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Women's World Cup

No shrinking violet: The 'bold' France coach bidding to emulate Pogba, Griezmann & World Cup 2018 winners

11:10 AM GMT+4 07/06/2019
Corinne Diacre France Women's World Cup 2019
Having left the Division 1 Feminine's top scorer out of her squad, the hosts' coach Corinne Diacre is no stranger to making brave calls

"We hope to raise the World Cup just like the men did."

Elise Bussaglia was the first person to face the press at this summer’s World Cup and the France midfielder wasted no time in laying out Les Bleues’ ambitions for the tournament.

"We have grown, we have evolved as a team, a group has been built in recent years, even in the last month," she told the room. "We are ready."

Bussaglia doesn’t just speak for herself. Perhaps the most notable impact France women's coach Corinne Diacre has made on this team since taking over in August 2017 has not come from a tactical or footballing perspective, but psychologically.

Few players show that better than Gaetane Thiney. The Paris FC star was a central focus of France’s World Cup exit four years ago, missing a glaring opportunity in their quarter-final tie with Germany - a match they would go on to lose on penalties.

She was then omitted from her country’s squad for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil and admits that she doubted the future of her international career for "six complicated months".

But now 33 years old, Thiney’s inclusion at her home World Cup only shows how far she has come – particularly under Diacre.

"That World Cup and the game against Germany may be the best thing that happened to me," she admitted.

"It was hard, it was a lot of questioning and it allowed me to be here today. It was a very powerful drive for me."

Now, she says: "I want to be a world champion."

Confidence is a running theme in the press conferences and interviews involving these players, and it’s no surprise.

Diacre, after all, spent three years managing Ligue 2 side Clermont Foot, becoming the first female coach to take charge of a men’s professional club on a competitive basis when she was appointed in 2014.

During that time, Clermont finished 12th, seventh and 12th again, while she made a bold impression and left no one doubting her ability to manage a men’s team.

"Her approach is totally different from what I have known," Frederic Verna, a journalist for Sports Auvergne, explained to MaLigue2 during Diacre’s time in the men’s second division.

"There is a real frankness on her part. What I found original is her emphasis on human behaviour. 

"Many of the players who left were probably better footballers, but they did not fit in the mould of the behaviour desired by Diacre.

"It is a risky choice, but her current group is in her image and it suits her perfectly – and the results are felt."

Montpellier striker Gaetan Laborde offered further insight into just what Diacre does to get the best out of her players.

The 25-year-old, who netted 10 times in Ligue 1 this season, had a prolific loan spell at Clermont in 2015-16, and he cited her player management as a key reason for his eight goals in 18 games.

"Diacre immediately had the right words to make me confident again," he explained to L’Equipe .  "And when you trust me, I will do everything on the pitch."

This is something she is effectively implementing with Les Bleues now - and her brutal honesty, or "frankness" as Verna dubbed it has followed her to the national team too.

Diacre is not afraid to say when she has been disappointed by a performance, while also being her usual coy self when it comes to pre-match press conferences, as was on show again this week.

"It's a good question but I will not answer it," she said when asked about her starting XI for the opening game against South Korea.

"There are a lot of Koreans in the room, and if you will allow me, I will keep the starting XI a little secret. Thank you."

But the 44-year-old is confident and bold too, as seen in her decision to leave Division 1 Feminine top goalscorer, Marie-Antoinette Katoto, out of her World Cup squad.

Instead of bringing the PSG forward, who scored 22 times in 20 league games this season, she opted for Emelyne Laurent, a 20-year-old Lyon striker who scored just once in seven games while on loan at Guingamp.

"She can bring us a lot," Diacre said of Laurent. "We didn’t have this type of player, who can break into the penalty area and win a penalty if we need to get back into the game.

"It was a difficult choice [to omit Katoto], but I made it and I stand by it. It’s certain that if we don’t win the World Cup, I will be reproached for it."

But Diacre has made bold decisions before and her emphasis on having the right mentality is exactly what France will need to succeed this summer.

Their route to that World Cup dream will likely see them cross paths with all of the USA, England and Germany - 2015’s winners, third-placed team and fourth-placed team, respectively.

Add France’s poor record in the tournament - the country having qualified just three times - and, despite them being one of the fancied few for this summer’s title, Diacre’s team really are up against it.

That, however, will not faze a woman who has already made incredible history in her home country.

"We are here to try to build the history of women's football in France," goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi said.

With a leader of Diacre’s quality and strength, anything is possible.