soccer

France’s Corinne Diacre is not interested in your opinion

ROTHERHAM, England — Corinne Diacre gasped, allowed herself a smug smile, then turned on her heel. He managed to dodge a couple of first-timers rushing past him to join the celebrations on the pitch after France’s quarter-final victory, only to find his path blocked by Gilles Fouache.

Fouache, France’s assistant goalkeeping coach, is no obstacle to be avoided: broad-shouldered and shaven-headed, with a kindly air of a bouncer. Diacre, who was undoubtedly a central defender in his prime, quickly realized there was no way to pass. Fouache swept his manager up with a brief bear hug and then sent him on his way.

Once he did, his smile disappeared. He sought out his Dutch counterpart, offered a few words of congratulations and condolences, and then headed to his players. A handful got a pat on the back. Others were offered only some immediate performance feedback. He had come to Euro 2022 for business, not fun.

By some standards, last weekend’s win against the Netherlands was enough for Diacre to have done his job. France had never progressed past the quarter-finals at a European Championship before; Eve Périsset’s penalty deep in extra time ended the hoooo.

However, Diacre arrived in England with slightly higher expectations and so did his country. After all, France is home to two of the most powerful women’s soccer clubs, reigning European champions Lyon and its arch-rivals Paris St.-Germain. Diacre had an unmatched pool of talent to build the team.

It seemed reasonable for him and French football to declare reaching the final as the team’s “declared ambition”. That didn’t work out on Wednesday night. France could have narrowly fallen 2-1 to Germany in the semi-finals in Milton Keynes, England, but they did. And that unfortunately creates a problem for Diacre.

A few weeks after Diacre, 47, and his players arrived in Ashby-de-la-Zouch, the small town in rural Leicestershire where the French team has settled for the tournament, he chose a place with a distinctly French name. is probably a coincidence – a journalist from a French magazine contacted the team’s spokesperson to ask why no local junior team has yet been invited to watch training.

Such outreach initiatives are a staple of major tournaments, a fairly simple public relations maneuver to thank the community for its hospitality. In France, on the other hand, there was no contact with Ashby’s amateur sides. The journalist was told that the team was not in England to make friends.

This is the tunnel vision inherent in Diacre’s leadership style. He veers between distant and witty with the news media, despite using a PR guru; he has admitted that communication is not his strong suit. He does not hide that he does not enjoy the publicity of his work.

He has not always created the most favorable relations with his players either. One of his first moves after taking charge of his national team five years ago was to strip France’s totemic defender Wendie Renard of the captaincy.

Since then, he has tried to wean a number of players away from Lyon, the country’s dominant women’s team, so much so that goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi claimed he had instilled a “very, very negative environment”. Bouhaddi has since said he will not play for his country while Diacre is in charge.

Another veteran, Gaëtane Thiney, was dropped for criticizing Diacre’s tactics and a third, Amandine Henry, was dropped after describing France’s World Cup 2019 squad as “complete and utter chaos”. In the speech in which Deacre broke the news, Henry said, “14 or 15 seconds; I will remember it all my life.” Even more remarkable, Henry had inherited the captaincy from Renard; his expulsion meant that the defender was reinstated.

However, Diacre’s biggest gamble may have been his team in this tournament. Diacre was already without both Kheira Hamraoui and Aminata Diallo, the legacy of the tackle scandal that has rocked French football over the past year, but he also opted to leave out Henry and France’s record goalscorer Eugénie Le Sommer.

The manager defended the moves, citing the need to protect and maintain his team’s mentality. The early results annoyed him. During the month or so in France, there was no sign in England that club animosity had poisoned the atmosphere among the players. The long-standing divide between Lyonnais and Parisians seemed to have evaporated.

Besides, there were no players of impeccable quality like Diacre to replace. The depth of talent at his disposal was such that he was able to juggle his team through each of France’s first four games of the tournament without any apparent drop in quality.

The problem, however, was that making these calls martyred Diacre’s score. Had France met his aspirations and reached Sunday’s final against England, he would have been vindicated; Leaving Henry and Le Sommer at home would have seemed like a masterstroke, proof of his bold conviction.

That France didn’t mean it’s all but impossible not to wonder if things might have been different if two key players from the women’s game’s best club side had been on the field, or even on the substitutes’ bench. activated in an emergency.

Indeed, the line between these realities is thin and blurred. It depends on the moment, the moment: if France had remained attentive when Svenja Huth picked up the ball on the edge of the penalty areainstead of assuming it would have drifted out of play, maybe it would still be in the tournament and the Diacre call would have paid off.

But the leader is the one who made the deal, the one who made it clear that the measure of success and failure was what he did, not how he did it. France came to Euro 2022 with a destination in mind. Now that it’s down, he can’t claim credit for the trip.

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