RIYADH: In 2019, after spending much of the preceding decade managing seven teams in Africa, French footballer-turned-coach Herve Renard decided it was time for a change and moved to the Middle East to embark on a fresh challenge as manager of the Saudi national team.
“I wanted to discover a new continent and a different culture, while keeping a sporting appeal,” he said. “Saudi Arabia offered me the chance to qualify again for a World Cup. I did not take this opportunity for granted but the talent of the Saudi players did the rest.”
By the end of March, the Saudi national team had played 30 matches since Renard took over. They recorded 18 wins, six draws and six defeats, qualified for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, and climbed the official FIFA rankings from 72nd place to 53rd on the latest list, published in June, and have been as high as 48th.
The draw for the World Cup finals placed the Saudis in group C alongside Argentina, Poland, and Mexico. Under Renard’s guidance, preparations for the competition are well underway and the team’s second training camp will begin on Sep. 17, followed by a third on Nov. 6. Their tournament kicks off against Argentina on Nov. 22.
“With qualification in hand, the Saudi federation has made every possible effort that allows us to prepare in the best possible way,” said Renard. “We will prepare well and intensively before going to Qatar’s World Cup. I thank all those who have made it possible. It is now up to us to complete the job.”
Regarding the role that France can play in the development of sport in the Kingdom, and football in particular, he told Arab News that collaborations between international federations are extremely important.
“France is one of the world’s greatest footballing powerhouses,” he said. “It can transfer the best practices of developing and evolving in this sport.
“A nation like Saudi Arabia must draw ideas from the greatest to be able one day, in the medium term, to be among the best.”
In May this year, Renard agreed to renew his contract as head coach of the national team until 2027. He said the decision was based on his good experience of working with the team and Saudi sports authorities for the past three years.
“The Ministry of Sports, as well as SAFF (the Saudi Arabian Football Federation) headed by Yasser Al-Misehal, gave me the means to achieve our common goals,” he said. “I would like to thank them and promise that I will do my best to be worthy of the trust they granted me.”
His first objective following the renewal of his contract will be to ensure that his squad performs well at the World Cup finals and shows the world what Saudi football is capable of. After that, his attention will turn to the Asian Cup of Nations but, for now, his focus is on Qatar.
“Let us now concentrate first on this World Cup so as to make our supporters as proud of their team as possible,” he said.