Zambia loses its French wizard
Harare – It was a match made in heaven but on October 7, 2013, Zambia waved goodbye to a French coach who made them champions of Africa as their doomed 2014 World Cup campaign took its toll and ended a marriage that turned Chipolopolo into a super brand on the continent.
The cracks, which started to show as Chipolopolo stumbled in their quest to reach Brazil and provide further evidence that their success in the Nations Cup in Gabon last year was no fluke, finally broke the bond that had united a young coach and a country that scaled dizzy heights during his tenure as their national team gaffer.
Ironically, while it’s the failure to reach Brazil that, more than anything else, shattered this special bond, Zambia’s first game, in the post-Herve Renard era, will be against the 2014 World Cup hosts in a high-profile friendly in Beijing, China, on October 15, 2013.
That game will probably give Zambia a good assessment of where they stand in the game and whether or not their dreams have come of age, and would have been full value for their place in Brazil next year, were either real or far-fetched.
That Renard is walking away, in the very week that the 10 African countries remaining in the race for a place at the 2014 World Cup finals plunge into the first leg of the do-or-die contests, will ensure that their failed quest to make the trip to Brazil will be a big part of virtually every discussion, and every analysis that will accompany this divorce.
Zambia were beaten to a place in the final round of qualifiers by Ghana, after losing the decider 1-2 in Kumasi, but Renard knows that the damage was inflicted long before they boarded their flight to West Africa with crucial points dropped in Lesotho, where they conceded a last-gasp equaliser, and at home when they were held by Sudan.
The Sudanese will feel that this was poetic justice served, after their impressive victory over the Zambians in Khartoum in the first game of the campaign, was nullified by FIFA with the match being given to the Southern Africans on a 3-0 score line after Sudan were accused of having used an ineligible player.
Reports started to emerge, shortly after Ghana ended the Zambians campaign to grab a ticket to Brazil, that their divorce with Renard was just waiting for confirmation and the Frenchman was set to move to South Africa to join Orlando Pirates although his salary was always going to be a sticking issue.
On October 7, the Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) announced that they had parted ways with Renard with the Frenchman set to return to his homeland in France to take up a post with Sochaux in their top-flight league.
“The Football Association of Zambia hereby announces the release of Herve Renard from the job of national coach of the Zambian National Football Team. The 2012 Nations Cup winning coach has been offered a wonderful opportunity at FC Sochaux in the top league in France,” FAZ said in a statement posted on their website.
“FAZ and Herve have consulted and it has been agreed not to stand in his way.“It is a compliment for a coach working in Africa to be head-hunted by a top European Club. It makes us proud to be able to take ownership of Herve’s rise as a successful international coach.“FAZ wishes to thank Renard for his dedication to duty, hard work, and proficiency, and wish him well as he takes up his new coaching job.
“Following the departure of Renard, assistant coach Patrice Beaumelle will take charge of the Chipolopolo starting with the international assignment against Brazil in Beijing next week Tuesday, 15 October 2013.”
But it's a fact that had Zambia kept alive their 2014 World Cup campaign, not even the overtures of Sochaux, and whatever they came with as a package, would not have convinced Renard that returning home to coach in his country's top-flight league was the best option right now.
Crucially, for all the spin-doctoring that the FAZ leadership will do to make sure that their divorce with Renard will be painted in beautiful colours, and glowing images and won’t be dragged through a mud-bath of conflict, the reality remains that their parting point came against a background of a failed campaign.
Shortly after the FAZ communications department had posted the breaking news that they had parted ways with the Frenchman, they posted another article on their website saying that Renard had hailed the association, and its president Kalusha Bwalya, for a good working relationship that propelled Zambia to Nations Cup glory.
“Former Zambia National Soccer team coach, Herve Renard has paid glowing tribute to FAZ chief Kalusha Bwalya and the people of Zambia for according him an opportunity to work with Chipolopolo as well as giving him the chance to further his personal career by releasing him to take up a new challenge in France,” the FAZ said on their website.
“In his first comments since the announcement of his release, the 2012 Nations Cup winning coach and African Coach of the Year said: ‘I would like to thank Kalusha for this opportunity and for allowing me to further my career. I enjoyed working with him and together we did the best to further the development and rise of the Chipolopolo. I wish the team well. I will never forget Zambia’.”
Zambia, too, will certainly never forget Renard. Maybin Nsupila, of the Institute of Development Policy and Management at the University of Antwerp in Belgium, appeared to capture the mood of the ordinary Zambian fans with his comments, on the same FAZ website, when he said:
“Herve Renard did us proud by leading the team to lifting Zambia's first-ever Africa Cup of Nations. We can only wish him well in his new job. I also see this as an opportunity for some Zambian players to break into the French League,” said Nsupila.
BBC Sport journalist, Farai Mungazi, who is considered an expert on African football, decided to bring some light-hearted stuff on the divorce. “Zambia coach Herve Renard has left his job. No more white shirts, plenty of tears from ladies all around Zambia,” he posted on his Facebook page.