Monday, February 13, 2012

Contrasting leadership styles lead finalists in African Cup of Nations

Leading up to Sunday's African Cup of Nations final between Zambia and the Ivory Coast, Gerald Imray wrote of the contrasting styles of coaches Fracois Zahoui (Ivory Coast) and Herve Renard (Zambia).

Francois Zahoui at one point doubted if he was good enough to be coach of the star-studded Ivory Coast team.

The reserved Zahoui prefers to watch his team with arms crossed near the dugout, showing little emotion.

His opponent in Sunday's African Cup of Nations final, Zambia tactician Herve Renard, is accused of being bigheaded and his flamboyant and frenzied touchline antics have been a feature of the Zambians' unexpected run to the final.

The differing coaching styles in many ways reflect the contrasts of the teams.

The businesslike Zahoui is in charge of a clinical Ivorian outfit which has won all five of its games without conceding a goal, while Renard and Zambia have used emotion and spontaneity to get to the African Cup decider.

One of the styles will prevail on Sunday as Zahoui, in his favored dark suit and tie, goes up against Renard in his jeans and his lucky white shirt — which he's worn for every one of Zambia's games so far at the tournament.

A former Ivory Coast international, Zahoui had no high-level coaching experience before taking charge of Ivory Coast's big-name players in 2010 but was perhaps always destined for a chance at the top job as a respected player.

He has underlined the need for his talented players to also work hard and pull together and brought some humility to a group which was perhaps guilty of overconfidence in previous Cup of Nations failures.

"It's true that I have a team that is very talented and were stars already," Zahoui said. "They've worked with a lot of famous coaches already. I always wondered if I would be up to par in this job and I know that some people doubted my capacity to take over.

"I have a very good relationship with the players ... I try to put the emphasis on the team."

Any doubts have been convincingly dispelled after Zahoui led the Ivorians to a perfect six wins from six in qualifying and five straight victories at the Cup of Nations.

Renard, meanwhile, faces the biggest match of his career after spending his early days as a struggling coach by running a business clearing out garbage bins from apartment blocks in his native France.

While Zahoui's influence has ensured his team of top stars keeps its feet on the ground, Renard has made his humble Zambian players believe they can reach great heights. His story, from cleaning out bins to Africa's biggest game, has proved that.

"I used to get up at 3 a.m. for five days a week. Putting out the bins was part of the deal," Renard said. "I will remember those times before the game against Ivory Coast."

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