We republish this article now for a number of reasons. Despite only winning the African Cup of Nations once, Claude le Roy has contributed to the development of football in several African nations. He unleashed Samuel Etoʼo on the international stage for Cameroon. He blooded André Ayew for the Black Stars. He coached the Democratic Republic of Congo twice before surprising a few naysayers with the Republic of Congo at the recent African Cup of Nations.
It is often forgotten that a young Frenchman, Hervé Renard got the opportunity to learn from le Roy as his assistant in Ghana. Renard made the most of the opportunity. He went on to make African history, becoming the first coach to win the African Cup of Nations with two different countries, Zambia in 2012 and la Côte dʼIvoire in 2015. Renard credits le Roy for bringing him to Africa.
By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (December 30th 2009)
An African European
Unlike many of the European coaches plying their trade in Africa Claude le Roy had extensive experience of Africa and African football. He was a student of Africa and immersed himself in the culture of the country. Le Roy loved Africa and had followed Ghana’s football carefully.
His predecessor Ratomir Dujković overplayed his hand and importance after Ghana became the only African country to reach the knockout stage of the World Cup in 2006. Dujković thought himself a Ghanaian national hero, but Africans didnʼt – Ghanaians especially did not share his opinion of himself. The Ghanaian Football Association turned to le Roy.
“My father fought for independence of Algeria and was close to Patrice Lumumba in Congo in the first war of independence there”, le Roy told us exclusively. “That means that I was lucky to be brought up in a family so rich in culture. I had writers and journalists around me since my youth”. It is important to le Roy that readers understand the influences that gave him his beliefs in life and also football.
“It is not because I have more culture than others”, he explains “It’s because I was born in a family who was completely open to the world and that gave me a big chance in my life. I think it is not by chance that I work in Africa: in Asia, all around the world, because I wanted to discover different cultures, to respect them, to know them”.
A Special Place
Africa will always have a special place in le Roy’s heart. “I love this continent and I love the people of this continent”, he said. “I come here since I was a kid and I was concerned by the different wars for independence in Africa – first in Algeria, then elsewhere. I have a lot of friends who came from Africa and that nurtured my interest. I was playing with them and I became more interested”.
The love affair with the continent had begun. “It became more important when I was the head coach of the national team of Cameroon”, le Roy says. “The relationship with my players was fantastic and it came naturally after that”.
He doesnʼt like to compare the African teams that he has coached or their cultures. “There are so many African countries – it’s like Europe, you can’t compare a strange land, a German to a Scandinavian”, he said. “The same thing in Africa”.
And football is no different. “Cameroon – they are very strong in mentality as well”, he said. “You can call them the Germany of Africa. They always, always, always have strong willpower. In Ghana there is the skill of the West African people and Congo has the power of Central Africa in this part of Africa and in Senegal they are very tall. They have huge potential and physical strength and it depends also on the culture in some countries”.
The Pull of the Black Stars
So what attracted him to Ghana and the Black Stars? “In Ghana there are so many cultures”, he said. “There are so many questions, because we bring them so many new religions. They have religions – African religions in Ghana. We cannot change that. Many came. The Ketabi came, Arabs came, but the ways of the African culture is fantastic”.
So what about football? What was the lure of coaching the Black Stars? “It’s easier to be the national coach of Ghana than it is to be of a little country that doesn’t have a lot of professional leagues, because sometimes even the professional players don’t want to come for friendly games”, le Roy explained. “They have all sorts of pressure from their clubs, especially when playing for your national team because you can lose your place. Michael Essien is not afraid to come with Ghana, because he is important to Chelsea, when according to the club he should be there”.
Le Roy likes to give youth a chance. As Cameroun coach in 1998 he took a chance on a young striker, ensuring that he at least gained some experience at the highest level. “Samuel Eto’o was at the World Cup in France in 1998”, said le Roy. “He was nineteen. I took him. It’s now exactly what we need for the African Cup of Nations, World Cup and for the future”.
Eto’o went on to become the most prolific goal-scorer in the history of the African Cup of Nations.
Le Roy continued his policy of giving youth a chance by giving a début to the teenage son of Ghanaian great Abédi (Pelé) Ayew.
“André Ayew and all the players – they are the leaders of the new generation”, said le Roy. “Stephen Appiah is the skipper on the field. He’s a tactician. He’s really another coach, but Michael’s a little bit shy but he was perfect in his role and it was very good for him to be the captain”.
Le Roy is impressed with his captain and emerging team. “I was surprised with his speaking to the players about technical quality”, le Roy said. “They are very important – all of them. I have not two or three star players. All the players of this team are playing properly, because they are intelligent players. They like to talk about tactical problems of the team. They are fantastic and have great artistry and I enjoy a lot with this team. I’m very proud of them”.