Emotional Renard boosts Zambia’s unique spirit

Emotional Renard boosts Zambia’s unique spirit

LIBREVILLE, Gabon - The Associated Press
Emotional Renard boosts Zambia’s unique spirit

There were colorful and emotional moments of celebration as Zambia’s players and team staff was reveling in the team’s first-ever victory in the African Cup of Nations at Stade de l’Amitie in Libreville, Gabon. REUTERS Photo

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.

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 ceremony.

Bwalya finally lifted a African Cup of Nations trophy for his teammates.

Bwalya, the former national captain, raised the cup at Stade de l’Amitie, just kilometers from where 18 members of the country’s 1993 team lost their lives.

Bwalya incredibly inspired Zambia’s 1994 squad to the African Cup final, but lost to Nigeria. The Zambian has only escaped the crash because he was flying to Dakar, the team’s destination, directly from the Netherlands, where he was playing for PSV Eindhoven.

Now Zambia finally won, in its third final, to give Bwalya the chance to honor his fallen compatriots and friends.

He poignantly held the trophy up to salute them after the 2012 Zambians rode a wave of emotion on their return to the city to win the cup.