Claude Le Roy has been in charge of more teams at the finals of the CAF Africa Cup of Nations than any other coach. The Frenchman has coached five different countries in eight final tournaments, but he faces a tough battle if he wants to add another appearance to his already impressive CV next year in Gabon. FIFA.com spoke to the legendary coach who took over the Togolese coaching reins in April.
With just two matches to go in the group stage, Les Eperviers are third in Group A of the 2017 AFCON qualifying competition – two points behind Liberia, whom Togo will be facing in their next match on 5 June – and behind Tunisia on goal difference. Already eliminated from qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ by Uganda, Le Roy says his task is more forward looking with the Germany 2006 finalists.
“When I signed my contract, I was not told that qualification for the finals in Gabon was a must, so our main objective is to qualify for the AFCON finals in Cameroon in 2019,” he said. “However, we will, of course, do everything to go to Gabon next year. If we win in Monrovia and then in Lome against Djibouti in early September, qualifying is quite possible. The group is very tight, with three teams still in contention, but everything will depend on our result in Liberia. With 13 points, we could qualify either directly or take one of the two runners-up positions.”
The veteran coach took over after previous boss Tom Saintfiet and the Togolese FA agreed to part ways. Despite being so well-traveled in Africa, the former Cameroon, Senegal, Congo, DR Congo and Ghana manager did not hesitate to lead the Togolese.
“I felt they wanted me," Le Roy explained. "I accepted because Togo is not a small country in African football. The country has participated in several Africa Cup of Nations finals and the World Cup in 2006. And there are very good players like [Alaixys] Romao, [Emmanuel] Adebayor, [Kossi] Agassa, the Ayite brothers [Jonathan and Floyd], [Serge] Gakpe and [Serge] Akakpo. So the potential is there.”
Le Roy said that since his appointment, he had spent some time meeting the players, including Adebayor, who had been scrapped from the team by Sainfliet. “I went to see him in London," he said. "We had lunch together. At one time he was one of the best strikers in the world.
"We need him, and I know he is very committed to his country and to his selection. During our discussion, I told him that I was counting on him that he was very important for the team, but there would be no favoritism. I explained how I work. And he agreed to come back.”
An ongoing African love affair
The 68-year-old has worked in Africa on-and-off since 1985, and he won the Africa Cup of Nations in 1988 with Cameroon, the first team he coached on the continent. He nearly returned to the Indomitable Lions earlier this year, but in the end they opted to go with Belgian coach Hugo Broos.
“I have a special relationship with Africa," Le Roy said. "I remember that in Cameroon, we went on tour across the country to play friendly matches against local teams. Wherever I worked, I kept very good memories and made enduring friendships. I have always lived in the countries that I have coached. I do not see my job otherwise. A coach must know the country and its culture. And they need to scout throughout the country, to find players that can be integrated into the national team.”
Le Roy, who is known to place great importance on issues such as proper transportation and accommodation facilities for players, on the quality of equipment and to medical care, believes that there are things that Africa could and should improve. “If there was more professionalism, players would not feel the need to leave,” he explained.
The Frenchman, who resigned as Congo coach in November, after leading Diables Rouges to the group phase of the CAF 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign, said that he took a short vacation before entering the job market again. “I had several proposals in Europe, Asia and Africa," Le Roy said. "I thought at one time of coaching a club, which is very different from coaching a national team.
"I studied all the proposals, but I wanted to start in mid-April. I was tempted by some, but they were slow to materialise. In the end I took the Togo offer. I believe that if things should be done, they will be done.”