Women’s football: Les Bleues begin ‘new era’, three months ahead of World Cup
Coach Hervé Renard during a training session of the French national team at the Clairfontaine center, April 3, 2023. FRANCK FIFE / AFP
The French women’s football team starts its new adventure on Friday, April 7, in Clermont-Ferrand. In a friendly against Colombia, they are to play their first match without Corinne Diacre on the bench since September 15, 2017. Her replacement, Hervé Renard, will coach a women’s team for the first time in his career that began in 1999.
The timing seems ideal for the marriage between this charismatic, globe-trotting coach who has the experience of two men’s World Cups and has twice won the Africa Cup of Nations, and the French women, who have yet to win an international title and expressed an urgent need for change. In three months, the team will fly off to the 2023 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand (from July 20 to August 20).
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After the first day of meeting his team, on Monday, Renard did not hide his joy: “I feel like I’m like a kid who is dreaming. I don’t want to take away that naive side of me. I’m living things to the fullest, enjoying myself and measuring how lucky I am to be here.”
‘With every change comes new hope’
Some of the 26 players selected in his list were also taking their first steps in blue. And they felt the same joy as their coach. “I’m coming to the national team for the first time, with a new coach. It’s a new era,” said right-back Magou Doucouré, who has played with Reims for six seasons. “We have a World Cup in three months that we must prepare for as much as possible. I’m coming in with my qualities, and I have to use them to the benefit of the group. And I hope to have my spot for Australia…”
Though Diacre had been watching her develop, Doucouré had never been called up to the national team until now. And she shows no apprehension at the prospect of making her debut in front of 11,000 people at the Gabriel-Montpied stadium – or even in front of 25,000 at the Marie-Marvingt stadium, in Le Mans, for the match against Canada, on Tuesday: “I’ve never played in a stadium with so many fans ready to support me. It’s just fun,” she anticipates.
Magou Doucouré arrives in Clairefontaine-en-Yvelines, on April 3, 2023, as part of the preparation of the French national team for the friendly matches against Colombia and Canada. FRANCK FIFE / AFP
Oriane Jean-Francois, a starter for PSG this season after three years at Paris FC, had not been called up to the French team since October 23, 2020, the date of her only cap. “I’m rediscovering [the French team] in a different way, with a new staff and a new atmosphere,” said the 21-year-old from French Guiana. “Every change brings new hope. I believed in it a little more. It was important to be in this first squad.”
At only 25 years old, Grace Geyoro already has 62 caps, but in her own way, she is also a part of this renewal. The captain of PSG was appointed vice-captain along with Eugénie Le Sommer, in support of the returning captain Wendie Renard (no relation to Hervé Renard).
“[The coach] explained his choice to us and asked for our agreement,” explained Geyoro. “I’m proud of that. Thanks to my intermediate position between the generations, I have the ability to bridge the gap between the older and younger players.” The Parisian intends to take care of her less experienced teammates: “I know what it’s like and I try to be there to make sure it goes well.”
In Australia, she is also expected to play a key role for Les Bleues; unlike the 2019 World Cup in France, where she only spent five minutes on the field, spread over two matches. “I won’t use the term revenge. I have evolved, I have grown and I have become aware of my qualities,” she said. “Maybe without 2019 I wouldn’t be here today. I used that failure.”
Focus on the World Cup
New era, new mindset. There is no question of dwelling on the circumstances that led to Diacre’s hasty departure – the warning shots fired by captain Renard and star strikers Marie-Antoinette Katoto and Kadidiatou Diani, who had announced, at the end of February, that they were withdrawing from the selection in protest against a management that was not suited to the top level.
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The goal today is to focus on the World Cup. Hervé Renard leads by example: “It’s easy for me. I come in, pull the curtain, walk in the room, and we go like nothing happened. My role is to get this team on the right track.”
The same is true for the players. “The past belongs to the past,” said Doucouré. “If decisions were taken, it is perhaps that there was a need to move forward,” she guessed. “A new staff was put in place. They listened to us. It is up to us to prove what we are capable of and, why not, to seek a title…”
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Jean-Francois agrees: “We have to show that what was done [was done] for the good of the national team, and that it was necessary so that France could finally win this title that it has still not won.” Geyoro is even more direct: “We said what we had to say. We have to move on. It’s tiring to come back to this. We’re in a new cycle. We have to see the present and the future.”
Everyone is now ready to take responsibility. “The players demanded things. They got them. Now they have duties,” said Hervé Renard. “They know that their responsibilities have increased tenfold.” That means wins are expected against Colombia and Canada.
Translation of an original article published in French on lemonde.fr; the publisher may only be liable for the French version.
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