Ponga Liwewe wrote…

Herve Renard – The Architect of Victory

An excerpt from ‘The Zambian Game.

Available from Amazon Kindle as an ebook @ $4.99

He spent most of his time prowling his technical area and barking out instructions continually. By the end of the tournament he had expended almost as much energy as his players who ran themselves into the ground in every match. Never before in the history of Zambian football has one man had such a profound influence on the national team and stamped his philosophy of the game so indelibly on it that the whole became greater than the sum of the parts that made it. In doing so he turned a team of also-rans into African champions.

On the two occasions he has been in charge of the Zambia national team, Herve Renard has created a team in his own image and implemented a doctrine that has shaped its culture in a way that no other Zambian coach has. The French coach who first caught the eye of African football followers when he first worked with the legendary Claude Le Roy, and the Ghanaian team at the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations, has undoubtedly been influenced by his mentor’s ways.

Le Roy is well recognised in African football circles, having won the Africa Cup of Nations with Cameroon in 1988. Renard’s designation with the Ghanaian team was physical trainer, a title he bore to get round Ghanaian insistence of having a local coach as assistant. Ghana’s Under-20 World Cup winning coach Silas Tettey carried that mantle. While working with the Ghanaian team, he was able to observe the workings of Le Roy, and even though Ghana went out in the semi-final in 2008, losing unexpectedlyo Cameroon, it was a team that played with passion, flair and skill.

Fast-forward to May 2008 when Renard was brought into take over the Zambia national team after their first round failure in Ghana. He immediately sought to impose his ideas on a team that, while full of promise, hadn’t delivered for many years. They had not been able to get beyond the first round of the Africa Cup of Nations for sixteen years, since the 1996 tournament in South Africa. Four years after his first foray into Zambian football, he stood at the top of the African coaching ladder, having achieved the near-impossible task of taking a team, largely made up of African-based players, from the league’s of South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo, with a sprinkling of players from China, and second grade European teams, and turning them into African champions.

The feat was all the more remarkable because Renard, having left just after the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations in Angola, took over the team only two months before the 2012 tournament began, after the surprise dismissal of Zambia’s Italian coach Dario Bonetti.

His return was received with mixed feelings by the Zambian football fraternity who felt that he had abandoned the team for a more lucrative offer after Zambia’s unexpected showing in Angola when the team reached the quarter-final for the first time in fourteen years. Renard later explained that he had had to leave for personal reasons that affected his family life. He then spent six months in Angola where his working relationship withthe Angolan football association ended with agreement by ‘mutual consent’ to part ways.

He next popped up at Algerian club side, USM Alger, but had hardly settled down, spending eleven months there, when he invoked a clause in his contract that allowed him to leave if a national team job offer came up.

Renard’s first step on his return to Zambia was to take a look at the players who had taken the team through to the 2012 African Cup of Nations under Dario Bonetti. Only then would he make his squad selection, after he had given each player a chance to prove himself. He recalls Zambia’s first friendly match away to Nigeria. ‘ It was a game with the players who were playing in the qualification. I just wanted to see them in the positions they were playing during the qualification,’ he said, speaking in his accented English. ‘One example is Francis Kasonde who was playing right back. For me, he is not a right back. I respect the decision of the coach who was there before, but it’s not my philosophy of football. I just wanted to see. We lost the game but for me it was not a problem to lose this game.’

The Zambian team also travelled to India for much-criticised friendly matches against an Indian select side and the national team, with fans and pundits alike questioning the value of playing against such unheralded opposition so close to the tournament. Zambia beat a Goa select side, 4-1, before going on to beat the Indian national team, 5-0. Out of the team that travelled to India, eight players would make his final Africa Cup of Nations squad.

After the Christmas break, the team headed to South Africa for the final camp before the tournament began. Three friendly matches were lined up. The first, against a weak Jomo Cosmos team, ended in a 7-0 win in Zambia’s favour. There wasn’t much to read in the result against Cosmos, who were still on their midseason break. For Renard, his focus was more on shaping the team than the score. Draws against South Africa and Namibia in the next two matches drew sharp criticism in Lusaka as local journalists savaged the team in the media.

Zambian fans living in South Africa vented their anger at the lack of goals, and this rankled Renard. ‘People were talking, but this is fantastic motivation especially for me. You know, one guy told me in South Africa, ‘you are eating our tax,’ when we play against Namibia. I remember they were fifteen Zambian fans there, and we drew against Namibia. It was an insult that gave me fantastic motivation. You can’t understand how it motivated me when I heard people talk like this. If they think they are doing this to break me down, please stop because you won’t be able to break me down. I’m so strong,’

As the Zambian team prepared to go their base in Bata, Equatorial Guinea, Renard took them aside and had a quiet word, reminding them of their responsibilities to themselves and to the Zambian people. ‘Listen guys, we had a fantastic tournament and I was so proud of you in 2010 but we have to do better than we did because people are waiting, are expecting a lot.’ He reminded them of the achievements of the Zambian team in the aftermath of the air crash off the coast of Gabon. ‘Why one team in 1994, with a B team, were able to reach the final, why? Can you tell me why? Because of their spirit, and their commitment. That means we have to do the same.’


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