Tuesday 16 July 2019

Diacre a reluctant trailblazer happy to shun limelight

'I'm told I'm very strict. We never laugh around, we never joke; everything is very calculated. The girls are very unhappy,’ manager Corinne Diacre joked. Photo: REUTERS/Yves Herman
'I'm told I'm very strict. We never laugh around, we never joke; everything is very calculated. The girls are very unhappy,’ manager Corinne Diacre joked. Photo: REUTERS/Yves Herman

Suzanne Wrack

Corinne Diacre was deadpan. "I'm intransigent, yes," France's manager admitted. "I'm vigorous - that's typical of me. Often I'm told I'm very strict. We never laugh around, we never joke; everything is very calculated, there's no exceptions. The girls are very unhappy and you can see that on the field."

Diacre has no time for stupid questions. Asked about her unbending reputation and whether it is modelled on the men's national team manager, Didier Deschamps, she delivered a suitably dismissive response. "Didier? No, he's not my role model. We get on very well, we often talk to each other. I hope he doesn't resemble me," she adds mockingly.

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Next to her the France captain, Amandine Henry, could not stifle her grin as the manager, dripping with sarcasm, saw out the press conference before their tight win against Norway. These stage-managed media gatherings are often bland affairs but the room was giggling, appreciating Diacre's dry humour.

Diacre, preparing for today's last-16 game against Brazil after three group-stage wins, has a spiky relationship with the press. These FIFA-enforced top-table appearances rankle with a woman who does not like the spotlight. On becoming manager of the professional men's team Clermont Foot in Ligue 2 the interest was global, but Diacre did not embrace the glass-ceiling-breaking role - she just wanted to manage and be treated like any other manager.

There are two main types of pioneering female footballers and coaches. Those such as Ada Hegerberg, Megan Rapinoe and Emma Hayes are outspoken, top performers who use their profile to speak up on issues inside and outside the game. Then there are those such as Marta, Steph Houghton and, go back far enough, Lily Parr, who tell their stories but focus on the pitch, consciously or unconsciously fighting for equality through the very act of playing and being the best. Both types are important.

Diacre falls into the latter camp. For a year the French sports daily L'Équipe tried to arrange an interview as part of a profile before the World Cup. It failed and was forced instead to resort to voices from around her to piece together the life story and development of France's manager. She is a reluctant trailblazer.

The 44-year-old former international has a reputation for training players hard and demanding a tight adherence to the team's rules of conduct. The dropping to the bench of Valérie Gauvin for France's opener at the Parc des Princes because the forward, in her own words, was late, was a hint that no occasion is too big to stray from procedure. Diacre, though, brushed over the decision post-match, saying it was "tactical".

Gauvin's return to the fold for their second Group A game, after Diacre had insisted she would select an unchanged XI, was queried post-match. "Well, you shouldn't believe everything I say, that's it," Diacre responded.

It is not uncommon for managers to skirt questions about possible starting line-ups but the manner in which Diacre playfully toys with the press catches the eye. "I've been in the pool and on the deckchair and the girls have been in the shade because, as I'm very strict, they have to stay in the shade and in their rooms - of course, I make the most of the sun," she said before the Norway game. "Compared to the weather we had in Paris, I'm really enjoying myself. I'm not working very hard. I let my staff do most of the work." She is funny. Ironically, her sense of fun is drawing the attention she is so keen to deflect.

Having done so few interviews, her profile in France is surprisingly low, though the decision of the French Football Federation and the national broadcaster, TF1, to air the squad announcement live to the nation, as they did the men's, has made her more recognisable. Another boost to her profile and already healthy stock has come from France finishing top of their group in front of sold-out crowds, albeit at times with less than convincing performances.

After the controversial 1-0 defeat of a ten-player Nigeria thanks to Wendie Renard's 79th-minute penalty awarded after a VAR review, Diacre was typically direct: "It's hard to tell what we have to do better right now. We wanted to win our three group games and it's done even if it was difficult. But that's how you build momentum."

No matter how it was achieved, it was still France's eighth consecutive victory and their 17th in their last 18 matches.

Win the World Cup and she will have to get used to the attention.

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