"We cannot continue like this": Corinne Diacre's Scorched-Earth Coaching
It’s July 2022. The Euros are in full swing all over England. The French women’s national team, led by head coach Corinne Diacre, is stationed in Ashby, a small English town. Every international team invites local junior teams to watch them train as a symbol of goodwill towards their hosts.
Every team, that is, except for France.
A journalist asked why France had made no effort to reach out to any junior team in Ashby. They were told the team “was not in England to make friends.”
This anecdote best represents the scorched-earth approach of Diacre. It is obvious to anyone who sees one of her press conferences that she has no desire to see relationships flourish that do not benefit her team. On August 2, her contract was renewed until 2024. This means she will be responsible for the team through the 2023 FIFA World Cup and the 2024 Paris Olympics.
It is truly difficult to understate how many controversies Diacre has found herself at the center of. Let’s go through some of them:
2017: Longtime captain Wendie Renard is stripped of the captaincy and replaced with Amandine Henry. The reason given by Diacre? “For me, she’s maybe caring too much for others and not enough for herself. As a result, her performances were far short of what she can do.” For reference, Renard won the D1 Arkema and the UEFA Champions League with Olympique Lyonnais and was named to the FIFA FIFPro World XI that year.
Summer 2019: Diacre does not call up several notable players for the 2019 World Cup, in particular Marie-Antoinette Katoto, the leading goalscorer in D1 Arkema that year. They go out in the semifinals against the United States. Many people, including USWNT star Megan Rapinoe, question her tactics and decision-making.
February 2020: Gaëtane Thiney is not selected for the 2020 Tournoi de France after criticizing Diacre in Le Parisien. In the piece, she says that Diacre should be inspired by the coaching style of French men’s coach Didier Deschamps: “... he protects his players, he loves them, he unites them.” Of course, this implies Diacre does none of these things.
Later that month, Thiney correctly predicts she will not be invited back to the national team after criticizing Diacre publicly: “It will be hurtful for me to hear the Marseillaise [the French national anthem] without being on the field, but I’m ready to say to myself, ‘you did what you had to do.’”
July 2020: Veteran goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi retires indefinitely from the French national team after making scathing remarks about Diacre in the press. She notes, “...the French team doesn’t belong to anyone, neither players nor coach.” Later in the year, Bouhaddi asserted in an interview, “winning a title with this coach [Diacre] appears to me to be impossible.”
Bouhaddi was called up to the France team again in September 2020. She sent a text to Diacre stating directly that she would not return to the team if Diacre remained coach.
October 2020: Captain Henry is not selected for two Euro qualifying games because, according to Diacre, she wasn’t at the proper fitness level after coming back from an injury. Henry had played three games post-injury with Lyon prior to the roster announcement. This sparks a massive backlash in the media. Previously discarded captain Renard becomes captain again by default.
November 2020: Henry does a bombshell interview with Canal+ where she claims that Diacre did not choose her the previous month as payback for Henry trying to alert French Football Federation president Noël Le Graët about the toxic environment Diacre created in the French locker room. Notably, she describes the emotionally draining environment at the 2019 World Cup: "I saw girls crying in their room, I cried in my room. It was total chaos."
July 2022: After being recalled to the national team in 2021, Henry is left out of the 2022 European Championship roster, as is Eugénie Le Sommer. Both had stellar seasons with Lyon, especially Henry, who scored an astonishing goal in the Champions League final to help Lyon secure their eighth title.
France was later defeated in the Euro semifinals by Germany. Throughout their run, much was made of their inability to score goals after prominent forward Katoto tore her ACL early in the tournament.
“We cannot continue like this. We’re hurting ourselves.” France’s captain, Renard, said this in 2020. Many outside observers would also conclude this in 2022. Some of the most skilled players in the world are at Diacre’s disposal, yet she refuses to employ them because of her own personal grudges. The players who do get selected are unhappy. As former Lyon coach Reynald Pedros put it, “[t]hey [the players] go to the French team out of obligation, not for enjoyment.” There is no pride, just utter resignation.
Diacre’s history of retaliation and sowing emotional chaos seems to not bother the French Football Federation. In announcing her contract extension, FFF President Le Graët declared, “I supported her in the periods when there weren’t many who would support her. Now there are rather positive results, I don’t see why I wouldn’t support her again [in the future].”
Given the recent calls to #believeplayers across the globe, it feels like France is still one step behind. As Thiney put it in Le Parisien, “[w]hen we say that we’re only one goal behind the United States, that’s not true, we are years behind them.”