Remembering Bruno Metsu


The French manager enjoyed a long and distinguished career in Africa, Asia and his native France, receiving broader, international attention as manager of the Senegal side that made the quarter-finals of the 2002 World Cup. 

He was diagnosed with colon cancer in July 2012, a decade after that glorious run, having taken the reins at Al Wasl.

Born in 1954, Metsu enjoyed a professional career with clubs in France and Belgium. After spending time with teams such as Anderlecht, Valenciennes, Nice and Lille, he ended up at Beauvais, in the Picardy region of Northern France. Here, his playing career bled into his coaching career, as he became the side’s assistant manager and youth coach in 1987.

After one season, he took the top job at the club. It would be the first step in a 25-year managerial career that would include 14 different appointments and various memorable triumphs.

His crowning glory, however, remains the celebrated summer of 2002 when he and Senegal embarked on a terrific adventure to South Korea and Japan.

The nation’s victory over France will eternally be remembered as one of the World Cup’s greatest shocks, and one of the most iconic moments in the tournament’s history. 

In the West African nation’s first-ever appearance at a major international event they were drawn against France, not only a European powerhouse and the reigning world champions, but one of history’s greatest collection of international players. 

Their three-in-a-row triumph of World Cup, European Championship and Confederations Cup honours, in the years preceding the 2002 event, remains unequalled, and few doubted they would encounter any trouble in trouncing the African minnows.

They may have unravelled horribly over the subsequent games, but that French generation remain one of the game’s most triumphant sides. Their humbling at the hands of Senegal was a truly momentous occasion.

That Les Bleus were once Senegal’s colonial masters, that all but two of the Lions of Teranga squad played their club football in France, and that their manager, Metsu, was born in the shadow of Lille, only added several intriguing subplots,

In the middle of the first half, David Trezeguet’s ferocious shot rattled off Tony Sylva’s crossbar. The French striker grinning unknowingly, not realising the impending danger that was emerging on the counterattack. The team broke expertly, nicking the ball from Youri Djorkaeff before exploding down the left flank via the beloved El-Hadji Diouf.

His cross was met by Papa Bouba Diop, racing late into the box. The Wardrobe’s first shot was fired straight at Barthez, but as it slipped out of the goalkeeper’s grasp, Diop was on hand to finish the rebound.

The unfancied West Africans clung on to record a memorable 1-0 victory. It was a triumph that recalled Cameroon’s unlikely win over Argentina 12 years previously. Then, West African minnows opened the competition by defeating the holders, before tearing on to the quarter-finals.

Senegal, guided by the inspired Metsu, would go on to do the same.

Escaping their group with draws against Denmark and Uruguay, they secured an extra-time victory over Sweden following a gloriously pulsating encounter, before falling to Turkey (and a golden goal) in the next round. In the knock-out stages, the West Africans went 187 minutes without conceding.

The importance Metsu placed on the values of team spirit, work ethic and attractive, proactive football, as noted by Sepp Blatter, were presented before the world on a global stage. It was a glorious triumph for African sport, for Senegal and for the man himself.

Naturally, such a fantastic (and unexpected) performance in the competition made Metsu a hero in Senegal.
Coupled with a run to the Cup of Nations earlier in 2002, it is fair to say that he oversaw the finest period in the country’s footballing history.

While this is easy to consider this in hindsight, at the time, perhaps remarkably, Metsu was criticised by the Senegalese media for not freshening up his side during their quarter-final match with Turkey. 

Before the year was out he was to leave Africa for good, heading to Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates, where a successful decade in Asian football would begin.

As a national coach, Metsu would go on to claim a Gulf Cup with the UAE in 2007, although he never again managed to replicate the global impact made by the Lions of Teranga five years previously. His final appointment, in 2012, was replacing Diego Maradona at Al Wasl.

Only last week I reviewed Herve Renard’s time in Zambia as he departed Africa for a return to his homeland. Metsu never made it back to coach in France, but the parallels between the two men were evident. 

Both were fortunate enough to, as Jonathan Wilson put it, find their “perfect job”. Both arrived in Africa as unheralded coaches with fine achievements, and both departed having left an indelible mark in the footballing narrative of a country.

Metsu is a perfect example of a European coach entering the continent and transforming a project; in Senegal he found a context that “suited his temperament and his method”. It changed his outlook and his beliefs, and as he received, he also gave.

Claude Le Roy, speaking to L’Equipe, was one of several figures within the sport to pay tribute to Metsu following his passing; the former Senegal manager will surely now take his place in the pantheon of great coaches, as his Lions of Teranga side will forever be remembered, both in and out of West Africa, to their stunning contribution to world football.

Bruno Metsu: 1954-2013