A banner hangs below the central staircase of the elegant hotel that was dominated by the France women’s World Cup team. Hervé Renard wanted to make sure no one on his team missed out.
The motivational words emblazoned across it are typical of the kind of positive messages teams rally around before major sports leagues. But for this French team, and for Reynard, their well-travelled coach, the words carry added significance after a period that many on the team would rather forget.
It stated, “Only team spirit can make you realize your dreams.”
Renard used the phrase the first time he met the French team earlier this year, just months before the World Cup. Not long after he was chosen to replace sacked coach Corinne Diacre, but even then he knew that was a message that would resonate with a team that even his federation had come up with.broken” it’s beyond reclaim.
“We were missing the unit,” Reynard said in an interview on a sunny porch in front of the team’s base camp last week, “perhaps the biggest cutback in women’s soccer.”
France arrived in Australia this month as World Cup favorites on the mend. It has been wracked by bitter disputes in recent months players lostAnd He welcomed them backand then Lost them again. I changed coaches, changed approaches and changed tactics. And now I’ve asked Reynard, a respectable 54-year-old with an embellished men’s World Cup resume but no previous experience coaching women, to at least carry it through to the semifinals.
He said he started the process by being upfront about what he didn’t know.
“For me everything was new because I knew women’s football, how to manage girls,” he said. “I was lucky because a lot of people already work with women’s football on our team. So I’ve been listening.”
What he inherited is a talented team in shambles. The team’s longtime captain, Wendy Renard (no relation to Hervé), has announced that she will not play in the World Cup to preserve her mental health. Two other stars followed suit, saying they would not return unless there was a change in the team’s leadership.
There had been previous controversies under Diacre, the coach at the time, but nothing serious or existential. The rebellious mood turned into open rebellion.
Faced with a crisis as the World Cup approached, the French Football Federation acted, announcing after a short investigation that Diacre had had to leave. The federation said that the estrangement between her and the team had become so great that it had “reached a point of no return”.
Hervé Renard, who was enjoying a successful and lucrative layover on a traveling coaching career in Saudi Arabia, said he acted impulsively when the news broke. He contacted Jean-Michel Aulas, one of the most influential men in French football and a board member of the French Federation. Renard met him a decade ago, when he missed out on becoming coach of Lyon’s men’s team. He told Olas he wanted to be considered for his opening.
He promised a major change in his career path. Up until the moment he picked up his phone to send Olias a message, Renard said, he had only thought about coaching the women once: a flight of fancy that came when he watched France play in the last World Cup. He then said his interest lasted “maybe only for a few seconds”.
But now that his interest in coaching a women’s team has been reciprocated for the first time, he’s run into a problem. To accept the job, he would need permission from football officials in Saudi Arabia, where he was under contract, and would need to accept a significant pay cut. The Saudi job paid no less than “20 times” what he would earn training French women, Renard explained with a smile.
“When you’re in Saudi Arabia, that’s not exactly the reality,” he said. “So sometimes it’s good to get real.”
Months later, Reynard said he still couldn’t explain why he was throwing his hat into the ring, before looking down at the French crest on the left chest of his track suit. Having coached five other national teams, he said, the chance to lead the country of his birth was clearly a big draw. Even then, some things can’t be explained, Renard said. “I still don’t know exactly why I decided,” he said.
Reynard is optimistic about his rare feat of coaching two World Cups in the space of a year. “The most important thing is not to participate in two World Cups within six months,” he said. “It’s doing something” in them.
Of all the teams Reynard has coached, his current team is ranked #1, and #5 in the world—a high profile he’s maintained despite never making it past the semifinals of a major. Renard said that this is now possible.
“We have to believe in ourselves,” he said.
He said he was ordered to reach the semifinals, a goal he accepted. “We can’t come here when you’re fifth in the world and say, ‘Oh, no, the quarter-finals will be enough.'” “No. We need to be a very big challenge. So our first target is to reach the semi-finals. Then we will talk about other things.”
Reynard had only months to repair a fractured squad, instill the team spirit his banner required, and that he believes his players need to win in what he considers the most competitive Women’s World Cup in history.
At his first training camp, Reynard told the team that he didn’t care about what happened in the past. He didn’t want to sue past matches, past controversies, past grievances – all things that made the atmosphere in the camp so toxic that stars like Wendy Renard said they’d rather not play for France at all. But he couldn’t avoid facing one last controversy before the tournament.
Khaira Hamraoui, an experienced and talented midfielder and regular in the national team, was attacked in 2021 by masked men after a dinner with her club, Paris Saint-Germain. The fallout has had reverberations for both club and national team, with former teammate Aminata Diallo accused of being involved in the attack, and others angry at Hamraoui’s initial claims that they or people they knew were involved.
The strange episode has haunted the national team for more than two years. Faced with her revival in the France camp, Renard said he had decided not to bring Al-Hamraoui to the World Cup, and told her in a face-to-face meeting why she would not be selected.
He said he told Al-Hamraoui that she would not start, and that a place on the bench would be worrying for a player to try her out. “I think for those kind of players you start in the first eleven or it’s very difficult to bench,” he said. “We can’t get ahead of the competition if we don’t have great team spirit.”
Renard admitted that not every choice he makes will be the right one. But he said he was upfront with his players about what he knew and didn’t know.
“I told the girls, ‘Maybe I’m going to make some mistakes. If I say something wrong, just tell me. But step by step, you learn how to manage,'” he said.
His players say, for now, they’re hearing the right things. “He keeps pushing us to be the best version of ourselves,” said midfielder Grace Giuro. Recent interview. Wendy Rennard said, “As long as everyone has the same vision and willingness to go in the same direction, then we can achieve something great.”
The World Cup is being held with the greatest focus on women’s football in the history of the sport, and with teams and players using the platform to push for greater recognition and compensation for their efforts. FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, has more than tripled its prize money in four years, to the tune of $110 million. Its critics said the new figure is not enough, and the $440m prize pool awarded to the men at the 2022 World Cup must be matched in 2022.
Hervé Renard has acknowledged the progress women’s football has made, particularly since the last World Cup. But he said, perhaps controversially, that “women still have to be a little patient” when it comes to pushing.
As interest continues to grow, he said, so will the earning potential. But the commercial reality, he said, was reflected in the difference in sports revenues, and he put forward an analogy to illustrate his point.
“If you had one restaurant serving 1,000 meals in an evening and one with 300 meals, it wouldn’t be the same,” he said. “At the end of the night on the record, it’s not the same amount. Football is the same. It’s business.”