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Football: In the DRC, coach Florent Ibenge bows out
Congolese coach Florent Ibenge at the Africa Cup of Nations in Bata, Equatorial Guinea, February 4, 2015. KHALED DESOUKI / AFP

He posted the longest time on the bench of an African football selection, to a notoriously unstable position and very exposed. Appointed in August 2014, after the departure of Claude Le Roy and the brief interim of Santos Muntubile, Florent Ibenge, 57 years old, will remain five years the selector of Lepards, a an absolute record in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where the sporting life expectancy of a selector rarely exceeds two years.

Florent Ibenge officialized his departure on Wednesday August 7th, after a long interview with Constant Omari, the president of the Congolese Football Federation (Fecofa). The decision of the technician was long taken and a better course of the DRC at the Cup of Nations Africa 2019 (CAN), where it was eliminated in eighth final by Madagascar (2-2, 4-2 on penalties), would not have changed anything.

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The coach has not been insensitive to the sometimes virulent criticism of the fans. "He's tired and the last two years have not been easy. There were some very hard things said or written about him. "says a close friend of the national team.

More professionalism

In five years, Florent Ibenge has achieved results, but he has not managed to do as well as the Macedonian Blagoje Vidinic (1971-1974), with whom Zaire had been Champion of Africa in 1974 in Egypt and participated in the World Cup the same year in West Germany, where the adventure ended, however, with a fiasco (three defeats, including a 0-9 memorable against Yugoslavia). The Leopards have not managed to emulate their glorious ancestors, knocking on the doors of the qualification for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, especially because of a draw in Kinshasa against Tunisia (2-2, as they led 2-0 to fifteen minutes from the final whistle).

Read also CAN 2017: Florent Ibenge, the driving force of the DRC Leopards

At the CAN 2015 in Equatorial Guinea, the DRC was inclined in the semi-final against Côte d'Ivoire (1-3) by Hervé Renard, who won the title. Several times, Florent Ibenge had the opportunity to express his frustration after this meeting, evoking an event that occurred in the hours preceding the confrontation with the Elephants, but without giving further details. Two years later, in Gabon, the Congolese reached the quarter-finals (1-2 against Ghana), after defeating Morocco's same Hervé Renard in the first round (1-0).

Florent Ibenge will have won a title with the Congolese selection, at the 2016 Africa Nations Championship organized in Rwanda. But in addition to its generally positive sporting results, it has largely contributed to the improvement of Leopard's working conditions. Before him, several selectors, imitated by many players, had regularly pointed at an unprofessional organization.

"Here, the years count double"

Thanks to significant changes, particularly in the areas of travel, accommodation, quality of equipment and premium payments, the DRC has once again become an attractive selection. Several players who had turned her back or refused to join her finally agreed to wear the blue and red jersey. Among them are Neeskens Kebano, Gaël Kakuta, Cédric Bakambu or Marcel Tisserand, all born in France (a country they represented, for the first three, in the categories of youth).

Read also CAN 2019: Florent Ibenge, the man with two hats

Florent Ibenge had the distinction of being at the same time a selector of the DRC and coach of the AS Vita Club of Kinshasa, with whom he won two titles of champion of the DRC (2015, 2018 ) and a DRC Supercup (2015). A double hat that has used him physically and psychologically, as he has entrusted to several of his relatives. "The years count double, in the DRC, when one is a selector, so the pressure is huge. So imagine what it means when you coach one of the biggest clubs in the country. "he said regularly during informal discussions.

If he is still contractually linked to the AS Vita Club, the technician could leave abroad soon. Even if he has not been in touch with the South African clubs Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates, his profile is in Africa, whether it's clubs or elections. But before closing the door of Constant Omari's office, Florent Ibenge told his former boss that he would continue to serve Congolese football in one way or another.

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