Aliou Cisse is synonymous with all that is extraordinary about Senegal on the world stage.
He was captain in Japan and South Korea 20 years ago — remember that mind-bending opening night shock against France on their tournament debut — and is now the manager leading them into the last 16 for the first time since then.
Cisse is often described as a reserved man, authoritative without being overbearing, and long consolidated as a national treasure, certainly after delivering a first trophy when lifting the Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year.
Aliou Cisse has been involved with memorable World Cup moments as a player and a coach
He has built a vibrant side, one which should pose England significant problems on Sunday, and even without the injured Sadio Mane they have embraced this past fortnight without fear.
The Cisse story has particular resonance around qualifying beyond the group stage. It is not only two decades since the inspiring run to the quarter-finals, but two decades since a week which altered the course of his life and, some believe, shaped his outlook on leadership.
Cisse was a Birmingham City player in September 2002 and had been there only a matter of months, like other international colleagues securing a Premier League move on the back of that summer’s World Cup.
He had missed just one game and ran the midfield as Birmingham humbled Aston Villa 3-0 in what is remembered as the Peter Enckelman derby after the goalkeeper’s infamous howler.
Cisse has guided Senegal to a last-16 clash with England at the World Cup in Qatar
Shortly after, the Senegalese ferry MV Le Joola — carrying 11 of Cisse’s family members — capsized off the coast of the Gambia. Cisse scrambled for news in an age when it did not roll for 24 hours.
Phonelines in his home country only worked sporadically and he struggled to contact other relatives. He was cut off, helpless in a Midlands flat.
The Joola was travelling from Ziguinchor in south Senegal to the capital Dakar when it encountered testing conditions. On board were families with everything they owned, plenty in search of a new life. Almost 2,000 people were crammed on to a ship with a capacity for just 536 passengers and 44 crew.
Cisse knew of the incident but not of its consequences. He carried on, eyes fixed on what was in front of him. It took a while for the full horrors to reveal themselves and finally the call came from a friend.
Cisse was captain during Senegal’s run to the World Cup quarter-finals in 2002
Cisse’s sister, along with aunts, uncles and cousins, had died in a tragedy that claimed 1,863 lives. It prompted a government inquiry and is etched into the minds of Senegalese people, some of whom want to raise the wreckage. There were no lifejackets or rafts.
The ship had been condemned as unseaworthy by the Veritas Maritime Assessment agency and capsized 40km from the coast at around midnight.
Faulty technology meant help did not arrive until well into the following day. It is the second-largest non-military disaster in maritime history.
Cisse was in Birmingham when a ferry carrying 11 of family members capsized off the coast of the Gambia
Cisse, then 26 and forming a strong midfield partnership with Robbie Savage, played in a defeat by Newcastle two days after the disaster, telling nobody. Once a trip to West Ham came around, he was in full possession of the cruel realities and so were his club. He still played well in a 2-1 victory before Birmingham offered him indefinite leave to return home.
‘As soon as we played the game I went straight to Dakar to see my family,’ Cisse said. ‘My family needed me, so I couldn’t be weak. They needed my presence.’
Alongside the majority of the World Cup team, he played in a charity game to raise funds and donated £5,000 himself. He was considered a hero long before taking the manager’s job and reproducing the excitement of that team he captained, which included the late former Premier League player Papa Bouba Diop.
‘The Joola tragedy is not only personal, it’s collective,’ he told the BBC in a documentary this year. ‘You have to remember that there were all layers of Senegalese society on that boat. In reality, the whole region was decimated.
‘Everyone in the city of Ziguinchor had one, two or even 10 family members who were left in that shipwreck. It was a very difficult time.’
This World Cup has been characterised as somehow redemptive for Cisse, but he does not see it that way. He added: ‘We must remember, remember our dead and all those families who were decimated, from the father down to the grandchildren.
‘It’s important to remember them, to pay tribute to them, to know they are not here but we are still thinking about them. I think that’s very important.’