As the Total African Cup of Nations Egypt 2019 approaches, the Moroccan coach speaks to cafonline.com to discuss the state of his team's fitness. The Atlas Lions, already qualified, will face Malawi in the last day of qualifying before a gala match against Argentina in Tangier.
February always has a special flavour for you as it corresponds to the titles won in 2012 with Zambia and Ivory Coast in 2015. What do you remember about these two titles?
Hervé Renard: "These are memories engraved forever in my heart! It's indescribable. You have to live it. I never thought I'd be working on the African continent and it's thanks to Claude Leroy. There's also a small luck factor that I benefited from. "
What is your state of mind after this third CAF Coach of the Year award?
Hervé Renard: "It's an honour because it's the third time I've won it since 2008, when I became head coach. In ten years, it's exceptional! It is also the recognition of collective work because I work with high quality assistants and federations that have given me the means to work. In Morocco, I have a lot of people working for me. You have to know how to delegate, and you also have to constantly question yourself. What motivates a coach is to go out and get titles."
You recently attended the Asian Cup of Nations won by Qatar. What are your impressions?
Hervé Renard: "I was pleasantly surprised by their team even though there are naturalized players. There is mainly a work done by Spaniards in recent years. Qatar has been preparing for its World Cup in 2022 for a long time and this trophy won against Japan is significant."
Do you still think that Egypt and Senegal are the favourites for this 2019 CAN?
Hervé Renard: "By showing humility, it's very difficult to win a CAN and I know what I'm talking about. Statistically, football lovers know that Egypt is a great country. Especially when you can count on Mohamed Sala. And even more so at home with strong popular support. It will be very difficult for all their opponents. Which team today has individual qualities like Sadio Mané or Koulibaly for Senegal ? Let us not forget also the Ivory Coast of Nicolas Pépé and Serge Aurier, the defending champions of Cameroon or Nigeria. I'd rather not be a braggart for Morocco but make the opponents fall on the field."
Has the location of the preparation course for the CAN 2019 been decided?
Hervé Renard: "The Royal Moroccan Federation is building a magnificent national technical centre. It's exceptional in quality! Will it be finished on time by June? I hope so and for the moment we are planning our preparation in Rabat. Otherwise, we'll find a plan B, but it's not current."
Morocco, already qualified, face Malawi in the final day of the Total AFCON 2019 qualifiers. What do you expect from this game?
Hervé Renard: "This will allow us to see some players who have not worn the national team jersey much. Not counting Argentina, it is the last official meeting before the preparation of the AFCON in June. It is also important to collect points for the FIFA ranking. It's always difficult to play in Malawi."
The Moroccan press reports that elements such as Noussair Mazraoui, Achraf Hakimi, Youssef En-Nesyri and Hamza Mendyl, who would be made available to the U23 team for the decisive confrontation against the DRC, are missing. Can you confirm that?
Hervé Renard: "We're going to make one last point with the U23 coach and the DTN. But I will not leave them all at disposal, contrary to what may have been said prematurely. I make sporting decisions and if I don't talk, it's not official."
Could Yunis Abdelhamid, author of a great season with Reims, be called?
Hervé Renard: "I recently had him on the phone and congratulated him on the excellent season he is having. He is a boy who succeeds in winning despite the transition from Ligue 2 to Ligue 1. Not only is he a regular player, but he has also become a key member of this Reims team. Congratulations to him, he will be a valuable contribution to Morocco."
Another good point for Moroccan football: Osama Idrissi will play for the Atlas Lions
Hervé Renard: "My greatest satisfaction is to have met a very professional player during our last internship. I was impressed by his rigour and his sense of collective spirit. He has many qualities and should play in an even bigger club than at present. That's very good news! It's up to him to impose himself now."
What do you think of El Kayoubi's expatriation to China?
Hervé Renard: "There are more and more very good players in China. Already when I was there in 2002, as an assistant, there was already a certain level. It's not easy to perform there with the rule of 3 foreign players per team. Look at how Gervinho is having a wonderful season today in Parma. He didn't fall asleep in China, you have to be competitive and Kayoubi will improve. This experience will serve him in his evolution. Kayoubi's problem today is rather the competition with the remarkable season of the young Youssef En-Nesyri, the driving force behind the strikers in Morocco."
What do you expect from the gala match against Argentina in Tangier?
Hervé Renard: "We're going to have to do the same things as we did against Portugal and Spain at the 2018 World Cup. If we're at our level, we can compete. While knowing that they have an alien named Lionel Messi who makes everything change. It's an exceptional match in a career and for Morocco. I'm sure the players will all be motivated."