The French Coach Changing African Football

Forbes Africa
Published 11 months ago
Togo vs Democratic Republic of the Congo – 2017 Africa Cup Of Nations

While African football continues to give the world many top players, this is rarely recognized and French coach Claude Le Roy intends changing that.

By Nick Said

THERE ARE FEW MEN WHO KNOW MORE ABOUT African football than veteran French coach Claude Le Roy, who has worked on the continent for close to four decades, earning a stellar reputation for his services to the game.

His longevity is hugely impressive, but also allows him to plot the progress of African football since he took on his first role with Cameroon in 1985.

The 73-year-old is still going strong, and was most recently in charge of Togo, having also led heavyweights Senegal, Ghana and Democratic Republic of the Congo in the past.

Although he never worked in the country, he was awarded the prestigious Humane Order of African Redemption by Liberian president George Weah in 2018, the latter still the only African player to win the FIFA World Player of the Year.

It is a measure of the respect in which Le Roy is held up and down the continent.

“I have never been sacked anywhere, I always decided to leave,” Le Roy tells FORBES AFRICA. “That is a big privilege. Wherever I have worked, people always ask me to come back. That is why I am proud.”

He is clear in his view that African football is on the rise, but adds that it still suffers from an age-old problem, a lack of respect from outside the continent.

While the African game continues to give the world many top players, this is rarely recognized and football it is still looked on as a poor cousin by many, particularly in Europe.

“The average level of African football is improving every year. You can see that when you have coached for a long time on the continent,” Le Roy says.

“What we need for African football is recognition, which we are not getting. It is a shame when you see a player like (Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard) Mendy is not in the 30 best players in the world (for the Ballon d’Or award). It seems unbelievable.

“Three seasons ago the three best top scorers of the Premier League (in England), which is seen as the best championship in the world, were from Africa. (Mo) Salah, (Sadio) Mane and (Pierre- Emerick) Aubameyang.

“How do you not recognize the improvement? Even tactically they are playing to a higher and higher level in Africa now. Everything is getting better.”

But this improvement has also not necessarily translated to the pitch. Africa had five representatives at the last FIFA World Cup in Russia, but all exited in the first round in a desperately disappointing display.

The continent has yet to get a team past the quarterfinals of the global showpiece, but Le Roy is confident it will happen soon.

“Sure, there is a big problem if you look at the results in the (last) World Cup. We need to climb and go through the quarterfinals for once. We need to get to the semifinals and the final, but it will happen.

“But it is not only an improvement in the players. The level of the coach is important also. And the level of the people (administrators) who are in charge of football in Africa is very weak.

“We put people there for political reasons and there are few top-level people involved as presidents of football associations.”

Le Roy also believes the decision to expand the flagship Africa Cup of Nations from 16 teams to 24 in 2019 was wrong and says that it devalues the product.

“Sixteen teams were perfect. It was a political decision. It was done for financial reasons, but football is more important than money.”

What has pleased him has been the emergence of homegrown African coaches in the last few years, with 15 of the 24 tacticians at the recent Nations Cup in Cameroon from the continent, bucking the trend of European tacticians being placed in charge.

“It is a good indication for Africa to see the arrival of very good local coaches. There are many new coaches that have outstanding potential. This is good for the game.”