African Nations Cup: Zambian coach Hervé Renard’s cunning plan to clean out the Elephants
Zambia have never been African champions but play hot favourites Ivory Coast tomorrow as they bid to finally clinch a title they were so close to in 1974 and 1994.
When he realised as a teenager he was never going to make the grade as a top professional player, Renard switched to coaching French amateur sides but never got a chance with a top division team.
“I am not in the who’s who,” said the 43-year-old from the team HQ in Gabon. “I took out the rubbish for eight years and now I’m about to coach in the African Nations Cup final. Soccer is magical right?”
At the age of 15, he arrived in Cannes to train at one of the finest French soccer academies of the time.
“I was one of the best,” said the man who played with future
World Cup winners Marcel Desailly and Didier Deschamps in their teenage years. “But, as soon as I was confronted by top players, I realised I was not that good. I ended up as an average third-tier player.”
After his playing career fell apart, he set up a cleaning business which he owned for almost a decade.
“I often remember those years when I got up at three in the morning to go clean buildings, it helps keep all this in perspective,” he said.
Renard started coaching with sixth-tier Vallauris and Draguignan on the Cote d’Azur. That helped him catch the attention of former Cameroon coach Claude Le Roy, whom he followed around the world as an assistant at clubs and national sides before taking sole charge of Zambia in 2008.
After leading the Chipolopolo (Copper Bullets) to the Nations Cup quarter-finals in 2010, Renard left but he could not resist returning late in 2011.
“On November 15, for our first game against Nigeria, I said to myself: ‘What am I doing – it’s a disaster’,” he said of a game Zambia lost.
Now Renard believes his own story can inspire his team to upset favourites Ivory Coast on Sunday having already shocked much-fancied Ghana 1-0 in Wednesday’s semi-final.
“Most of our players don’t have the same background as other Africans, who play with top European clubs like Manchester City,” he said.
“I have always believed in myself. Here in Africa, they recognise my skills.”
Another Frenchman who never played at the top level, Arsene Wenger, has praised Gervinho’s performances for The Elephants of Ivory Coast at the tournament and hopes he can replicate his form when he returns to Arsenal.
The former Lille midfielder scored the only goal in the semi-final against Mali and Wenger said: “It was a cracking goal. They were the better side but he made the difference. They scored only one goal, Gervinho made it and you can basically say he scored it on his own because he started on the halfway line and finished in a cool way.”