Malabo: French coach Claude Le Roy will augment his record-breaking achievements and add to his exalted status in African football when he takes charge of Congo in the opening match at the African Nations Cup finals on Saturday.
The 66-year-old manager is participating at an eighth Nations Cup tournament, with the game against hosts Equatorial Guinea in Bata his 33rd on the touchline at the finals.
He has guided Congo to their first Nations Cup in 14 years just over a year after taking over as coach.
“We are the only team in the competition with 23 players who have never competed in it before,” he told reporters.
“Nothing can replace experience gained at the highest level, so we`ll have to try to compensate for our lack of experience with tremendous enthusiasm and a desire to excel.”
Le Roy, a redoubtable commander on the soccer benches of Africa, has only won the tournament once, with Cameroon in 1988, but until the last finals had never failed to get his teams past the first round and into the quarter-finals.
His only failure came with the Democratic Republic of Congo in South Africa two years ago as they were eliminated in the first round.
Le Roy has since moved across the Congo River to Brazzaville, rekindling his reputation.
Congo`s away win over holders Nigeria in the qualifiers in September was one of the biggest upsets in Africa for decades.
With his toothy grin, round glasses, blond fringe that flops over his face and a penchant for black T-shirts, Le Roy often looks something of an oddity. But there are few people who do not take the wily Frenchman seriously.
He wants his teams to attack. "I’ve never been too preoccupied with defending," he said with his side also facing Burkina Faso and Gabon in Group A at the finals.
"I think we can achieve something here at this tournament. Our dream would be to reach the quarter-finals.”
Le Roy has long been a proponent of expatriate coaches staying and living in the country that employs them, rather than the growing trend for many to jet in and out around matches.
He famously derided such managers as “Club Med coaches”.
Le Roy’s previous Nations Cup appearances have come at the helm of Cameroon (1986 and 1988), Senegal (1990 and 1992), the Democratic Republic of Congo (2006 and 2013) and Ghana (2008).