The beleaguered Togo soccer team was thrown into chaos yesterday after coach Otto Pfister walked out in fury over a pay dispute between the players and the national federation, just four days before its World Cup debut against South Korea.
Togo federation spokesman Messan Attolou said that Pfister had left the hotel in the middle of the night with his assistant trainer, Piet Hamberg. But he said the federation held out hope that Pfister might return.
However, Pfister was emphatic that his resignation was final.
"That's it for me," he told the Berlin daily Tagespiegel. "I'm not going back and I am giving up my work as national trainer. A lifelong dream has ended for me."
"I will definitely not be at the World Cup. I am not going to let myself be messed with any more," he said in the interview to appear in today's editions.
Another assistant coach, Kodjori Mawena, led the team's morning training session.
Attolou described him as "the new coach." But then he added: "The other hasn't completely said no."
The drama happened after Togo Prime Minister Edem Kodjo flew in late on Friday to try to settle the pay row with the players -- but with no immediate result.
The players, most of whom are with smaller European clubs, have been holding out for 155,000 euros (US$200,000) each to play in the tournament, plus 30,000 euros each per win and 15,000 euros per draw.
Attolou said the prime minister had told the players what pay was available.
"We will have a final agreement this evening," Attolou said.
Attolou said that Pfister had left his bags at the hotel.
"We will see if he comes back tomorrow," he said. "Perhaps once the problem with the bonuses is settled."
Pfister -- a 68-year-old German veteran who has spent most of his career in Africa -- had maintained that it was up to the federation, and not him, to settle the players' grievances.
"The players are angry, unmotivated," Pfister said in the newspaper interview. "They are striking -- and we are supposed to play a successful World Cup?"
He expressed "full understanding" for the players' anger.
"I can not do my job professionally if the federation does not even begin to work professionally," he said.
Pfister took over in March after Nigeria's Stephen Keshi was sacked after Togo crashed out of the African Cup of Nations in January. He has been hailed as a maestro in Togo, but looked glum in Germany.
Togo, ranked 61st in the world, is regarded as the outsider in Group G, which includes France, Switzerland and South Korea.
Pfister, the oldest coach at the World Cup, started as a player in Switzerland before moving into coaching. He began his love affair with Africa in 1972 with a four-year stint in Rwanda, 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 club soccer level in 1999.