Can Herve verve spark Morocco?
The Elephants’ classy new generation favourites
THE Elephants of Ivory Coast, with a star-studded team, spent the last decade waddling aimlessly in search of the prestigious Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) trophy, until Herve Renard showed them the way to it two years ago. The Frenchman will be looking to prove that he still has that compass, which he had used to guide Zambia to Africa’s top prize in 2012, when he leads Morocco in Gabon.
He won’t find it easy as he has to navigate past a group that has a lot of emotional connections with the 48-year-old coach. Renard’s Atlas Lions start their Afcon campaign against the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a side he beat with the Elephants in 2015 to reach the final.
A clash with Togo led by his mentor, Claude Le Roy, follows before he takes on his former employers, Ivory Coast. It’s an emotional minefield Renard must carefully make his way out of if he is to revive Morocco, who haven’t been African champions for over four decades.
Renard has adopted the no-nonsense approach that helped him succeed with Chipolopolo. He surprisingly left out Hakim Ziyech, a decision that made him unpopular in Morocco just like the decision to send Clifford Mulenga home, for refusing to apologise for breaking curfew with Zambia in 2012, made him an unpopular figure in the Chipolopolo camp.
But that stance sent a message as to how the coach values team unity over anything else.
Renard argued he couldn’t guarantee Ziyech game time as he had Younes Belhanda and Mbark Boussoufa to play behind the striker. Belhanda has since been ruled out of the tournament because of a toe injury, joining Oussama Tannane on the sidelines through injuries.
Sofiane Boufal pulled out of the 23-man squad because of a knee injury. Even though Renard won the Afcon with Ivory Coast largely thanks to the stars he had, he thrived with unknowns who played for the badge with Zambia.
Florent Ibenge has mastered that. He won a bronze medal with DRC in 2015 – not because they had stars but because they were a united team.
Achieving that balance will be the biggest challenge for the reigning African champions, the Elephants, as they embark on a path to retain their trophy.
Only three other nations – Egypt, Ghana and Cameroon – have retained this trophy. A lot of the players who helped Ivory Coast win the Afcon aren’t there, new and younger blood have been brought in.
But the positive is that most of that new blood has been around the set-up, including coach Michel Dussuyer who has served as an assistant coach.
The Elephants are favourites from Group C along with Morocco because of Renard’s Midas touch and Ivory Coast’s quality. DRC can spoil all of that while you can never discount Togo because of the old hand, Le Roy, guiding them. He has consistently taken his teams to the knock-out stage, only failing to get out of the group stage with DRC in 2013 in South Africa. MIDAS TOUCH: Renard Herve, coach of Morocco, is going for his third Africa Cup of Nations crown after leading Zambia and the Ivory Coast to the title. He has a wealth of experience on the continent.