Jessy Parker Humphreys explains the background to the unrest in the
French camp and why their fragile truce will be tested against Austria.
France head into their final two qualifying games for Euro 2022 in an
unfamiliar situation. While they are guaranteed to come either first or
second in their group, confirmed qualification for the tournament will only
be secured if they beat Austria on Friday.
Last month’s 0-0 draw with Austria marked the first time France had
dropped points in a World Cup or Euro qualifying game since June 2007.
The run of 46 wins reflected France’s long-held position as one of
the strongest national sides in Europe. The worry is that their influence is now declining.
Before hosting the 2019 World Cup, the goal was non-negotiable: win
the tournament. However, a quarter-final exit to the USA ended that
It was the fifth successive tournament where they had been
knocked out at the last-eight stage, and the result also meant that they
would not qualify for the Olympics.
The disappointment was palpable. After all, this is not a squad lacking in
talent. Their backbone is made up of players from Lyon, the most
successful team in women’s football.
Instead, attention has turned to their manager – Corinne Diacre. Despite
the World Cup result, she held onto her role, but is now facing her very
own French revolution.
Players have lined up to express their discontent publicly. Tell-all
interviews have been matched by Diacre’s own press conference
retorts. Meanwhile, on the pitch, the team has been forced to carry on
as if they were oblivious to the chaos ensuing around them. The
concern is the off-pitch antics is now spilling into the results.
One of the first red flag’s about Diacre came before the World Cup had
even begun. On announcing her squad for the tournament, a notable
name was missing: Marie-Antoinette Katoto.
Katoto had been that season’s top scorer in the D1 Arkema, the first
division of French football. The Paris St-Germain striker had netted 22
times. That was two more than Ballon d’Or winner Ada Hegerberg
managed at Lyon, and almost 10 more than any other French player.
Diacre put the surprise omission down to age – Katoto was 20 at the
time – saying that despite her enormous potential, she had time on her
If France had gone on to win the World Cup, an incident like this
might hardly have registered. In hindsight, it feels more like a
managerial example based on making a mark rather than one based on
This was not the first time that Diacre had chosen to stamp her authority
on the team. On being appointed manager, she stripped Wendie Renard
of the captaincy, handing the armband to Lyon team-mate, Amandine
Despite the snub, Renard went on to be France’s top scorer at the World
Cup. Given that she is a central defender, it rather underlined Diacre’s
folly in leaving Katoto at home.
At the end of last year, Renard wrote about her experience of being
dropped as captain in her book, Mon Étoile. She described herself as
having suffered from the “rejection and brutality” of Diacre. While making
hard decisions such as these is part of management, Renard suggested
the boss had done little to soften the blow.
The cracks grew in July of this year when Sarah Bouhaddi, the long-time
France and Lyon goalkeeper, announced she would be taking a “break”
from international football.
In September, she took it one step further when she warned Diacre that she would not return to the team while the 46-year-old remained in charge.
The boss immediately hit back in a press conference that she would not
be interested in selecting someone who had no desire to wear the shirt.
This was the footballing equivalent of trying to break up with someone
after they have already broken up with you.
In an interview with Lyon TV , Bouhaddi stuck the knife in further,
blaming Diacre for creating a “negative climate” within the French
football team. She bluntly stated that there would be no chance of them
winning Euro 2021 with her in charge of the team.
In claiming that Diacre had ignored the Lyon team after their Champions
League victory, Bouhaddi painted the manager as a petty person,
determined to break the perceived influence of the Lyon squad on the
If Bouhaddi had chosen to walk away from the French national team, the
next Lyon player to be frozen out had no such choice.
Henry, the Lyon midfielder who had replaced Renard as captain, was
dropped from the France squad for their October qualifiers.
Her immediate reaction was on the pitch, scoring for her club against
Guingamp, and celebrating by sticking her fingers in her ears.
If that was a veiled dig to Diacre, her next move had none of the same
subtlety. In an interview with Canal + , Henry claimed that she had been
dropped by Diacre as a punishment for speaking to Noel Le Graet about the team’s problems.
A group of Lyon players had voiced their concerns to him when he visited their training ground.
According to Henry, the call from Diacre to tell her that she would not be
in the upcoming squad lasted less than 15 seconds. The reason given
for her exclusion was her “current performances”.
Freed from any obligation to her manager, Henry went on to describe
the atmosphere in the French camp at the World Cup as “total chaos”
“I’m 31 years old, I’m the captain. If I don’t speak out, who is going to?”
Ahead of their final European qualifiers, a fragile truce has somehow
fallen across the France camp. Henry was recalled to the national side
in a move probably brokered by Le Graet, who gently reminded Diacre
that it was her job to pick the best team available to her.
There has been a softening of Bouhaddi’s stance too. Speaking to
Canal+ , she stated that her decision to step back from the team was not
definitive, although there has been no recall yet. Given she is 34, Diacre
might feel like she can do without her.
For now, the Lyonnaises have put their revolution on hold, but if France
fail to beat Austria, they will be provided with yet more ammunition.
With 18 months still to go until the rescheduled Euro finals in 2022, Diacre
would surely find it hard to continue to keep the rest of her squad