WANGEN, Germany – Togo's soccer coach quit Saturday, throwing the West African team into turmoil days before its World Cup debut.
The cause of Otto Pfister's decision was apparently a dispute over pay between the players and the national federation which got so heated that Togo's prime minister flew in late Friday to see if he could help broker a compromise.
"That's it for me — I'm not going back and I am giving up my work as national trainer. A lifelong dream has ended for me," Pfister told the Berlin daily Tagesspiegel.
"I will definitely not be at the World Cup. I am not going to let myself be messed around with any more."
Togo plays South Korea on Tuesday in its opening game.
Pfister left the team's hotel in the middle of the night with assistant trainer Piet Hamburg, Togo federation spokesman Messan Attolou said.
"He just said goodbye," said Attolou, adding that Pfister left his bags at the hotel.
Assistant Kodjori Mawena led Togo's Saturday morning training session, and Attolou described him as "the new coach." Attolou did add Pfister "hasn't completely said no."
"We will see if he comes back tomorrow," he said. "Perhaps once the problem with the bonuses is settled ..."
The players, most of whom are with smaller European clubs, have been holding out for $200,000 each to play in the tournament, plus $39,000 each per win and $20,000 per draw.
Pfister has maintained that it was up to the federation, and not him, to settle the dispute.
"I cannot do my job professionally if the federation does not even begin to work professionally," he said.
Prime Minister Edem Kodjo met with the team Friday night, but there was no immediate result.
"We will have a final agreement this evening," Attolou said.
At practice Thursday, Pfister appeared tense as he paced up and down the field, occasionally exchanging a few words with players, oblivious to the cheers of local spectators and the beat of loud West African music.
Friday's scheduled training session was canceled. Officials said it was so the players could rest. But there were reports that the no-show was part of the players' protest.
"The players are angry, unmotivated, we have not trained for three days, they are striking — and we are supposed to play a successful World Cup?" Pfister said. "I could only draw a line."
It's the latest off-field drama for a team considered an outsider in Group G, which includes France, Switzerland and South Korea. Togo is ranked 61st in the world — a World Cup low. It has struggled to regain consistency and composure since Nigerian coach Stephen Keshi was fired following a disappointing performance in the African Cup of Nations in January.
Pfister, a 68-year-old German who has spent most of his career in Africa, took over in March. The oldest coach at the World Cup, he started his career as a player in Switzerland before moving into coaching. He began a four-year stint in Rwanda in 1972, followed by spells in Burkina Faso and Senegal.
He moved to Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo, in 1985 and later coached Ghana to the African Cup of Nations final in 1992. After stints in Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia, he moved back to Africa at the club level in 1999.