Feeding Real Madrid, Lyon & OL Reign with talent: Why Reims is the best club in the world for developing young players

Melchie Dumornay Naomie Feller Vicki Becho GFXGetty

It was the quarter-finals of the 2022-23 Coupe de France Feminine and Reims had taken eight-time European champions Lyon to a penalty shootout.

As the players stepped up to try their luck from 12 yards, the contrast in the names making the long walk up to the penalty spot was incredible.

Seven of the 10 players that took a penalty for Lyon were Champions League winners. Four of them had lifted domestic trophies in more than one country. A further three had collected an Olympic gold medal and one, Dzsenifer Marozsan, had won the Euros.

Not a single one of Reims’ 10 penalty-takers had won a major trophy. Four of them were teenagers. Yet, they were on the cusp of knocking out Lyon, the 15-time champions of France.

In the end, David wouldn’t beat Goliath.

It was actually Vicki Becho, the teenager that spent last season on loan at Reims, who converted the decisive spot-kick to send Lyon into the last four.

But that Reims came so close was a testament to the work this club is doing and what it has built over the last few years.

Is there a better club in the world for an up and coming youngster to sign for? Arguably not.

It was in 2017 that Reims started to work towards this. That’s because it was the year that Amandine Miquel became the head coach of the women’s team.

Before then, there was no project. There was no professionalism. The coaches were part-time. There was some money for fuel to travel to the games but not much else.

However, in 2019, the Women’s World Cup would be hosted by France and the president of Reims wanted to be in the top flight when that tournament came around.

“They asked me if I could do that. As I was jobless, I said yes!” Miquel tells GOAL laughing. “I wasn't sure I could do it. But I had to get the job so I said, 'No problem, I can do it.'”

Today, they laugh together because everything that she said would happen, happened.

She said the team needed three seasons in the second division. When she took over, it was midway through the first and the club was ninth.

“I said, 'We will finish in the top five, then we will finish in the top three, because it's hard to be first straight after that season, and then we will finish first.’ And it happened like this.

“So, the president tells me, ‘You were very good in your interview!’”

Miquel didn’t have a professional career as a player, “something that makes it very hard” to make it as a coach in France.

But Reims appointed her nonetheless and they’ve reaped the rewards since taking that perceived risk.

With her assistant, Amaury Messuwe – who was coaching the women’s under-19 team and in the boys’ academy – Miquel has helped to build an incredible structure underneath the first team, with the first of its nine teams starting at U9s level.

The club also has a partnership with a school. They’ve done it all in just six years.

But the success of Reims is not just built on its youth teams. It’s also built on incredible scouting – which is done by Miquel and Messuwe themselves.

A year before the 2019 Women’s World Cup, France hosted the U20 tournament. Reims’ pre-season camp was near the host cities so the staff and players would go along to watch games. That’s when Miquel first saw Melchie Dumornay, GOAL’s 2022 NXGN winner.

She was only 15 years old, so the coach stayed in contact with the player and three years later, when she was able to move abroad and was being courted by an incredible number of clubs, Dumornay signed for Reims.

At the same U20 tournament in 2022, Miquel was impressed by Nigerian centre-back Oluwatosin Demehin and signed her. It was when watching footage of her playing for her club in Nigeria that they spotted another player – Rofiat Imuran. She would soon follow her compatriot to Reims.

Monique Ngock, who features in the NXGN Nine on this year’s list, is another that the club discovered through video. Watching clips of her club in Cameroon, the midfielder immediately caught the eye.

“In a friendly game before the Euros last summer, France played against Cameroon and Monique was playing,” Miquel recalls.

“A French agent made her sign that day and sent her profile to five to eight teams from the first division. They all felt like she was a bit secure with the ball. They were not sure.

“When I signed her, after two games, all of them told me, 'How do you see these things? We felt she was not good and now you play with her and she's very good!'” Miquel laughs.

“I think there are some things you cannot explain because for the last five, six seasons, I don't see a player that we've made a mistake on.”

She knew from that off that “to make a difference” with the budget the club has, they “would have to find players that the other clubs don't look at”.

They’ve done exactly that in the years since and continue to be an incredible talent hub in the women’s game, exploring countries and regions in the world that are so often overlooked.

It’s not just because of good scouting and coaching that Reims is the place to be for a young player, though. It’s also because of the good environment at a club that genuinely puts the players first.

When Ngock speaks to GOAL, she highlights as much.

Monique Ngock Reims quote gfx 4:5Stade de Reims/GOAL

“The club has done a lot for me to feel at ease. First of all, they offered me a home,” she says, emphasising this with an impressed murmur before repeating it: “They offered me a home.”

It might seem like an obvious and trivial thing for a club to sort but it’s really not.

“They welcomed me. The environment is very good. The atmosphere is very good in the team. Everybody is free. We are joking. We are laughing. We are making a lot of jokes, especially Melchie. She's, I can say, naughty,” she laughs.

“It's also easy for me to feel free to play. I'm not stressed out. I can give the best of myself.

