Renard points the way

It’s June and Zambia have just lost a World Cup qualifier to Sudan 2-0. Zambian coach Hervé Renard is angry

with the travel arrangements made by the government for the trip as the African champions arrived on a commercial flight just the day before the match.

Renard had wanted the team to fly on a chartered plane from South Africa, where Chipolopolo had a training camp.

“In football you have to be professional. We’re not professionals; we’re amateurs,” he said at the time.

It’s all a far cry from seven years ago when Renard was sacked as manager of Cambridge United. Last year he led Zambia to arguably the most poignant tournament victory there has ever been, winning the Africa Cup of Nations success in Libreville, the city in which 18 of their players were killed in a plane crash in 1993.

It’s easy to understand why he got so riled up about the travel arrangements. Looking back on CAN 2012 a feature of his Zambian side has been its resilience and organisation as they confounded supposedly stronger teams such as Senegal in the opening game in all the way through to Cote d’Ivoire in the final.

"The team spirit is fantastic," said Renard. "I've never known moments anywhere else like I've known with Zambia."

This is a Zambia squad first put together after the failure to qualify for the World Cup in 2006 from an assortment of youth players. Since then there has been a consistency of selection that has resulted in an intense team spirit, something, of course, only heightened by the desire to honour those who died in the 1993 crash.

Although Renard took Zambia to the quarter-finals of the 2010 Cup of Nations, he’d resigned in April 2010 and taken over the reins of first Angola and then USM Alger.

When he returned to Zambia last October, after Dario Bonetti had coached them through the qualifiers, was controversial, but the bond he had with his players was obvious. Renard acts as a stern but respected father, popular with his charges but not to be taken advantage of. If there was any doubt about that, it vanished when he expelled the midfielder Clifford Mulenga from the squad early in the tournament for refusing to apologise after breaching a curfew.

A sign of his management style came midway through the first half of the final, when he was so incensed at the high line played by his full-back Davies Nkausu that he thumped him in the chest. "We saw against Mali that if you leave 50m behind you, Gervinho will kill you," he explained.

"I showed them that sequence, so I was furious he did not respect what I said. Perhaps it looks strange from the outside, but they know how I am. There's no problem. I think they need someone like this. They need to be pushed. Sometimes they are not very focused, but they can do magical things."

Renard has certainly been pushed in life. “When I started my life as a coach I was running my own company cleaning the communal parts of buildings,” he explained. “I used to get up at 3.00am for five days a week to do it. Putting out the bins was part of the deal.

He also likes a challenge.
 
“When I was a coach at Cambridge United, it was one of the most difficult times in my life. I didn’t speak English and I didn’t get an interpreter so that was tough but I got stronger.”
 
After the seven month stint at Cambridge, Renard returned to France where he coached Cherbourg, also in their country's third. Claude Le Roy plucked him from the wilderness in 2007 to help oversee the Ghana team.
 
As assistant head coach to the Frenchman, Renard had his first taste of African football.
 
“We arrived in Ghana just after training camp in Abu Dhabi. About 6,000 people were waiting for the team. It was amazing. I’d never seen this before and then I decided that I wanted to be coach of a national team in Africa and participate in many Africa Cup of Nations.”
 
The 2013 competition will be his fourth in all and third as head coach.
 
“My path has been up and down,” he reflects. “It’s not always easy because when you don’t have a name you have to take somewhere more difficult than people with names. They are able to start somewhere immediately at a higher level but perhaps it’s a good thing as you get stronger mentally.”
 
“I was 15 when I signed my first contract with Cannes and I remember how lucky I was to start in the academy there,” Renard recalls. “I met some fantastic players. Arsène Wenger was coach of the academy and Jean-Marc Guillou, the coach of the first team. Afterwards there was Jean Fernandez, Guy Lacombe and Claude [Le Roy]. All fantastic people and when they were talking I concentrated and listened to these people.”
 
But the strand between absorbing the ideas of the savants and executing them is often fragile. In Zambia Renard has been blessed with the good fortune of having Kalusha Bwalya as president of the football association.
 
The 49-year-old is acknowledged as Zambia ’s greatest player and after Zambia ’s first round exit in Ghana four years ago, Bwalya advocated a policy of patiently developing a group of players under one coach.
 
The quarter-finals in Angola two years ago under Renard vindicated that stance and winning in 2012 was a final endorsement.

In victory, Renard was modest, insisting "it was nothing to do with me." He had first discussed the possibilities of the draw when he gathered his squad together. "I said to the players, 'You know there is something - we play first against Senegal and the plane was going to Senegal, and the final is in Libreville, where the plane was leaving from.' I can't explain it: it was written."
 
Modesty is not a trait anybody would previous have associated with Renard. "Some people say I am long-haired and big-headed," he said, "but I'm not that bad." He is intense, self-ironic, charismatic and very, very French.

The crunch game in Group C will be Nigeria, the perennial nemesis of Zambia after opening against Ethiopia.
 
“We must negotiate our opening match against Ethiopia,” Renard told SuperSport.
 
“The opening match is very, very important in a competition so we must treat everyone very seriously.”
 
Next come Nigeria and in recent years Zambia have not had the best of it against the West Africans.

There was a defeat on penalties in the 2010 tournament in Angola, followed by two other losses, the most recent in a 2011 friendly in Kaduna.

 “We have a good chance of revenge against a very good Nigerian team,” says Renard.

Whatever happens in South Africa, you can be sure Zambia will be working hard and cajoled by their coach to live up to the highest standards

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