From cleaner to coach – fascinating life of France

Herve Renard watches on from the dugout during a France match
Herve Renard became France manager in March this year
Hosts: Australia and New Zealand Dates: 20 July-20 August
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It is easy to forget now, in the wake of their stunning victory in Qatar and the celebrations when they returned home, but Argentina’s men’s World Cup campaign began with one of the biggest shocks in the tournament’s history – a defeat against Saudi Arabia.

The man who masterminded that seismic result was Herve Renard and, little more than seven months later, he is managing in another World Cup.

This time, rather than leading one of the underdogs, he is in charge of one of the favourites, tasked with guiding France to a first success at the Women’s World Cup.

Aside from the likelihood he is the only person to have managed at two World Cups within a year, the 54-year-old Frenchman has had a career that can certainly be described as interesting.

He is a two-time Africa Cup of Nations winner, managed in the English fourth tier with Cambridge United and also had a long spell working as a cleaner between hanging up his football boots and becoming a manager.

An interesting journey

Archive: Herve Renard, speaking in 2019 when he was coach of Morocco, talks about his journey from binman to bench

Renard’s playing career was spent as a defender in France’s lower divisions but he retired in 1998 at the age of 29 and, although he had a desire to become a coach, he needed a source of income to supplement his ambition.

Offered the chance to do some coaching at SC Draguignan – the final club he played for – Renard also took a job as a cleaner.

He would get up in the middle of the night and head to a block of flats to put out the rubbish and do general cleaning duties until lunchtime, before taking training later in the afternoon.

“I woke up at 2:30 in the morning, finished around noon and then left at 5pm for training at Draguignan,” Renard told BBC Sport in 2019.

“We trained and I’d return at around 9pm to eat and then go to bed at 11pm. That was my rhythm of life for eight years.”

While Renard completed his coaching badges during that time, it was his exhausting time working as a cleaner that he credited with turning him into the manager he is today.

“I’m proud of having done it,” he added.

“Being a footballer is an exceptional life, we have a privileged life and we must not forget that.”

From China to Cambridge and outfoxing Messi’s Argentina

Herve Renard
Renard masterminded Saudi Arabia’s win against eventual champions Argentina at the men’s World Cup last year

Renard’s first real opportunity as a coach was when Claude Le Roy, who had led Cameroon to the 1998 World Cup finals, was seeking an assistant manager after taking charge of Shanghai Cosco in 2002.

Pierre Romero, a former director of Rouen and who had first hired Renard for his cleaning company, recommended him to Le Roy and he soon joined the experienced coach in China.

Renard then followed Le Roy to England for a somewhat unusual spell at Cambridge United. It ended up with Renard managing the club for nine months.

He was credited for the work ethic he instilled at Cambridge, something that had been built within him from those hours working as a cleaner during the night and as a developing coach during the day.

In his first pre-season, training would start at 5:30 in the morning and there would be three sessions throughout the day as Renard got his players fit and organised.

It ultimately did not work out, but he soon discovered international management was better suited to him as he became the first coach to win the Africa Cup of Nations with different teams – Zambia and Ivory Coast.

Accepting the France challenge

Herve Renard watches on during training
Renard is hopeful a united France team will excel at this summer’s tournament

Renard, clearly, does not shirk a challenge – and that is certainly what he got when he took over a France team that was in disarray before his arrival.

For many years, it had been widely suggested that the obstacle blocking France’s chances of tournament success has been France themselves.

In 2019 they reached the quarter-finals of the Women’s World Cup and followed that by finishing third at last year’s European Championship.

But they have long been expected to do better, and preparations for recent tournaments were often overshadowed by controversies around decisions made by former coach Corinne Diacre.

That tension came to a head earlier this year when a number of France players – including captain Wendie Renard (no relation) – announced they would not play for the national team at this summer’s World Cup.

Diacre was subsequently dismissed on 9 March and replaced by Herve Renard a few weeks later.

Renard had no previous experience of coaching in women’s football and had fewer than four months to prepare for the World Cup – but the indications are he has been a unifying force.

Several players were brought back into the fold, including forward Eugenie Le Sommer, who ended a two-year absence from the international squad.

Le Sommer rewarded Renard’s faith with a brace as France beat Colombia 5-2 in his first game in charge.

Further encouraging results – wins against Canada and Ireland – in friendly matches followed before they lost to World Cup co-hosts Australia in their final warm-up game on 14 July.

France begin their campaign against Jamaica on Sunday and Renard is convinced this united France squad can go all the way.

“The atmosphere is fantastic now, I’m not trying to convince you – this is the truth,” he said.

“During the past maybe they didn’t realise exactly what their level was. They have to understand there is no team better than them.

“You have to believe in yourself and if this team believes in itself, they will do a fantastic World Cup.”

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