EKATERINBURG • Senegal coach Aliou Cisse was momentarily lost for words on Saturday when asked by a Russian journalist about his growing status as one of the sex symbols of this World Cup.
"I don't know, you'll have to ask the ladies," the 42-year-old replied, laughing, when asked about the intense interest he has provoked among women across Russia.
Clips of the coach's fist-pumping goal celebrations while directing a smouldering gaze towards the camera during Senegal's opening game against Poland have gone viral, attracting the attention of admirers around the world.
Some fans have likened him online to the Marvel Comics superhero Black Panther.
"I don't think I'm a sex symbol at all. There are millions and millions of Aliou Cisses in Senegal and the world," said the coach with the long braided hair and rock-star looks.
"But it's good to be loved."
Cisse's immaculate dreadlocks and sharp sartorial style have become a talking point, as much as him being the only black coach of the 32 teams taking part.
However, some of his fellow Senegalese explain that while he is happy to be a flag-bearer for Africa, he is insistent that skin colour should be of little importance.
"He is a tough guy, a very serious coach and that is what he wants to be known for," said Ndongo N'Diaye, the sports adviser to the country's President, Macky Sall.
Abdoulaye Thiam, the president of Senegal's Association Nationale de la Press Sportive, added: "He wants all African coaches to work hard and succeed and he says, 'My skin colour is not important', it even annoys him that it is brought up.
"This is a coach who is very strong on tactics and the technical sides of football and that is what he wants to talk about."
Cisse has brought a rigour to the Senegal team. They have exciting attacking players such as Sadio Mane, but it is in defence that the coach has really made his presence felt.
"You could say it looked like Atletico Madrid were playing," Kalidou Koulibaly, their highly rated Napoli centre-back, joked.
"It took something special to score against us (in the 2-1 win over Poland), but we are not going to rest on our laurels.
"We still have room for improvement. We hope to raise the colours of Africa and Senegal higher."
THE TIMES, LONDON, REUTERS