For over a decade the Ivoirians have been plagued by an inability to mould their array of talent into a unit resembling anything near the sum of their parts. At the same they have consistently struggled psychologically with the mental challenges associated with tournament football – their failure to win any of the last five African Cup of Nations (AFCONs) in spite of entering them all as resounding favourites being vindication of that flaw.
The 2014 World Cup saw them finally handed a long overdue generous draw – after being dealt group of death spots in both 2006 and 2010 – with that break allowing the Ivoirians so-called golden generation the opportunity to finally leave a lasting imprint.
Things began well; Ivory Coast coming from behind to beat Japan and whilst they were narrowly downed by Colombia, a point from their final fixture against a toothless Greece represent a more than attainable scenario. Yet the Ivoirians produced the kind of disjointed lacklustre display that has become synonymous with the nation’s football fortunes over the last decade – with a last gap penalty seeing the limited yet more unified Greeks write another chapter of Ivory Coast exasperation.
Unsurprisingly Ivory Coast’s deficient showing in Brazil saw the end of coach Sabri Lamouchi, who many would argue was fortunate to survive a disappointing quarter-final AFCON defeat at the hands of Nigeria back in 2013 – particularly considering his predecessor Francois Zahoui was dispensed with in spite of guiding the Elephants to the 2012 AFCON final.
The Ivoirians are now approaching a crossroads. Contrary to popular belief their golden generation hasn’t quite completely reached the end of the road – Didier Drogba potentially being excluded from that – with the next AFCON only a mere six months away – nevertheless without a significant shake up of ideas it’s hard to see the tide changing for a generation whose defects have almost become ingrained.
The next phase of Ivory Coast’s footballing existence will be testing – whilst many of their noteworthy personnel have some mileage left yet the end of the road is clearly on the horizon. This all means that where the country turns now in regards leadership is critical – now more than ever the Ivoirians are craving the direction and motivational skills that for so long their various designated leaders have been unable to provide.
The appointment of Lamouchi’s successor has been a drawn out and overly publicised procedure, with the current situation indicating that three men remain on the shortlist – Herve Renard, Manuel Jose and Frederic Antonetti. All present viable cases for appointment, with Antonetti enjoying an excellent four-year spell with Rennes – as a win percentage of 43 testifies – whilst Jose is one of Africa’s most decorated domestic coaches in recent times – boasting an array of medals won with Egyptian side Al-Alhy – yet it is the charismatic Renard who represents the most intriguing option.
The Frenchmen can not only vaunt plenty of international management experience on the continent, but together with it substantial success – his exploits in guiding hugely unfancied Zambia to the 2012 AFCON amongst the all-time great accomplishment from an African nation. His Chipolopolo side were characterised by their outstanding team ethic, drive and self-belief, with Renard building a side far beyond it’s the sum of its part – all facets that have been lacking for long in Ivoirian football.
Undoubtedly getting the stars and egos of the Ivory Coast singing from his motivational hymn book represents a step up in challenge, yet that he has lifted the AFCON in such miraculous circumstances should mean Renard in theory would command substantial respect.
For all the natural ability and talent Ivory Coast have brought to the table over the last decade, it has consistently been combined with a distinct lack of cohesion and purpose – it is difficult to recall instances where the Elephants have resembled a functioning unit rather than a collection of individuals.
Besides Wilfried Bony and full-back Serge Aurier the upcoming batch of international Ivoirians looks relatively uninspiring meaning post Morocco the future appears doused in uncertainty, yet with that in mind Renard’s history of squeezing the most out of perceived average problems should give him a further edge over his fellow applicants. Further to that it is worth highlighting that Renard’s AFCON glory was the culmination of an extended project rather than a flash in the pan – if the Ivoirian were to afford him similar time to build there is no reason why he couldn’t recreate a comparable legacy in West Africa.
If Ivory Coast are to truly transform themselves from the tentative underachievers that they have been type cast as, they require a character with the ability to amend deep-rooted mind-sets and embed new positive beliefs – nobody on the continent quite carries those required inspirational attributes in the manner Renard does. The Frenchman’s credentials appear unrivalled, now it is merely up to the Ivoirian hierarchy to make the correct choice – although that is far a certainty going by their past history.
Whoever does get the gig is likely to be the first Ivory Coast manager for over a decade without the poisoned chalice of the tag of AFCON favourites – yet their entrenched mental fragilities mean the terminal psychological damage may have already been done.
Morocco 2015 really does represent the last chance saloon for Ivory Coast’s much maligned icons – whether they can finally overcome their demons unquestionably hinge heavily on which direction the country’s hierarchy opt to take in regards to their next coach.