“[The club] has a great history. The training sessions are good. We are given everything we need to train well. We have doctors, we have everything!

“You can't have trouble without one of the staff members asking you for more information. They feel concerned about you so they always want you to know that you're not alone and if there's a problem you can approach them. They are there for you. I think that's also what makes Reims a good club.”

“We take into account the human being before the sports being,” Miquel adds. “We get, most of the time, young players who leave their country for the first time, who don't speak French, who sometimes don't speak English, who are away for a long time from their friends and family.

“I think it shows because most of the players that have now signed elsewhere, they come back every year. They come on vacation. They come at Christmas to say hello. We've tried to create a new family.

“It's easy to say, huh? All the clubs are going to tell you it's a second family. It's not true. We really develop that here. We take care of the human being. We make sure that everything outside football is covered.

“I've done things here that no other main coach would have done. I've repaired wheels on cars. I've written car accident papers for young players that had their first accident but are not from here and their family is far away.

“I [bought] a plane ticket for a player when her father died in a car accident because she didn't have enough money in her account. We took her to the airport, she cried on our shoulder.

“I think to make a young player great, the player has to be really happy. I think that the mental aspects are often way too neglected.

"The difference between a player that will score 15 goals here and will not score at all when she goes to another club is because she doesn't feel confident or she's not valued.

“We don't put the club in the centre of the project. We put the player in the centre of the project. We make sure the player gets where she wants to go.

"If she wants to go to the senior national team, she wants to go to the World Cup, she wants to be at Chelsea in two years, that's the project.

“The club is just a support to make the player better. We feel that by making the individual player better, we make the team better because everyone has their own ambitions.

"You have to find a way to serve the individual ambition and if you serve that, then the player will serve you. She will serve your team. See what I mean?”

“She's a great coach,” Ngock says of Miquel. “She tries to give a lot of opportunities to young players.

"Since I started with Reims, I’ve played almost all my games. She gave me opportunities and the chance to prove to myself that I can be among the best."

“She's also like a caring mother,” she says with a giggle. “She's very caring. She's concerned not only with me but also with the other young players.

"If there's a problem, if something disturbs you, if you find difficulties in some domains, maybe in the tactics or during the training sessions, if you feel like you do not understand something, you can approach her. She will explain it to you.

“Also, in other domains apart from sport, if there are also difficulties, she will be there. She will always be present. That's what also makes her a good coach.”

Since promotion to the top flight, Reims have been a solid mid-table team. They’ve posed problems for the big guns, beating Paris Saint-Germain on the last day of last season and running Lyon close in this year’s Coupe de France.

A number of the club’s own have progressed through to the first team, from electric young forward Shana Chossenotte to midfielder Lou-Ann Joly, who is now a leader in the dressing room.

And they’ve played a role in helping talent, as Miquel says, get to where they want to go.

Phallon Tullis-Joyce signed for the club in the second tier and, in the summer of 2021, moved on to NWSL club OL Reign.

When Miquel asked someone for an opinion on the shot-stopper, a coach of one of Tullis-Joyce's college rivals, she was told she wasn't a good goalkeeper.

Last year, the 26-year-old started all of the Reign's league games as they won the NWSL Shield and was nominated for Goalkeeper of the Year.

Back in 2018, Reims picked up Naomie Feller from a small club just outside of Paris. She became a regular starter and then left last year to join Real Madrid, where she’s playing Champions League football and challenging for titles.

Later this year, Dumornay will join them in taking the next step in her career.

After proving to be one of the most exciting young players on the planet during her time with Reims, she’ll join Lyon when her contract expires. It will allow her to fulfil a dream she has had for some time.

These are stories that illustrate how good a club Reims is for young players to develop. But it’s getting more difficult to add to them.

NXGN 2022 Melchie DumornayGOAL

“It's becoming harder to convince those players to come to us first,” Miquel says. “Some have the intelligence, like Melchie Dumornay, to go through here and get even better offers than she had the first time.

"But some will now just go for the better [club] without taking into account the sporting project for them.

“I think the way we work will at some point not be good anymore. Every mercato becomes harder because there are more agents, more recruiters, more videos of foreign games, so it's more accessible to people who don't travel, who just stay in their office and get the profiles.

“I guess now, we would have to look even harder. For me, you would really need someone full-time for that. But, then again, if you leave it to someone to choose for you, it's not the same as if you do it yourself.

“Recruiting, it's about being very precise and, when you don't have money like us, you're way more precise than Lyon or PSG who can just make 10 mistakes and don't care.

"They will take 10 other players and they will have 35 players. If you only have the budget for 20 players, you cannot make a mistake because then it's a player less on your game sheet.

“I would love to be a recruiter for my own team, to not be here coaching and doing the training every day but to be travelling.

"I'm sure that there are exceptional players in countries where no one is looking right now but you would have to go and see the national championships of small countries.

“It's sure that the Melchie Durmornays, there's a few of them. But you have to look for them.”