Claude Le Roy is a legend among African national team coaches and will early next year be in charge of a team at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations for the seventh time. Coaching the Democratic Republic of Congo team for the second time, the Frenchman has managed to bring a new hope to the team.
Once considered one of the strongest teams on the continent, the Leopards have missed out on the last three continental finals. But since taking over in September 2011, Le Roy has managed to change things around, and he is confident that the side will be able to be competitive at the 19 January-10 February tournament.
"So far, so good", he says when asked how the preparations have been going. "We are having a training camp for local based players in South Africa. This will enable us to assess the conditions, see what the facilities and such things are like, and our final training camp will be in Oman."
Le Roy's predecessors had huge problems in convincing the Leopards' professional players based abroad to join the team, but the 64-year-old said that at the moment, it seems to be quite the opposite. "When I arrived, I found that many of the players had said they no longer wanted to play for the team. But that has changed now and players like Youssouf Mulumbu (West Bromwich Albion), Bedi Mbenza (Anderlecht), Cedric Makiadi (Freiburg) or Cedric Mongongu (Evian) have re-committed and now everybody wants to play. They are even encouraging each other to join the national team and as a result we have fantastic players."
He says that he will take some local-based players to the finals. "I have to keep a good balance between local and professionals. The local players are refreshing for the national team, they inspire the team and the whole country."
Le Roy, who was in charge of the Leopards between 2004 and 2006, believes that things have changed for the better since then. "The federation is a little bit stronger, and they are more organised. The government is also helping. In Africa you need the help of the government, as without them you can do little. You need their help for training camps, to buy plane tickets, to pay for the bonuses. It is not necessary to spend a lot, but you have to be organised. Especially if you come to a tournament like the Cup of Nations. There you play with all details and they all have to be ready."
The Leopards have been described as the dark horses for the tournament, but Le Roy wants to hear nothing of it. "Please, please, please," he says when asked about his side's chances in Group B against Ghana, Mali and Niger. "We were ranked 129 when I took over, now we have just broken into the top 100. We're in a group with Ghana and Mali. If we qualify for the second round it will be the beginning of a beautiful dream. If you are looking for favourites and dark horses, you have to look elsewhere."
An admirable record in Africa
Le Roy will hold the record of seven Nations Cup appearances as a coach after South Africa, and he has a personal record of taking all previous teams to at least the quarter-finals. He is aware that it will be very difficult to maintain that record. "What we want is to be perfect in terms of behaviour and fair play and if we win the fair play trophy that will be great. I want us to play a good tactical game and create a good image for the country. But, of course, we will try to go to the second round."
He says that he has lasting memories from all previous appearances. "I have been very fortunate. I won the Nations Cup with Cameroon and the Gulf Cup with Oman. Everywhere I worked with the national team, it was a great pleasure and that is why they always ask me to come back. I have been very lucky to win all these trophies and I have been lucky to have had a lot of good players. But at the end of the day, victories are for players and defeats are for coaches.”
Le Roy, who is considered very active in social matters, is hoping that football can bring some respite to the troubles in Congo DR, where fighting in the east of the country has cost many people their lives. "A lot of players are concerned, and there has been war for too long in the country. It has so much potential, both in terms of football and everything. It could be one of the best countries if it could be calm. It is important that we put on a good showing. The players are the soldiers of the country and they have to show that they can all be one."