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Is it safe to say that Africa lacks a true dynasty? And by dynasty, I mean the Brazilian and Spanish squads of the 2000s conquering the world or Real Madrid in the 60s. Although Cameroon won back-to-back AFCON titles in 2000 and 2002, and Egypt topped the feat by winning the AFCON in 2006, 2008, and 2010, Africa’s elite is very even in quality.

Their parity shows when it comes to Africa’s performances in the World Cup. The nations enjoy limited success on the world stage. Only three African nations reached the World Cup quarter-finals, and no African nation has gone beyond that. For the most part, AFCON is a merry-go-round that can throw off the favorites with just the slightest tempo changes, and the World Cup dumps the African nations seemingly at the first chance it gets.

It could change going into 2022.

Senegal, led by an astonishing Sadio Mane, took home the 2022 AFCON with so much drama, storylines, and vigor that it would not make a bad movie. They took first in their group despite only scoring once, but went on to smash two past Cape Verde, and three past Equatorial Guinea and Burkina Faso. Facing Egypt, they left things to the very last minute until Sadio Mane coolly slotted a penalty to secure Senegal’s first-ever AFCON title.

They repeated the feat almost the same way in the final round of World Cup qualification, besting Egypt thanks to the heroics of Edouard Mendy and a little help from the fans. Considering their recent accomplishments, which include a knockout in Qatar 2022, their starpower, and the impressive culture they’ve cultivated around their national team, they could be the team to watch going into 2026’s World Cup.

So I went back around ten months back in time to replicate the whole experience. In a video game, of course.

I greet the head of the Senegal FA gratefully. They inform me that I got the Senegal post over Cisse, and brief me with a quick run-down of their facilities, players, and their roadmap. Of course, I did my research.

Taking advantage of Mane, Mendy, and central defender Kalidou Koulibaly will be crucial to my tenure as Senegal's boss, and there are some spirited young players that I can come to rely on in some years (if I stay in the job long enough).

The Senegalese team presents its goals for the 2021 season. It seems easy enough to accomplish. Reach the third round of World Cup qualification? Easy. Qualify for the 2023 AFCON? Too easy. Way too easy. Maybe I should make it a bit harder.

To succeed in this save, I must accomplish all three of my self-imposed tasks in FM23. Keep in mind this could take years or even centuries.

Win four AFCONS in a row

Egypt set the record for the most consecutive AFCONS won, winning the 2006, 2008, and 2010 AFCON titles. Winning four would not only cement our dominance in the present day but put us firmly into the history books.

Win a World Cup

No nation from outside Europe or South America ever won a World Cup or even appeared in a World Cup final. Even getting to the semi-final would be unprecedented for this Senegal side, so winning a World Cup would show the world that Africa means business.

Become the #1 team in the FIFA World Rankings

Other African nations came close to this impressive feat. Nigeria reached #5 in 1994 when they won the AFCON and advanced to the Round of 16 in the World Cup. During Egypt’s impressive run of championships, they reached #9 in the FIFA World Rankings. Yet #1 is held for only an elite clique of countries. Reaching #1 would topple that.

Deolu Akingbade
1 year ago
2 months ago

I sit on a high mountain peak, criss-cross applesauce, waiting for an instruction. A response. Or even just a signal that he knows I’m here. Although the summit of the mountain I’m sitting on is small; a bit bigger than a dinner table; I feel woozy, like I’m about to fall off.

Right as I think I’m going to black out or start turning blue from the lack of oxygen up here, he finally blinks and looks at me. He breathes some cold air into my face before issuing his declaration.

“Win this game and live. Lose and —”

And suddenly I see faces flicker before my eyes. First a bald man yelling at players in blue with greyed out her and deep brown eyes. Then a man dressed in all black with similarly black hair and black eyes. He sports stubble on his chin and a mustache that reminds me of Henry Cavill’s walrus mustache. And then I see me; or at least my character in the game. tacticTacticTACTICTACTIC whispers into my ear. Static fills my brain. Everything goes white, then green, yellow, and red.

I wake up, hugging Jonathan Wilson’s novel Inverting the Pyramid. And suddenly, everything is crystal-clear. As I stroll past the signed Sadio Mane jersey, the match-used Umbro Toghu ball from last year’s AFCON, and the huge Aliou Cissé poster on my wall, I resolve to schedule a meaningless friendly that will almost get me fired.

Before the World Cup


No, I don’t know why I chose to play a friendly match with Estonia. No, I don’t know any key cities, nor can I point it out on a map. And yes, I am aware that I am running the risk of injuring some of my key players over something worthless.

But I was panicked. I saw that some of the bigger nations, like the Netherlands, Ecuador, and even Qatar. I waited too long, and the only way I could perform a test run on my team would be against a team that no one wanted to play Estonia. But we’re gonna make the most of it, right? Right?!

The plan is simple. Simply, kill them with our talent. To be respectful, Estonia doesn’t have any good players. This is my grand debut, the coronation to a lifetime of goals, trophies lifted, and (hopefully) the World Cup.

