Rabat – Herve Renard, Morocco’s national football team coach, is confident that his squad has the wherewithal to be champions in the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations (CAN). Renard insists, however, that there is still more preparation needed to realize that national dream.Renard made the remarks during a recent interview with Moroccan sports outlet El Botola. The Frenchman mostly spoke about his squad’s objectives for this year’s CAN to be played in Egypt between June 21 and July 19. But, unavoidably, Renard also spoke about his future with Morocco.“After every major tournament, the coach is never sure whether he will stay with the team or not,” Renard said. “So the best option for everybody is to be focused on the Egyptian tournament.” Tough challengesOn April 12, the draw for the 2019 CAN put Morocco in the competition’s deadliest group. Not the first time in recent years that Morocco has to play tough opponents early on in a tournament, commentators and fans have been speaking about Morocco’s “Group of death” misfortune.For Renard, however, playing tough opponents early on in the group phase is good for his team. It brings focus and urgency from the very outset of the competition and reminds players that “nothing should be taken for granted.”Perhaps the most successful African manager in the last decade, having engineered continental triumphs for an outsider Zambian side in 2012 and a rebuilt Ivorian team three years later, Renard’s coaching philosophy rests on confrontation. He preaches aggressively meeting the challenges on the path to ultimate glory.“Many say that Morocco has been drawn in a complicated group, but every CAN has always been difficult,” he told El Botola. “To win, you must stay focused and prepare for the competition to the fullest of your potential.”Unsure futureAlso crucial is the support of fans and footballing authorities. In Renard’s view, efforts and talent would amount to nothing without a motivating atmosphere.In the first interview he gave after the CAN 2019 draw, Renard said that victory in Egypt will only come through the support of fans and the Royal Moroccan Football Federation (FRMF). The Frenchman reiterated that point in the interview with El Botola. In addition to focus, talent, and urgency, you also “need the support of the public” to win a CAN.Although FRMF has repeatedly repelled rumors of Renard leaving the Atlas Lions, there have been times in recent months when the parties were on bad terms.The result is that Renard is not sure whether he will stay with the Moroccan lions after CAN.If FRMF shows interest in keeping him, Renard told El Botola, he will ask both himself and FRMF representatives one “existential question” that will determine his answer. “Will I receive the necessary support to serenely do my job?”Betting on CANBut the heart of Renard’s concern is not lack of popular support. Fans of Morocco’s Atlas Lions will surely remember the outpouring of support the Frenchman received when rumors had it after the World Cup that he would not stay with the Lions. Moroccans know that their national team has immensely improved under Renard, and they have been eager to show Renard gratitude.Renard’s problems, although he refrains from calling names and pointing accusatory fingers, is that FRMF’s support has not been complete on some occasions.Judging from Renard’s interview with El Botola, there have been times when his tactical choices and line-ups were questioned—but not on the basis of their footballing merit. But most, there have been times when he was denied what he felt he needed to lead the Moroccan lions.“There is no Hamdallah dilemma,” he said to El Botola, swiping at critics who had questioned the absence of Abderrazak Hamdallah, currently the most prolific Moroccan goal scorer, from Renard’s most recent line-ups.Renard does not seem to be considering Hamdallah for CAN 2019. Meanwhile, there are reports of dissenting voices within the coaching staff—allegedly supported by FRMF—who have been adamant that a scorer like Hamdallah is needed to breathe life into Morocco’s attacking line.What happened with Hamdallah, Renard explained, is that the striker declined the Frenchman’s call in March to join the Moroccan squad. Hamdallah cited family reasons, promising that he would join the team when called upon at a more convenient time in the future.However, Renard ruefully remarked, “some people of bad faith jump at the first opportunity to criticize me. These people do not serve the interests of the national team.” But Renard, sounding reflective, made the gist of his point: “I have dealt with similar difficulties elsewhere, and that will not prevent me from realizing big results with this squad.”Renard left Cote d’Ivoire and Zambia for the same reason. For all the success he had built with those teams, he felt that the atmosphere was no longer right. Or, as he put it, his decisions and tactics no longer enjoyed “total support.”With reports of internal—though minor— disagreements, many wonder whether Morocco’s two-year romantic tale with Renard might be nearing its end.The answer will likely depend on Morocco’s performance at this year’s CAN.Should Morocco win the cup, or perhaps reach the final, the uproarious support from Moroccan fans may convince FRMF to grant Renard his request. But that, given the quality of teams and the intensity of the competition at CANs, is a serious wager.“Assessments will be made once CAN is done with. FRMF will set its goals for the next phase, and I will make my evaluation,” Renard said.
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