Health Management

Can This Man Fix France’s Women’s Team?


The banner hangs simply beneath the central staircase of the elegant resort that has been taken over by the France girls’s nationwide workforce for the World Cup. Hervé Renard needed to ensure nobody in his squad may miss it.

The motivational phrases emblazoned throughout it are typical of the kind of constructive messaging groups rally round earlier than main sporting tournaments. However for this French squad, and for Renard, its well-traveled coach, the phrases carry further significance after a interval many on the workforce would favor to neglect.

“Solely workforce spirit,” it reads, “could make you notice your goals.”

Renard used the phrase the primary time he met the French squad earlier this yr, solely months earlier than the World Cup. That was not lengthy after he was chosen to replace the fired coach Corinne Diacre, however even then he knew it was a message which may resonate with a workforce that even its personal federation had concluded was “fractured” past restore.

“We have been lacking unity,” Renard mentioned in an interview on a sunny terrace in entrance of the workforce’s base camp final week. It was maybe the most important understatement in girls’s soccer.

France has arrived in Australia this month as a World Cup favourite on the mend. Torn aside by bitter feuds, it has in current months lost players, welcomed them back, after which lost them again. It has modified coaches, modified approaches and adjusted techniques. And now it has requested Renard, a revered 54-year-old with a adorned males’s World Cup résumé however no earlier expertise teaching girls, to hold it at the very least so far as the semifinals.

He began the method, he mentioned, by being open about what he didn’t know.

“For me all the pieces was new as a result of I didn’t know girls’s soccer, handle the women,” he mentioned. “I used to be fortunate as a result of on our workers lots of people have been already working with girls’s soccer. So I used to be listening.”

What he inherited was a proficient workforce in disarray. Its longtime chief, Wendie Renard (who is just not associated to Hervé), had introduced that she wouldn’t play within the World Cup to protect her psychological well being. Two different stars had adopted swimsuit, saying they might not return until there was a change in management of the workforce.

There had been earlier controversies beneath Diacre, the coach on the time, however nothing fairly so severe or existential. A mutinous temper had changed into an open riot.

Confronted with a disaster because the World Cup loomed, the French soccer federation acted, asserting after a quick investigation that Diacre needed to go. The rupture between her and the workforce, the federation mentioned, had grow to be so important that it “has reached some extent of no return.”

Hervé Renard, having fun with a profitable and profitable cease on an itinerant teaching profession in Saudi Arabia, mentioned he acted on impulse because the information broke. He contacted Jean-Michel Aulas, one of the vital influential males in French soccer and a member of the French federation’s board. Renard met him a decade in the past, when he narrowly missed out on changing into the coach of Lyon’s males’s workforce. He informed Aulas that he needed to be thought of for the opening.

It promised a major change in fact for his profession. Renard mentioned that till the second he picked up his telephone to message Aulas, he had solely as soon as earlier than thought of teaching girls: a flight of fancy that got here as he watched France play within the final World Cup. His curiosity then, he mentioned, had lasted “perhaps only for just a few seconds.”

However now that his curiosity in teaching a girls’s workforce for the primary time was reciprocated, he confronted an issue. To just accept the job, he would want the permission of soccer officers in Saudi Arabia, the place he was beneath contract, and he would want to just accept a major pay lower. The Saudi job, Renard defined with a smile, paid at the very least “20 occasions” what he would earn teaching France’s girls.

“If you end up in Saudi Arabia it’s not precisely the fact,” he mentioned. “So typically it’s good to go to actuality.”

Months later, Renard mentioned he nonetheless can not fairly clarify why he tossed his hat within the ring, earlier than wanting down on the French crest on the left breast of his tracksuit. Having coached 5 different nationwide groups, he mentioned, the possibility to steer the nation of his delivery was clearly a serious draw. However even then, some issues, Renard mentioned, can’t be defined. “I nonetheless don’t know why precisely I made a decision,” he mentioned.

