It comes at a time when many were beginning to wonder just when Kolo would complete his apprenticeship under the tutelage of Brendan Rodgers, the Leicester City manager with whom the Ivorian has worked in various capacities for much of the last seven years, playing for him first at Liverpool and then Celtic.
In September 2017, shortly after retiring, Kolo took up a technical assistant’s position at the Glaswegian outfit; only a month prior, he had also been assigned a gig with the Ivorian Football Federation, as part of the coaching staff of the home-based national team and the U23s.
With those moves, it was clear Kolo was wasting no time in establishing the foundations for a career in the dugout to potentially rival — possibly eclipse — the one he’d had on the pitch.
That playing career had been decorated by some remarkable highlights.
At Arsenal, under Arsene Wenger, he was a member of the ‘Invincibles’, that rare lot to have gone through a [triumphant] Premier League season unbeaten. With Manchester City, Kolo contributed to winning the club’s first league title in 44 years.
And for his country (on whose bench he now sits, as an assistant coach of the senior team), Kolo — unarguably the greatest African defender to have played in the Premier League — also achieved enormous success.
The last of his 120 appearances for Ivory Coast came in the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) final, which they won, after losing two in the preceding decade; Kolo’s 15 years with Les Elephants also saw them reach the only three World Cups they’ve ever been at.
That’s plenty goodwill in the bank, then, the sort of background and heft that guarantees a manager lots of esteem even before he walks into that dressing room for the first time.
Esteem, of course, isn’t something Black coaches are used to commanding across Europe, especially in England, and Kolo now finds himself in a very small club, exclusive for all the wrong reasons.
He’s already one of just 8.9% of Black former players active in professional English football between 2004 and 2020 who stepped up into managerial/administrative roles, according to a recent report; with his new role at Wigan, Kolo only marginally raises the percentage of Black managers in England’s top four divisions (4.4) by a few decimal places.
Kolo, ambitious as he is, would already be looking up, excited by the prospect of adding to the number (10) of Black head coaches to have ever worked in the Premier League, just three of whom have been born in an African nation; narrow that subset down even further, and you’ll find that, of that trio (Jean Tigana, Nuno Espirito Santo, and Patrick Vieira), none even played for their respective lands of birth.
In that sense, Kolo is already in a field of one, a potential trailblazer for African ex-footballers who’d want to work at the highest level in England; Yaya, his brother, currently learning the ropes with Tottenham Hotspur’s youth ranks, is one — and there are certainly others, too.
Kolo’s job won’t be easy.
In taking on the challenge of coaching Wigan, the 2013 FA Cup winners who have fallen far away from glory — currently in the Championship’s bottom three — Kolo has on his hands a task surpassed in magnitude only by the daunting prospect of overcoming an English football establishment content with viewing Black coaches out of the corner of its massive eye.
For motivation, Kolo need not look too far beyond his immediate environs, where a familiar face is showing just what is possible.
There are only three other Black men working permanently as head coaches in the Championship, one of whom, Vincent Kompany — Kolo’s mate and captain back at City — is top of the table, about halfway through his maiden campaign, with Burnley.
Kompany, like Kolo, arrived with the record of a serial winner, and has quickly set about burnishing that reputation, albeit in tougher circumstances than he’s used to; Kolo would be required to do something similar — even if from a more difficult position, admittedly, given the state in which he picked Wigan.
His résumé — as a player, yes, but also what he achieved alongside Rodgers at Celtic and Leicester, winning league titles and domestic cups — certainly sets the bar high, and he’ll be backing himself to scale it.