Wise Le Roy has seen it all


Veteran French coach Claude Le Roy, who is preparing to take part in a record eighth Africa Cup of Nations, has seen it all in his many years working on the continent.

The 66-year-old, who will lead outsiders Congo Brazzaville into their first Cup of Nations since 2000, says securing qualification for the tournament in Equatorial Guinea can go down as arguably his best achievement yet in the African game.

"Yes, I'm proud, perhaps all the more this time because many experts thought it inconceivable that Congo could qualify from a group containing South Africa, Nigeria and Sudan, especially after not having been in the tournament for 15 years," said Le Roy.

Le Roy, who had an unremarkable playing career in his home country, first went to the Cup of Nations in 1986 with Cameroon, when a side featuring the likes of Roger Milla lost on penalties to hosts Egypt in the final.

Two years later he led Cameroon to glory in the competition in Morocco, beating Nigeria in the final.

A run to the semi-finals with Senegal followed in 1990, and he also coached the Lions of Teranga on home soil in 1992, while in more recent years he has enjoyed two spells in charge of the Democratic Republic of Congo either side of a stint with Ghana.

Describing his years in Africa as a "human adventure", Le Roy says he has never changed his style, even during spells in Asia and, briefly, in England.

"I work as I have done everywhere I have been, from Shanghai to Cambridge to Cameroon. When I went to Oman they had been waiting 40 years to win the Gulf Cup and we won it (2009)," he said.

"I don't gift my players anything. I tell them exactly what I feel. When you have 23 players you are a different coach with all of them.

"It is incredibly stupid to say you are the same with all of them. I try to give them responsibility. I don't try to act as their father.

"On this continent the players have absolute confidence in me because they know the boss, on the technical side, is me. Nobody can impose anything on me."

- 'I love this continent' -

The decision to throw original hosts Morocco out of this year's competition after they requested a postponement due to Ebola fears and move the tournament to Equatorial Guinea -- ruled with an iron fist by president Teodoro Obiang -- was a controversial one.

However, Le Roy refused to pass judgement on the organisers or on the new hosts, whose oil resources have made them one of the richest countries on earth while the majority of the population continue to live in abject poverty.

Le Roy said: "They have saved the Africa Cup of Nations. As for all those who preach to us about African regimes...we have seen what has happened in Libya.

"We need to leave these countries to sort themselves out. African people don't need anybody else. The European powers must leave them to it.

"And while we might feel able to pass judgement on everything as a democracy, it is not my job to judge the president of Equatorial Guinea but to maximise the talent of a football team. I love this continent, but I am here for the football."

On the pitch, a team with a strong contingent of players from the country's crack club AC Leopards but few who feature in Europe's leading leagues -- striker Thievy Bifouma of Almeria inSpain is perhaps the biggest name -- are not widely expected to go far.

They have been drawn in Group A alongside 2013 runners-up Burkina Faso, Gabon and the hosts. And a win against the Nzalang Nacional in the competition's opener in Bata on Saturday will be crucial to their chances of progressing.

"We are the only team who does not have a single player who has taken part in the Cup of Nations before. They were all children the last time," admitted Le Roy. "But we are lucky to be able to take part in the opening game."

AFP

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