By Charlotte Vincelot

For the second time in a year, a new head coach has been appointed for France, Corinne Diacre, replacing Olivier Echouafni at the start of September. She has less than two years to make France a believable contender for the World Cup in a competition that will take place at home. Two months after her appointment, she has won all four games played by the team.

Starting over

Olivier Echouafni was only in position for one year and had a disappointing exit at this summer’s EUROs. Despite Noël Le Graët’s (President of the French Federation) words of support after the quarterfinal loss, Echouafni was replaced by Corinne Diacre.

Diacre is a coach who brings significantly more experience than the two coaches prior to her. She checks all the boxes, brining great experience in women’s football as a player having won 121 caps with Les Bleues between 1993 and 2005. She played in a World Cup and three European Championships, and also had a spell as captain of the team.

She also brings great experience as a coach from her time at league side Soyaux, also her club as a player, and the national team, as assistant coach to Bruno Bini.

In 2014, she became the first French woman to coach a professional men’s team in the second tier (Ligue 2) when she replaced Helena Costa as Clermont Foot 63 coach. She did a great job and was rewarded with the Ligue 2 manager of the year in 2015. Her work with Clermont has been unanimously, and deservedly, well regarded.

Now, the analysis post-EUROs hasn’t changed and she has a lot of work to do in less than two years to make France a believable contender.

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It certainly won’t be easy, with only friendlies to play until the World Cup, but she she will be able to welcome a great group of new or forgotten faces – and this has already begun.

Diacre has already shown she’s not afraid of making big decisions. Captain since the arrival of Philippe Bergerôo in 2013, Wendie Renard has lost the armband, with Diacre wanting her to focus more on her own performances. Her club partner Amandine Henry has instead been handed the responsibility of the armband, and both Eugénie Le Sommer, also a Lyon player, and Laura Georges, will assist her. The captaincy was a subject that had everyone talking for a few weeks, before Diacre announced her choice after France’s 8-0 win against Ghana this Monday.

The France coach is also sending the message everyone can be called up, and not only players from Lyon, Montpellier, PSG and Juvisy/Paris FC (and clubs outside of France). Against Ghana, the starters were playing in eight different clubs – Guingamp, Lyon (Henry included) and PFC (ex-Juvisy) being the only teams with two players in the starting lineup.

An opportunity some of the players outside of the top four clubs (from Lille, Marseille and Guingamp) have been making the most of thus far. For the others, Diacre said after the win against Ghana that it was about finding out and assessing their level against a better competition than they’re used to, and the plan is to keep on evolving, keeping an eye on them with the help of their clubs. Some of the new faces won’t be back, but the word is out. The team is for everyone – and being on the pitch every Sunday matters.

The new faces – and the ones coming back

In four games, Corinne Diacre has awarded first caps to nine players, with varying playing time for each.  Marion Torrent has been the first option at right back, playing 293 minutes out of 360, while Inès Jaurena in the midfield and Charlotte Lorgeré at right back playing a little less than 70 minutes in their sole appearances on the pitch. Between them, Théa Gréboval and Estelle Cascarino (both at left back), runners-up at the last U20 World Cup in 2016, both played one game. Central defender Hawa Cissoko, and midfielder Aminata Diallo both played 90 minutes against England, and a few more minutes in a second game. Attacking midfielder Léa Le Garrec played in three games, and forward Ouleye Sarr was the only new face with Torrent to play all four matches.

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Along with these new players, three have been offered a second chance. Forward Valérie Gauvin, who had one previous cap with Philippe Bergerôo, and wingers Camille Catala and Viviane Asseyi, who both missed the 2015 World Cup, 2016 Olympics and 2017 EUROs, even when regularly called up with the team.

Basically, half of the players who’ve seen playing time in the first four game were new or estranged from the team, and that’s without goalkeepers Solène Durand and Elisa Launay, the only players called up who didn’t get on the field (with Eve Périsset). It’s been only four games, so expect more young blood to join the team in the future. Diacre’s next squad, with Sweden and Germany as opponents at the end of November, will be interesting.

Who are the winners among all these aforementioned players?

Three of them stood out more than the others – Marion Torrent, Viviane Asseyi and Ouleye Sarr. They all played in all four games. Marion Torrent, who plays for Montpellier, is a player many have been wanting to see with the team for a few years. Right back, she also plays regularly in the midfield for her club. Viviane Asseyi, who plays for Marseille, was last seen during the 2016 SheBelieves Cup – not a good showing for France. In four games with Corinne Diacre, she’s scored four goals, two of them game-winners (against Chile and England). Ouleye Sarr, who left PSG in the summer to join D1 newcomer Lille, has also impressed with two goals and three assists in the four games. It would be surprising not to see them in the next squad. 

Results are secondary

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France may have won the first four games of the Corinne Diacre era, but that’s not what matters right now. The team has long been a champion of friendlies, and wins like the England one, on a Siobhan Chamberlain mistake in the last minute, should not distract anyone.

But both Corinne Diacre and her players had realistic reactions post-game. The head coach has not been afraid to point out what went well, or not, at half time and after the games. And she’s been very clear on the fact that people shouldn’t be expecting only wins, and that losses were as important for the growth of the team. In a team that has experienced little change in the last few years, Diacre hasn’t been afraid of starting three newcomers against England, or changing the whole starting lineup from one game to the other. It may not seem like much, but in a way, it is. France needed change, and it’s getting it.

The approach hasn’t always been jaw-dropping. It was expected, with all the new faces, the massive turnover (seven changes from Chile to Spain games, and Spain to England games, and eleven changes from the England to the Ghana game) and new principles. Some have already had some success, like set pieces, and the ‘Ring a Ring a Roses’ has played a big part in the win against Spain for example.

Scoring seven goals in one half, as it happened against Ghana, hasn’t happened in a very long time and it is a positive sign. The French players were relentless in attacking the Ghana goal and were rewarded against a team that didn’t have anything left in the tank. It’s only the beginning of a long process, and there is a lot of work to do for Corinne Diacre and her staff. Games against Sweden and Germany will be a new step forward in the formation of the team, whatever the results.