Our tactics aren’t too fancy. We play in a 4-2-3-1, the McDonald’s of football formations. I’m not going to go too extravagant and push my wingbacks up to make a 2-2-6, and I’m not going to go full Diego Simeone and push everyone back in a 10-0-0. I want equality on offense and defense, and I can get it with this.

I’ve always admired the sweeper keeper role often performed by Neuer at Bayern, and so I want Mendy to replicate it. He’ll have two committed defenders in front of him, who won’t go anywhere near the final third. I then want supporting wingbacks who gallop up the pitch to help the attackers and enforce a wide presence, which is helpful for when I get to my inverted wingers.

Idrissa Gueye will be another defensive presence playing as a #6, helping to ease possession inside the final third while also adding the peripheral layer of hard-core defense.


The roaming playmaker will drift through the majority of the midfield, making up for the big rift between defensive and attacking players through the midfield. It’s important that I have a strong player here, but my options are limited; I either have to go with Gueye, Nampalys Mendy, or Niasse.

Jackson leads the line as an always-shifting, highly-intelligent complete forward unafraid to leave his line. The left-winger will help out in the middle, as I’ve ordered him to cut inside, and the attacking midfielder will look to penetrate the opposing back line to create opportunities for those around him.

I’m uncertain about the role of the right winger though. Although I go with the safe option and force him to stay wide, I don’t know whether I should completely let the wingbacks get control of crosses to push a key person inside to create overloads within the box or sacrifice a potential interior presence to keep defensive solidity.

Once we get back on defense, the wingbacks will tuck in, the two midfielders will play slightly ahead of the back line, and I expect my two wingers to track back to form a 4-4-2 out-of-possession. It may be too much work right now, but we will just have to wait and see.

The result is a fluid formation that focuses on roles and positional play rather than a set formation that tells people where to go. This friendly will hopefully be a great tune-up that will let me tweak what’s wrong and emphasize what’s right.

We set out with our pre-planned formation with a host of stars. Edouard Mendy (Chelsea) starts as usual, but I make some tweaks to the outfield. Moussa Niakhite (Nottingham) starts on the left, Youssouf Sabaly (Betis) on the right, and Abdou Diallo (PSG) and Kalidou Koulibaly (Chelsea) form a strong pairing in the center.

Idrissa Gueye (Everton) and Cheikh Niasse (Young Boys) form the two defensive midfielders. I made a gutsy move dropping Nampalys Mendy from the roster, but I think this friendly shouldn’t be a win-now game, but a tune-up for the World Cup right around the corner. Plus, I want to see if Niasse is as smooth and technical with the ball as I think he is.

But I don’t want to go too soft and friendly, so the strong core of Sadio Mané (Bayern) on the left, Ismaila Sarr (Watford) on the right, and Iliman Ndiaye between them should result in some goals. Nicolas Jackson (Villareal), an exciting talent that will be the future of Senegalese attacking talent, starts up top.

The game’s not as dominant as hoped, but a win is a win, right? Mané hits the post early, and I thought that we would score four or five. My confidence only increased with a horror slide tackle that an Estonia defender put on N’Diaye, which reduces Estonia down to ten men. But as time wears on, and I push my team to be more and more aggressive to the point of irritation, I worry that my dream debut will turn nightmarish. We secure the win in the 71st minute when Gueye plays an incisive ball to Sarr. The Watford striker sends a strong shot to the goal, and although the keeper gets a save, N’Diaye is there to rebound it.

All in all, it’s a pretty horrible game for us. We kept 65% possession, had 2.14 xG, limited Estonia to just one shot, and completed over 700 passes, but we had to wait for 71 minutes to even light up the scoreboards. I think things need to change, not just on the pitch, but on the touchline as well.

But before we voyage to Qatar to take on our World Cup opponents, there are still tasks to complete.

Bad news


But I get a handful of bad news. Nicolas Jackson, the Villarreal striker I’m so optimistic about, picks up a rough calf muscle injury that’s kept him out for six weeks and seems set to keep him out for another six. Our starting right-back, Youssouf Sabaly, seems set to miss a lot of the World Cup thanks to a dislocated shoulder. And right in front of the World Cup, lots of my key players pick up worrying injuries. Mane, Niakhate, Nampalys Mendy, and Abdou Diallo all pick up worrying niggles ahead of our tune-up friendly against Venezuela.

And just to add to my stress, Salif Sane picks up a twisted ankle, and we’re down a vet who gives us flexibility as a strong defender/midfielder. I draft Zulte Waregem’s Modou Tambedou, but he’s a raw talent who likely won’t make an impact at Qatar. With such a stacked group of talent and my relative inexperience, I have to send highly-regarded breakthrough Pape Matar Sarr (Tottenham) down to the U23s to play an AFCON U23 qualification match against Morocco. He grumbles something about disappointment and a kids league, but he’s only played in one game this season. I can’t do anything about it.

Speaking of my squad, it was hard work. There are 23 players to speak of, and I can’t talk about everything. But I can tell you that I pick up Edouard Mendy and added Seny Dieng (QPR) who’s had a great time in the Championship. If we qualify before the third game, he may get some good minutes. 

