Emotional Renard boosts Zambia’s unique spirit

AP, Monday 13 Feb 2012

There was a moment when Zambia’s famous team spirit appeared to be fractured in Sunday’s high pressure atmosphere at the African Cup of Nations final

Herve Renard
Zambia coach Herve Renard

Coach Herve Renard remonstrated furiously with Davies Nkausu after the defender had let Ivory Coast forward Gervinho bear down dangerously on Zambia’s goal. Renard then pushed Nkausu in the chest to ram home his point.

Instead of reacting angrily, the player nodded his head, patted the emotional Frenchman on the shoulder and went back to the business of winning Zambia’s first major football title.

It encapsulated a unique bond between Renard and his players that maybe few outside the camp fully understood before Zambia’s unexpected victory over the heavily favored Ivorians.

“For you, maybe it’s incredible for me to react like this, but they (the players) know me,” Renard said. “I think they need someone like this. I think if they had a coach who didn’t react on the bench, it would not be possible for the Zambian players (to win).

“They need to be pushed. Sometimes they are not very concentrated. But when you push them, they are able to do magic things.”

Renard is perhaps the one coach that could have guided Zambia to such a surprise success.

The two parties are so close that neither could bear to be separated from the other when Renard ended his first spell in charge after the 2010 Cup of Nations. He returned in October last year following brief spells coaching Angola and then an Algerian club team.

Zambia was equally unhappy without its flamboyant, blonde-haired Frenchman and welcomed him back with open, familiar arms.

“Fantastic team spirit. I came back for this reason,” he said. “I never spent moments like I spent with the Zambian players.”

Zambia’s run to its first African Cup title having lost in the final in 1974 and 1994 was undoubtedly dominated by the story of the country’s tragic ’93 team, which died in a plane crash in Libreville and inspired the 2012 squad to honor their compatriots with victory in the same city.

But just as inspirational, maybe, was the Renard affect.

The 43-year-old Frenchman hit the right note with all aspects of Zambia’s preparations, gently approaching the subject of honoring the players who died at a pre-tournament training camp and then merging into the background when the squad visited a site near the crash in the buildup to the final to pay their respects.

He believed it wasn’t his place to encroach on the country’s grief and allowed Kalusha Bwalya, the federation president and member of the 1993 team to lead the team at the moving ceremony.

He gave Chisamba Lungu and Nathan Sinkala their international debuts at the Cup of Nations and they responded with key performances in the final.

There was lighthearted moments, too, with Renard promising to wear his lucky white shirt at every one of Zambia’s games at the Cup of Nations. He admitted after Sunday’s triumph that he had actually worn a new one for the decider because it looked “a bit more elegant.”

Zambia and Renard is a fit that’s just as good as that shirt.

“I am very proud to be the Zambia coach and very proud to be able to bring the cup back to Zambia because this country is fantastic,” Renard said while also dedicating the success to Bwalya. “Sometimes you get what you deserve. It’s life.

“I have to stay with my family and we have to continue our road,” he added after being asked if he was now a target to coach higher profile teams.

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