Renard is sanguine about his uncommon feat of teaching in two World Cups inside a yr. “Crucial factor is to not take part in two World Cups in six months,” he mentioned. “It’s to do one thing” in them.

Of all of the groups Renard has coached, his present squad is the best ranked, at fifth on the earth — a lofty profile it has maintained regardless of by no means making it past the semifinals of a serious match. Renard mentioned that’s now doable.

“We’ve got to consider in ourselves,” he mentioned.

He’s beneath orders to achieve the semifinals, he mentioned, a goal he has accepted. “We are able to’t come right here when you’re fifth on the earth and say, ‘Oh, no, a quarterfinal will probably be sufficient.’ No. We have to have a really a excessive problem. So our first goal is to achieve the semifinals. Then afterward we’ll discuss different issues.”

Renard has had solely months to fix a fractured squad, to inculcate the workforce spirit that his banner calls for and that he believes his gamers must win in what he considers essentially the most aggressive Ladies’s World Cup in historical past.

In his first coaching camp, Renard informed the workforce he was not excited about what occurred prior to now. He didn’t wish to litigate previous video games, previous feuds, previous grievances — all of the issues that had made the ambiance within the camp so toxic that stars like Wendie Renard mentioned they might somewhat not play for France in any respect. However he couldn’t keep away from confronting one closing pretournament controversy.

Kheira Hamraoui, an skilled and gifted midfielder and an everyday on the nationwide workforce, was attacked in 2021 by masked males following a dinner along with her membership, Paris Saint-Germain. The fallout had reverberations for each the membership and the nationwide workforce, with a former teammate on each groups, Aminata Diallo, charged with involvement in the attack, and others angered by Hamraoui’s preliminary claims that they or folks they knew have been additionally concerned.

The weird episode shadowed the nationwide workforce for greater than two years. Confronted with reviving it within the France camp, Renard mentioned he determined in opposition to bringing Hamraoui to the World Cup, and informed her in a face-to-face assembly why she wouldn’t be chosen.

He mentioned he informed Hamraoui that she was not going to start out, and that a spot on the bench could be unsettling for a participant of her expertise. “I feel for this type of participant, you begin within the first 11 or it is rather troublesome to sit down on the bench,” he mentioned. “We are able to’t go ahead in a contest if we don’t have a implausible workforce spirit.”

Renard acknowledged that not each selection he makes would be the right one. However he mentioned he has been frank together with his gamers about what he knew, and what he didn’t.

“I mentioned to the women: ‘Possibly I’ll make some errors. If I say one thing mistaken, simply let me know.’ However step-by-step, you discover ways to handle,” he mentioned.

His gamers, for the second, say they’re listening to the precise issues. “He retains pushing us to be the very best variations of ourselves,” midfielder Grace Geyoro mentioned in a recent interview. Mentioned Wendie Renard: “So long as everybody has the identical imaginative and prescient and a willingness to drag in the identical course, then we will obtain one thing nice.”

The World Cup takes place with the sharpest give attention to girls’s soccer within the sport’s historical past, and with groups and gamers utilizing the platform to push for higher recognition and compensation for his or her efforts. FIFA, soccer’s international governing physique, has greater than tripled prize cash from 4 years in the past, to $110 million. Its critics have mentioned that new determine doesn’t go far sufficient, that it must be the identical because the $440 million prize pool awarded to males on the 2022 World Cup in 2022.

Hervé Renard acknowledged the progress girls’s soccer has made, notably because the final World Cup. However, maybe controversially, he mentioned that “girls nonetheless should be somewhat bit affected person” in the case of pay.

As curiosity continues to develop, he mentioned, so will the incomes potential. However business actuality, he mentioned, was mirrored within the sports activities’ differing revenues, and he put ahead an analogy to make his level.

“In case you have one restaurant with 1,000 meals within the night and one with 300, it’s not the identical,” he mentioned. “On the finish of the evening within the register, it’s not the identical quantity. Soccer it’s the identical. It’s enterprise.”

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