Saudi Arabia’s fans, players and football officials are today coming to terms with the news that Herve Renard has left his position as head coach of the national team to take charge of the women’s team of France.
Rumors of his exit have been circulating for over a week, and following his last two international matches in charge of the Green Falcons, 2-1 friendly losses to Venezuela and, last night, Bolivia, they became a reality.
The Saudi Arabian Football Federation confirmed Renard’s departure with a statement posted on its Twitter account.
“The Saudi Arabian Football Federation Board of Directors has agreed on the contract termination of the Head Coach of the Saudi National Team Mr. Herve Renard upon his request,” said the statement.
“A legal settlement has been (completed) to end the contract between the two parties. The President and the Board of Directors of SAFF wish Mr. Renard every success in his future career.”
Meanwhile, Renard released his own farewell message in a three-tweet thread following the loss to Bolivia.
“Having been the coach of (the) National team of Saudi Arabia is a great pride for me. Since August 2019, I had the chance to be an integral part of the life of this beautiful country. I have seen this team grow alongside me and achieve a fabulous World Cup,” he posted.
“This fantastic and unforgettable win against Argentina. Very proud to have been able to show to the world the progress and a good image of the Saudi football. It’s time for me to fly to another horizon but with this memories engraved in me,” he added.
He also thanked the minister of sport, the head of SAFF and everyone at the national team. “Special thanks to @AbdulazizTF @Yalmisehal @SaudiNT and to all the players, the staff, and all the fans for their incredible support,” the final tweet said.
The official account of the Saudi national team also followed up with a video message from Renard.
The Frenchman has presided over a period of success during his four years in Riyadh and while that has been welcomed in the Kingdom, it has also been noticed elsewhere, not least in his home nation.
His move to France will come as a blow to the Saudi Arabia Football Federation who looked like they had a respected coach who loved the job and was in it for the long haul. After taking over in 2019, he signed a contract extension in 2022 that would have taken him to 2027.
Renard has improved the team, established a style and, most importantly, delivered on the pitch.
All of Asia was impressed during qualification for the 2022 World Cup when the Green Falcons finished above Japan and Australia in a tough group. Placed in a difficult group in Qatar, Saudi Arabia more than held their own.
The world watched in awe as Renard’s men defeated eventual champions Argentina 2-1 in their opening group game. It was not only a come-from-behind victory, and not only achieved courtesy of fine goals from Saleh Al-Shehri and Salem Al-Dawsari but, most importantly, it was deserved. Once they took the lead, Argentina quickly ran out of ideas in the face of determined and organized defending.
It was immediately hailed as one of the best results in the history of the World Cup and it certainly sparked the 2022 tournament into life. In the end, Saudi Arabia could not quite make the second round but returned home with heads held high and reputations enhanced.
Renard’s next task was to prepare for next January’s Asian Cup. It started with friendly games at the end of March against Venezuela and Bolivia but now it has ended, and somebody else will have to continue that journey.
It could be that Renard would not have left a job he seemed to enjoy for any other nation except his homeland. The 54-year-old takes over a troubled women’s team, however.
In early March, Corinne Diacre was sacked as head coach following a revolt from players. After six years in charge, a number of senior stars said that they would not play at this summer’s World Cup as they were dissatisfied with the standard of the coaching setup. The French Football Federation had little choice but to make the change, acknowledging that changes needed to be made. It was rumored that they wanted Thierry Henry but the former French international striker is said to be interested in the US women’s national team.
It is no surprise that the FFF have turned to Renard. He has shown that he can win tournaments, leading Ivory Coast and Zambia to the African Cup of Nations titles. He impressed at the 2018 World Cup with Morocco and did the same four years later with Saudi Arabia. With just four months before the World Cup starts in Australia and New Zealand, there is not much time but Renard has demonstrated in the past that he can turn teams around and achieve success.
The Frenchman is giving up plenty, however. Not just the chance to lead Saudi Arabia at the Asian Cup next January but there is the 2026 World Cup — and with the expanded tournament, it would be a surprise if the boys from Riyadh do not make it — as well as the 2027 Asian Cup that will be held in Saudi Arabia.
The Frenchman has swapped all that for the chance to take his home nation to a World Cup that will be held this summer and one that France, grouped with Brazil, Jamaica and Panama, have the potential to win.
While fans in Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam and elsewhere will perhaps have a passing interest in how France performs Down Under, now the focus is on finding the right person to lead Saudi Arabia forward.
After the World Cup and the improved reputation of football in the country, there should be plenty of interested parties.