Saudi Arabia landed a historic win over Argentina in the Qatar World Cup on Tuesday, defeating the South American men’s football team — ranked third in the world by FIFA — 2-1.
The key behind their victory? French coach Hervé Renard, who became Saudi Arabia’s manager in 2019 and propelled the team to unprecedented success.
Renard’s own personal trajectory has been far from linear. The Aix-les-Bains native started off as a defender in French football teams throughout the 1980s and 90s, until a knee injury in 1998 crushed his playing career.
Shortly after, aged 30, he became a coach for Draguignan SC, a small team in southern France. He also started working as a cleaner between training sessions and eventually founded his own cleaning company.
Back in his early coaching days, the World Cup was still a very distant prospect for the aspiring manager.
“It was a childhood dream, that even seemed unimaginable,” he recounted while speaking to AFP.
Come 2004, Renard faced further obstacles after his short stint at Cambridge United - a lower league English team - ended with the sack.
Nevertheless, his fortunes would be reversed by the 2010s. After years working for different national teams and clubs across Africa and Asia, he led Zambia and Ivory Coast to wins at the Africa Cup of Nations in 2012 and 2015 respectively - making him the first coach to win the trophy twice with two different countries.
By July 2019, Renard had signed a deal to become Saudi Arabia’s manager, leading the Gulf Arab state to its upset win against Argentina in the 2022 World Cup.
“All the stars in the sky were aligned for us,” the French coach told reporters after his Tuesday win.