MOSCOW, (Reuters) – A former cleaner and a ex-hotel electrician will occupy the two technical areas when Morocco face Portugal in a World Cup Group B match tomorrow.
Morocco coach Herve Renard and his Portugal counterpart Fernando Santos have taken something of a back route into coaching before enjoying huge success, albeit away from the bright lights of the big European leagues.
Renard, whose side lost their opening match 1-0 to Iran, experienced the bitter side of football before landing his first senior role as coach of Zambia 10 years ago.
At the age of 15, he had a trial at Cannes, giving him hope of becoming a top-level professional before reality set in.
“As soon as I was confronted by top players, I realised that I was not that good,” he said.
After ending up as what he described as an “average third tier player”, Renard set up a cleaning business which involved collecting rubbish in the middle of the night.
“I often remember those years when I got up at three in the morning to go and clean buildings,” he said. “It helps keep all this in perspective.”
Refusing to give up entirely on football, he began coaching amateur sides and got a breakthrough when globe-trotting compatriot Claude Le Roy spotted Renard and invited him to become his assistant. He has not looked back since.
Always sporting a “lucky” white shirt, Renard led Zambia to their first-ever African Nations Cup title in 2012 and repeated the feat with Ivory Coast three years later before taking Morocco to their first World Cup for 20 years.
Santos, meanwhile, told Reuters in an interview last year that he owed his career to a chance acquaintance at a seaside hotel.
In the latter years of his solid but unremarkable playing career, Santos, a qualified electrical engineer, began working in a hotel as chief technician and eventually took on the role full-time.
He had no intention of continuing in football until his employer, who was also president of second-tier Estoril, invited Santos to coach the team on an interim basis.
“Instead of six months, I stayed for six years and we went up to the first division,” he said.
By the time he was sacked, he had his foot in the door and went on to coach all three of Portugal’s major clubs — Benfica, Sporting and Porto – before taking Greece to the last World Cup.
The highlight, however, came when he led Portugal to their first-ever major title at Euro 2016.
Like Renard, he said that his humble beginnings has enabled him to keep things in perspective.
That mindset is unlikely to change as Portugal seek their first win in Russia after they were held to a 3-3 draw by Spain in their opening match, hailed as one of the best in the competition’s 88-year history.
“I never felt this pressure of someone whose only source of income is football,” he said. “Pressure is for cookers. I’m too old to worry about that.”