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HERVÉ RENARD: THE RENOWNED FRENCH MANAGER MAKING HIS NAME IN AFRICA

Many foreign coaches make their name in Africa, and one of the most successful is Hervé Renard, who has a distinct record in the continent's biggest competition and is hungry for more

Rainford Kalaba had just skied his penalty, it seemed as though the opportunity to make history had gone. Surely, Zambia were not going to get a third shot at glory. Didier Drogba had missed a penalty in the second-half; Kolo Touré missed the Ivorians’ eighth penalty in the shootout which gave Kalaba the chance for a magnificent win. Yet, Hervé Renard did not fluster. 

In a match filled with so much emotion, the Frenchman stayed as calm in the final as he had been throughout the tournament. Zambia were aiming to win the African Cup of Nations for the first time, coincidentally, in the same country that their compatriots had perished in 1993 – Gabon.

Amazingly, they would have a third shot at glory. Despite Drogba’s frantic pep talk, Gervinho failed to convert the Ivorians’ ninth penalty, giving Zambia the chance to win it. As Stoppila Sunzu stepped up to take his shot for the Zambians, captain Katongo and his team-mates were humming songs in unison. As a method of relief the impending penalty was creating, this was their way of showing unity no matter the result.

Zambia seemed to be in a celebratory mood, and after the spot-kick, they would rejoice. Sunzu, who had been converted from a midfielder to a centre-half by Renard and had a mammoth tournament, scored the penalty and would cap off his fine campaign by winning Chipolopolo the African Cup of Nations.

The ecstatic Zambians charged towards Sunzu at one of the corner flags. There, they knelt, hands aloft in prayers. But one player was missing – Joseph Musonda had been substituted in the 11th minute due to an injury, but he wouldn’t miss out on the celebration. Renard carried him to join the prayers. Those five minutes or so encapsulated the Frenchman’s work and personality: calmness, togetherness with his players and the conviction to make tough important decisions.

Zambia’s victory made Renard one of the many foreign coaches to have had an impact on the competition. Pierre Lechantre and Wilfred Schäfer won Cameroon the title in 2000 and 2002 respectively. Philippe Troussier was the “white witch doctor” who took hosts Burkina Faso to a historic semi-final berth in 1998. Henri Michel took Ivory Coast’s golden generation to the World Cup finals in 2006 and very nearly won the African Cup of Nations. The Pole, Henryk Kasperczak brought similar success to Tunisia in 1996 and was the hero for Mali in 2002 for their third-place finish, while Roger Lemerre won Tunisia’s first and only win in 2004.

Many foreign coaches have come to the African continent in search of a retirement gig or to get a job to use as a stepping stone. But, there have been a few like Claude Le Roy. Since arriving in Africa as the coach of Cameroon in 1985, he has participated in nine major tournaments. His Cameroon side even went on to win in 1988. His way of working his simple: he takes a keen interest in learning the culture of where he is staying and coaching, something many coaches tend to ignore, while all he commands is respect from his employers.

Claude Le Roy
CLAUDE LE ROY WAS ONE OF RENARD’S FIRST MENTORS

Le Roy had coached Senegal in the 1990 and 1992 editions of the African Cup of Nations and according to Salif Diao, a member of the 2002 Senegalese World Cup squad, the 2002 roster was the culmination of Le Roy’s work. The coach had done extensive work for the youth of the country and set up the right infrastructure for future success. On Le Roy’s insistence of living in countries he coached, Diao told the BBC in 2015: “Africa is very mystical. You need to be there to understand all of it, all of the different ethnic groups because you have to know the mentality of the players.

So when Renard joined the local dance celebration of the Zambian team after their victory in 2012, he was embracing the culture, having learned to do it from his mentor, who was one of Africa’s most successful.

It was Le Roy who introduced Renard to African football. In 2007, Le Roy was handling Ghana, headed for his sixth AFCON with a fourth different team. Previously, he had been acquainted with Renard at Cambridge United and in China with Shanghai Cosco.

Ghana were the hosts of the competition and were eager to continue the upswing in fortunes of the Black Stars following on from their qualification and commendable showings at the 2006 World Cup. The desire to end the 26-year trophy drought was ever so strong. Le Roy understood the “host and win” mantra that was on the lips of the entire. It was in this vein that Herve Renard was introduced to the national team, having been set up as a physical trainer. Physical fitness and injuries had thwarted Ghana in the past, so Le Roy was keen to avoid that.

“One of the biggest memories I have of Hervé is the work rate that he not only demanded of us but also showed himself,” said John Ruddy, the current goalkeeper of Wolverhampton Wanderers, who played under Renard. “The pre-season under him was still one of the hardest I have ever done.”

“Hervé used to have us in the gym doing planks for two minutes and I remember shaking like a dog. All he was doing was laughing and shouting: ‘Come on John!’. He used to do crunches for five-minute sets, too and was in exceptional shape himself. It looks like he still is.” That wasn’t the only praise for him.

