With Sierra Leone languishing at the bottom of its group in the Africa Cup of Nations qualifying soccer tournament, a coaching change has been made to boost production and win matches.
Atto Mensah replaced Irishman Johnny McKinstry, who was fired six months after assuming the coaching role on a permanent basis.
Sierra Leone won three matches, lost three and drew twice with the 29-year-old at the helm. He was appointed as caretaker coach last April during the World Cup qualifiers following Lars Mattson’s resignation.
With Sierra Leone losing 2-0 to the Democratic People’s Republic of Congo and 2-1 to the Ivory Coast earlier this month, the country’s Ministry of Sport and its soccer federation made the switch.
McKinstry was upset he was not given a longer leash.
“I am disappointed because we were moving in the right direction,” he said. “We were developing a team over the last 17 months and the future was bright. Poor preparation is the significant factor why we lost to both Ivory Coast and the Democratic People’s Republic of Congo. We had no time to prepare mainly due to long periods of travelling. I am sure if I had continued as coach of the team, we would have improved.”
The team’s preparation was also hampered by the Ebola virus outbreak that has forced the country to play its scheduled home matches on the road.
Mensah, a Ghanaian-born former Sierra Leone international, comes to the job having never managed a national or club team.
“I am delighted to be offered the job,” said the 52-year-old. “It’s an honour to serve my country. It’s a difficult task, but I will do my best.”
His appointment comes just four months after the country’s sports minister, Paul Kamara, attempted to insert him as the national Under-20 team coach. The move was rejected by the Sierra Leone Soccer Federation, which favoured another candidate.
Mensah was among the first batch of Ghanaians who went to Sierra Leone in 1980 to play for top tier league clubs. He led East End Lions to league titles in 1980 and 1985 and was naturalized two years later.
He made his international debut for Sierra Leone in a Nations Cup qualifier against Nigeria in Freetown and played five more matches in the West African regional zone two tournament in Guinea Bissau before heading to Europe.
Former Sierra Leone captain John Sama, who played in the 1994 and 1996 Africa Cup of Nations tournaments, will assist Mensah.