broken the trust with the fans. "Gasset hasn't always made the right decisions when it comes to putting together his squads. This is evidenced by the fact that he has called up a number of players who are short of game time at club level, such as Bailly, Kessié and Christian Kouamé, to name but a few. For the June training camp, he had a high-level meeting. He was asked to explain why Bailly had been called up, and he said that he was the best player at the March 2023 grouping and that he would be fine physically from what he had seen of the boy. Unfortunately, Bailly had a catastrophic game against Zambia. This kind of bad choice inevitably weakens a coach, even if he remains faithful to his ideas," a member of the FIF executive committee told Sport News Africa.
"When Jean-Louis Gasset arrived, he was preceded by a good background. You couldn't say he wasn't a great coach, given what he achieved in France, despite some setbacks. Today, the Ivorians are focused on the African Cup of Nations. This leads them to make hasty judgements. The match against Zambia reinforced this view. That defeat was a major setback for Gasset. At the same time, he lost the confidence that the Ivorians had in him. It makes him more vulnerable. He no longer has the right to make mistakes," says Kouadio Georges, former coach of the Elephants and current president of the national union of football coaches, educators and technical staff in Côte d'Ivoire.
Some experts are calling for him to be sacked before the African Cup of Nations. "Gasset is a big casting error. It's not too late to do better. He needs to be sacked and another coach put in charge of the Elephants as soon as possible. That's something that's never been done in the history of African football. We're six months away from the CAF Africa Cup of Nations, and to go there with Gasset, who has no game plan, no control over his team's dressing room and hasn't had a typical eleven for just over a year, would be a big risk that I'd advise against taking," says Rash N'Guessan, a journalist and consultant on national television.
Will the African Cup of Nations be his real test?
"As Côte d'Ivoire are automatically qualified for the 2023 CAF Africa Cup of Nations, Gasset's real test will be to reach the final of the competition. And not win against Zambia, Lesotho or the Comoros," says Aboi Franck, former coach of OFC Adiaké (Ligue 2 in Côte d'Ivoire). And he is not the only one to think so. If Gasset doesn't reach that stage, and doesn't play a smooth game either, many Ivorians will forever regard him as a real loser. He still has 3 FIFA windows (September 2022, October 2022 and November 2023), i.e. six matches, including 1 in the qualifiers and three friendlies, to convince himself of his ability to fulfil his mission. "We know that he can succeed in his mission. We asked him first to form a commando team and then to reach at least the semi-finals of the AFCON. He has carte blanche for his choices and his management. As President of the Federation, our role is to provide him with all the resources he needs, as well as the players. As for the rest, it will be up to him and his commando to play their part.
His employers have given him a great deal of support to help him work calmly. But until when?