Other times it was tough justifying capping some. I had to pick Fode Ballo-Toure, even though he’s played just once for Milan. Cheikhou Kouyate (Nottm Forest) hasn’t started a game, and Abdou Diallo has played just one game for PSG. But all of them are making a serious case to start for my time. Outside of that, I’m excited about the debut of Noah Fadiga, who is putting in a pretty decent campaign with Brest. 

In good news, the foundation for our future is set with the U23s and U20s. This World Cup isn’t important (aside from the fact my job will likely rest on this initial performance), so I need to scout for some future talents. I think I’ve found two really good ones. 

I got to watch Samba Diallo play twice, both times against Midtjylland in the Europa League. My scouts say that he could be better than Sarr or N’Diaye, and I can see it. He’s a powerful player who runs like he’s angry at the grass. He’s a great dribbler and a solid playmaker as well. I’m 100% certain he’ll get a lot of playing time against Morocco.

18-year-old Djibril Diarra, currently playing in Senegal with Casa Sports on loan from Lyon looks like a really good talent. I haven’t been able to watch him, but he’s super calm and aware when he plays. Diarra will not play with the U23s because of a damaged shoulder.


Deolu Akingbade
1 year ago
2 months ago

It’s June 3, 2023. I am bound in a straitjacket, my mouth is gagged, and my hands are in cuffs. A bright light shines into my eyes, and a dark figure pops into my peripheral vision.

A muffle escapes through the thick, harsh restraint that prevents me from talking.

“Did you or did you not use a 4-2-3-1 gegenpress with a high engagement line?” the dark figure asks.

I panic. I squirm away from the figure, but every limb of mine is useless. I can’t run away. The dark figure tackles me against wall and yells.


I can only nod, and fear floods my eyes. He smirks.

“I knew it all along. Take him to jail. His punishment will be playing a counter-attacking Venezuela with a low block while going down 1-0 in the first half.”

I can only squirm and flail about as they strap me to a chair and make me manage this horrible game. I can only help but watch as M’Baye Niang misses open chances, as Abdou Diallo consistently loses his marker, and as we lose 1-0 in the most tortuous, horrible, painful way imaginable.


When I managed the game against Venezuela, it was honestly horrible. Once they scored Alejandro Marques scored that 37th-minute goal, I felt some primal instincts of terror and fight or flight. I started yelling through my screen at the fourth official, running away when we had a big chance, pacing up and down my room, and rubbing my head like Pep Guardiola while uttering some old Catalan proverbs.

Well, not really, but I was doing all that, and more. As we missed big chance after big chance, I was grateful I’m not Aliou Cisse, because I would have torn out some of my dreadlocks just watching Mane miss one of those sitters. Even though this friendly has virtually no impact on my job, how I’m perceived back home, or how we do at the World Cup, I still feel stressed.

We end the game 1-0, but if the game was played in six-figure statistical metrics and dreams, we would have smoked them. We had 1.2 xG to their .7. We held two-thirds of the game’s possession. We outpassed them, outshot them, outtackled them; but that didn’t matter. They defended their lead well and they outworked us. If a team like Qatar or Ecuador outworks us, then based on today’s display, we can’t respond.

I don’t know where to go.

On the one hand, we were vastly unlucky not to score a goal. Habib Diallo, the 27-year-old fighting with Boulaye Dia for a spot, was mediocre. M’Baye Niang on the left and Dia on the right were both similarly average. Only Mane (go figure), and Sarr (replacing Niang) were good. The defense and the midfield were decent.

But on the other hand, the team looked sluggish, and this is the main core I’m going to use in Qatar. If we can’t be Venezuela, who didn’t even qualify for the World Cup, how am I going to beat Ecuador or the Netherlands?


It’s 12:17 in the morning when I wake up, screaming. My hands are fidgeting, and it seems they’re twisting my shirt, cracking my knuckles, twirling my hair without notice. It feels like there’s an Al Rihla-sized ball sinking in my belly. Without my notice, I walk to my computer and pull up the World Cup scouting report database.

But there’s no scouting report on Qatar. I nervously pull up Google. As the sketchy Wifi keeps buffering, I take a look around. My room is a mess, with papers everywhere, and clothes flung on the ground. That signed Sadio Mane jersey I mentioned is on my shirt, even though I think I’m supposed to dress in business formal attire.

It’s the day of the World Cup opener. I know nothing about my opponents except the fact they are supposed to be the worst team there.

I guess we’re winging it.

But before we enter into battle, I prepare some fail safes.

The first is a tactic; Cisse-ball. If I’m defending a vital lead in the 90th minute or I’m going up against a huge nation and don’t want to get burnt on the counter-attack, I’ll take a counter-attacking tactic and sit very deep. Although offense wins games, defense wins championships. Venezuela’s friendly showed me that we need consistency off the ball, and hopefully this will be the way to go.


And the final preparation is (are you surprised) another tactic. It’s the opposite of El Cisse. It’s spirited, lively, and everything that a team needs on offense. I think we are one of the best attacking nations in Africa, and we can show the world are flair with a very aggressive tactic. Teranga means hospitality and generosity in Wolof, one of Senegal’s most widely-spoken languages. I think we can share our flair and skill to the world with this high-tempo, passing-heavy offense.



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