This is probably the challenge of a lifetime that faces Emerse Faé. At 40, this discreet and taciturn man, promoted to interim coach of Ivory Coast on Thursday January 25, replacing Frenchman Jean-Louis Gasset, will have the delicate mission of guiding his team in the African Cup of Nations (CAN) , the most prestigious competition on the continent, which his country is organizing until February 11. The task is immense and begins on Monday 29 in Yamoussoukro, in a clash against Senegal, defending champion and overwhelming favorite of the tournament. “I have a lot of pressure but we like it and we’re going to give it our all,” he told Le Monde. It’s more than an honor. »

Emerse Faé also has a fiasco to forget. During its last group match, Monday 22, Ivory Coast fell in front of its audience at the Alassane Ouattara stadium in Ebimpé against Equatorial Guinea (0-4). This humiliating shipwreck cost Jean-Louis Gasset, 70, his job two days later, of whom Mr. Faé was his deputy.

“We owe the people a revenge, we owe the people a pardon and an apology,” declared the latter after his team’s qualification at the last minute. While the hope of qualifying was slim – you had to be among the four best third-place finishers – Ivory Coast won its ticket to the round of 16 thanks to Morocco’s victory over Zambia (1-0). ). “We got through thanks to others, not because we were good,” recalls the new coach. So you have to stay humble. »

Will the appointment of Emerse Faé, 44 caps with the Elephants, create an electric shock strong enough to revive Ivory Coast, which has had one victory and two defeats since the start of the competition? With what state of mind did the former FC Nantes and OGC Nice midfielder take up his duties and lead his first training sessions when he does not benefit from the full confidence of the authorities who runs his country’s football? After separating from Jean-Louis Gasset for “insufficient results”, the Ivorian federation (FIF) contacted the French federation (FFF) the next day with a very specific aim: to borrow Hervé Renard, another Frenchman, to take over the destiny Elephants.

“A team immersed in doubt”

The man in the fitted white shirt, who won the CAN in 2015 with Ivory Coast, would have liked to become his boss again, even for a fleeting period. But the FFF, with which he is under contract as coach of the French women’s team until the Olympic Games, did not wish to “loan” the technician who enjoys great popularity in Ivory Coast. “If the negotiations did not result favorably, it is because it should not have happened,” declared Hervé Renard, also winner of the CAN with Zambia in 2012. “I would have loved to but destiny chose otherwise. »

In the streets of Abidjan, this singular situation surprised and even disturbed. “Why still call on a Frenchman who is going to take millions? We cannot trust our African brothers,” said an Ivorian supporter in the Cocody district. Shortly before the start of the CAN, Idriss Diallo, president of the FIF, explained to Le Monde that he had chosen Jean-Louis Gasset, in May 2022, during “a transparent process”. It was then necessary to move quickly, the competition starting nine months later. “There was a call for applications which was not linked to origin or nationality but to an experienced profile,” he assured.

By relaunching the Hervé Renard track, the FIF’s desire to favor a French coach over an Ivorian technician has revived a memory more than thirty years old. In 1992, Ivorian players, refusing the appointment of Frenchman Philippe Troussier as head of the national team, held a sit-in in front of the sports ministry to demand that their compatriot, Yeo Martial, lead the team. They were finally heard and no one regretted it since the Elephants immediately won their first continental title.

“At the time of the appointment of Jean-Louis Gasset, voices were raised for an Ivorian to be appointed in his place,” recalls Prince Akabla, journalist for the Ivorian site Le Kpakpato sportif. The federation then decided that Emerse Faé would become number two before holding the position. » The reporter recalls that the fact of having tried to get closer to Hervé Renard is “necessarily difficult to take”. “It doesn’t give the new coach confidence,” insists Prince Akabla. And a negative signal is sent to a team that is already plunged into doubt. »

For Emerse Faé, there is no controversy. “Hervé Renard has great experience in the CAN,” recalls the new coach. I am at the disposal of the Ivorian federation and there is no problem. » His only obsession: to overthrow Senegal.