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Relentless Renard Optimistic for 2021

CFM Sporting Director on his work and ‘The Best Fans In Belgium’

Olivier Renard at Sclessin, the home of former club, Standard Liege, whose fans he describes as ‘The Best In Belgium’

There’s probably been worse mornings to observe training at Centre Nutrilait than this one, although I’d suggest, not many.

But not even a bad, old weather day precludes anyone from escaping the strict Covid guidelines now in place for attending the daily work-out. At least there was cover from the pelting rain with the roaring, red heat-lamps a welcome ally.

The standing arrangements thrust me, socially-distanced of course, alongside Sporting Director Olivier Renard.

And after exchanging pleasantries and debating whether it was an Irish weather day (Me!) or a Belgian one (Him!), from two metres apart we chatted while watching proceedings.

I had to get straight to the point and ask him the big and obvious question, “Optimistic?”

His reaction, both facial and verbal, was one of certainty and lacked any hesitation whatsoever. A bright expression formed, accompanied by a firm, “Yes!”

Olivier Renard has the quiet, confident demeanour of a man who feels ‘job well done’.

Not so enticing at CF Montreal training this morning, despite the glow from the heat-lamps.

It doesn’t take a genius to understand the workload on the Belgian’s plate. It’s been relentless, especially with the huge amount of player comings and goings since his arrival around 18 months ago. I wondered what his ‘day-in-the-life’ was like and suggested there must be long hours in the job...

“Many long days, yes. It’s beginning to settle a bit now, but it’s been very busy. Possibly the worst time was when I first arrived. For about three months many people in Europe hadn’t realized I’d gone to Montreal, and so I was getting calls at ridiculously early hours of the morning.”

CFM’s Sporting Director starts his day early, and that’s when he takes emails and conducts most of his European-related business, particularly if it concerns talking on the phone.

“I always like to get to training as well, so that’s generally on my agenda too,” said Renard.

Late afternoon is devoted to family and time with his kids, and after dinner it’s back to the grindstone. He watches games every evening prospecting the globe for talent.

“I’ll watch at least three per evening. But it’s ok. The program I use shows me games from all over the World; Turkish second division, Portuguese second tier and so on. It allows me to fast-forward through interruptions in the matches, for example when the ball goes out of play. There is never 90 full minutes of actual play time, so I can condense the action and still see what I need.”

Because of his work, Olivier does admit to no longer having the time to watch football for pleasure.

“OK, if I am on holiday I will perhaps watch a big game, but when I’m working I only watch games for work. I very rarely see Champions League games, and even when my country Belgium plays I simply don’t have the time to watch. For instance they played yesterday [against Wales], but I didn’t see the game.”

He’s never before worked with Ahmed Hamdy his new signing from Egypt yet clearly feels if all goes well the Pharaohs u23 player could be a notable acquisition for Montreal.

“We need to get him integrated, the culture is different and Hamdy speaks only Egyptian Arabic. Helping him settle is key.”

Renard also spoke of how difficult it can be to prize an Egyptian player away from his domestic club. “Player wages are high in Egypt, so it’s not always easy.”

United States of America U23 v Egypt U23 - International Friendly
Egyptian U23 international Ahmed Hamdy (left) has already played against Djordje Mihailovic (not in pic) in this 2019 match against USA u23’s in Murcia, Spain.
Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Regarding some of the Academy players and the lack of a reserve team, Olivier expressed his happiness that some of the club’s younger talents have found temporary homes at CanPL clubs.

“Because of the pandemic, progress has been slow [in establishing a reserve team and playing competitively], so I am happy to see players going on loan.

“It is perhaps not so important for a young player that he plays regularly during his first year with the club, but in the second year it is imperative. Look at James Pantemis. He is now 24, yet he has never really played regular football. I know how hard that is for a goalkeeper, I was one.”

The subject of Standard Liege arose. The club Renard has significant career links with, was one of the teams in the first European (UEFA Cup) game I ever attended live, many moons ago. Then on another occasion I visited their Stade de Sclessin with my Belfast club, Glentoran in the 80’s, also for a UEFA Cup tie.

Standard Liege v Vojvodina: UEFA Europa League Third Qualifying Round
Stade de Sclessin (or Stade Maurice Dufrasne) getting ready for a night match. Much different these days to how I remembered it.
Photo by Jef Matthee/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Said Olivier, “The stadium is really nice now. It was developed when Belgium co-hosted the Euros. It has great atmosphere and Standard has the best fans in Belgium.

“Anderlecht is the champagne club and Standard the one of the working-class. Standard fans are the best in the country.”

For two Europeans, neither strangers to rain, the morning’s fiercely torrential downpour was starting to get the better of us, well me anyhow.

I bid my farewell, thanked Olivier for the chat and damply headed back to the sanctuary of my car.

Check out the latest, The Ball Is Round Podcast (Episode 21). Recorded Wednesday (24 March), the TBIR team discuss the National Team’s Road to Qatar, the U23s in Mexico, a return for Jason Di Tullio and Florida pre-season plans... Plus all the usual favourite features... including, Eve’s Time Machine... Don’t miss it!

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