Africa Cup of Nations 2019: Paul Put - spurned in Europe, celebrated in Africa | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 28.06.2019
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Africa Cup of Nations 2019: Paul Put - spurned in Europe, celebrated in Africa

So far, Guinea have disappointed at this edition of the Africa Cup, and if they fail to beat Burundi on Sunday, their tournament will be over. Their coach Paul Put has an unusual back story.

Paul Put looks extremely calm. There is nothing to suggest the 63-year-old coach of Guinea's national team might be feeling the heat ahead of their do-or-die contest on Sunday. Having taken just one point from their first two group-stage matches, the West African team needs to take all three points from first-time qualifiers Burundi otherwise the tournament will be over for one of the tournament's dark horses.

"Sure, we have a final in front of us, but the team has to deal with it," the Belgian said. "We have enough quality to win the game."

The fact that Put can keep his cool in the face of such pressure is no coincidence. This stocky figure, whose once blonde hair has since turned grey, has faced far more stressful situations during his long career in football.

Match-fixing scandal

Put spent many years as a player in Belgium's second division before hanging up his boots and turning to coaching. In February 2006, Put was caught up in a match-fixing scandal.

Put admitted to helping fix at least two matches during the 2004-05 season when he was coach of Belgian first-division team Lierse SK. Put had gotten involved with Chinese businessman Ye Zheyun, who had taken over Lierse in 2004. However, instead of injecting much-needed funds into the financially troubled club, Zheyun used Put as an accomplice for his betting syndicate in which he bribed players and officials to make millions on the Asian betting market. In one case, Put dropped his first-choice goalkeeper because he had refused to play along in a plan to throw the game.

Guinea narrowly lost to Nigeria in their second game

Guinea narrowly lost to Nigeria in their second game

Three-year ban

Put came clear about his part in the scandal and was handed a three-year ban from all football-related activities. However, he also argued that extenuating circumstances had contributed to his decision to do what he did.

"Belgian football was totally contaminated," he said at the time. "Everyone knew about these machinations, there were at least 40 people involved. But I was the only one who was singled out, charged and banned. But I accept my ban and hope that I will be able to work in Belgium again in the future."

Almost at the top as Burkina Faso's national coach

Put wouldn't get his wish. He's been blacklisted in Belgium ever since and he hasn't been able to land a job anywhere else in European football either. Africa became his only option. There, the master tactician was welcomed with open arms - and he became a successful coach, especially in Burkina Faso, where he took charge of the national team in early 2012.

Almost a year later, the "Stallions" celebrated their greatest success in the history of football in Burkina Faso, making the final of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa. Despite the fact that they lost 1-0 to Nigeria, Burkina Faso returned home as national heroes. Put was named Africa's coach of the year and the country's president showered him with words of praise. But like anywhere else, in Africa, too, fame can be fleeting. After a bad run of form, he was sacked in February 2015.

Paul Put has worked hard to get where he is

Paul Put has worked hard to get where he is

A second chance

However, Put wouldn't be out of work for long, first taking a coaching job at USM Algiers, then becoming the coach of the Jordanian national team, before moving on to Kenya for a few months. This lasted until March 2018, when Guinea bought him out of the Kenyan contract to hire him as coach of their national team.

It turned out to be a good move. Under Put, Guinea confidently advanced through qualifying for the 2019 Africa Cup - where he is now set to face his first must-win match. However, should Guinea fail to get the job done on Sunday, it won't be the end of the world for coach Put.

"Mistakes can happen in football, just like in the rest of life," he said. "And life carries on anyway."

Put makes no bones about the mistakes he made in Belgium a decade and a half ago, but he doesn't like to talk about them anymore.

"Let the old stories be, that was a long time ago," he said. "Anyway, everybody deserves a second chance."

It's a chance he never got in his native Belgium.

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