Shane Tudor, the club’s joint top-goalscorer that season was also in appreciation: “He could run seven or eight miles a day with no problem. His body was like a Greek god.” These underlined the Frenchman’s credentials for the role he was assuming with Ghana.

Ghana could only manage a third-place finish in their home tournament. Le Roy and Renard later went their separate ways, with the latter ready to take on a senior job himself within African football.

Despite the tutelage of Le Roy, he was very much his own man and his own manager. Whilst Le Roy’s football is identified to be more attacking, Renard can be classed as cautious. This is by no means suggesting that his teams aren’t inventive. His Zambia team displayed one of the best attacking displaying the tournament they won, especially in the knockout rounds.

For Renard, the “safety first” approach seems to be the base to build on. The approach meant that Zambia did not concede a goal after the group stages. Being a physical trainer early in his career as well, Renard also emphasizes excellent physical conditioning of his players. This makes it possible for him to draw on another trait of his management flexibility.

In one of their group matches in 2012 against Libya, he took off midfielder Francis Kasonde for striker Collins Mbesuma after 30 minutes. Bizarrely, later in the game, the substitute was substituted himself because Renard wanted his players to “play faster.” deeming Mbesuma incompatible of that style of play. Unafraid to make stern decisions, Renard is well-known for holding his own in high-pressure situations.

Many foreign coaches whose stocks rise as a result of excelling in the Africa are able to take the next big step in their career. Winning in Africa isn’t easy, especially with a country that is as limited in footballing terms as Zambia. But Renard played it smart, and built himself up.

Zambia's national football team players
ZAMBIA SHOCKED MANY TO WIN THE AFRICAN CUP OF NATIONS IN 2012

Prior to the success in 2012, his first spell with the Zambians was in 2008 and took part in the African Cup of Nations in 2010, where he took the nation to the quarter-finals of the tournament, having progressed through a difficult group. He later went on to manage the Angola national team but failed to do anything of note. However, he did help them qualify for the African Nations Championship in 2011, a variant of the main tournament but only for players playing within the continent.

After Angola, his next stop was in Algeria, where he delved into club football to manager USM Alger for a 10-month period prior to his return to Zambia. After the win in 2012, the country failed drastically the following year, when Zambia were knocked out of the group stages of the tournament. This time, it seemed as though Renard’s good reputation took a huge blow.

So he went back into club football, going home to take charge of Sochaux. This, however, didn’t do much good. Having joined in the middle of the campaign, Renard had his work cut out, and could not prevent relegation. Europe was where he was supposed to succeed, but Africa was where he was far more comfortable, and he would follow that route once again.

The Ivory Coast were in search of a new man to lead the charge following the resignation of Sabri Lamouchi after their disastrous World Cup campaign in Brazil. They failed to do anything of note and were knocked out in the final group match. Several of the players Renard defeated on the way to winning the African Cup of Nations in 2012 with Zambia were on their way to retirement. This was set to be a new era, and as for what was left of the squad, Renard wanted to make sure they could go out with pride.

Renard had the edge over the other candidates because of his preparedness to stay in the country. The fact that he knew how to win added extra concrete to his case. The Ivorians qualified for the 2015 edition of the African Cup of Nations as runners-up in their group to Cameroon. Co-incidentally, they were in the same group for the finals as well, and this time, the Ivorians won the group with Cameroon finishing rock-bottom.

Later, they would go on to defeat Algeria and DR Congo in the quarter-final and semi-final respectively, doing so in convincing fashion. This set up a final with neighbours Ghana, and the Ivorians, despite many changes including the retirement of former captain and star player, Didier Drogba, were firm favourites to win.

The final was also a repeat of the 1992 showdown, which resulted in the Ivory Coast’s only win in the competition. Just like 23 years prior, this game was goalless after 120 minutes too, with both sides showing little attacking flair. In the shoot-outs, Wilfried Bony and Junior Tallo missed their penalties, setting the Ivory Coast off to the worst possible start. Ghana converted their spot-kicks, giving them a 2-0 lead.

However, two Ghanaian misses restored parity, while the Ivorians were flawless after that. This marathon shoot-out went to the 11th spot-kick, with Boubacar Barry, the Ivorian goalkeeper settling the result. His counterpart in the Ghanaian goal missed his shot, meaning that Renard would enter the history books in African football, becoming the first manager to win the African Cup of Nations with two different countries.

Ivory Coast 2015
IVORY COAST’S SUCCESS IN 2015 ONLY ENHANCED RENARD’S REPUTATION

Whilst the Zambian triumph left the Zambians in awe, the Ivorian journey didn’t quite go on for long. Renard left his role soon after the tournament, returning to club football to manage Lille, but that ended sourly as well and he would be sacked after just 13 games. Knowing international football was his forte, he would join the Moroccan national team, where he guided them to their first World Cup in 20 years and even denied his former side, Ivory Coast, a chance at the finals.

Making the quarter-final of the 2017 African Cup of Nations as well as a commendable showing at the World Cup has been an achievement for Renard. The future looks bright for the North Africans and knowing Renard, it could just bring in a trophy or two.

BY ATO COULON