Renard moves from the foot of the hills to football's peak

Martinique (France) (AFP) –


Wendie Renard is on top of the world after heading France to an opening win at this year's Women's World Cup, but her story begins with her battling boys at the foot of Mount Pelee in her native Martinique.

France captain Renard crashed home two goals as Les Bleues hammered South Korea 4-0 at the Parc des Princes on Friday in a dominating display that led to the 28-year-old being compared to Champions League winner Virgil van Dijk.

Her performance in the air was such that it prompted Norway to use their 6ft 5in (1.96 metres) tall press officer in training to recreate her aerial power ahead of their clash with the French in Nice on Wednesday.

Her talent was also evident at the end of the 1990s when she turned out for Essor Prechotin, a club based in the town of Le Precheur in the north-west of the island.

"Her first game was an Under-13 tournament in Bellefontaine (on the island), she was playing with the big boys but she was already a key part of our team, we finished third and Wendie's talent really stood out," said Patrick Cavelan, Renard's cousin and coach at the club.

At 15 she was spotted by Charlaine Marie-Jeanne, technical director of the Martinique football league, after a childhood playing alongside boys, and tried to convince her mother Marie-Helena Renard to let her join France's overseas football academy at Le Francois on the other side of the island.

"I did not agree at the beginning and I did not see football as a sport of girls," said Marie-Helena.

As the only girl at the academy, however, Renard quickly impressed her male counterparts.

"She was on the same level as us, technically," says Gregory Pastel, who was in her class.

"She competed with us without any problems."

Another classmate, Jeremy Mongis said that at first the boys wondered: "'It's a girl, what is she doing there?' but she quickly became part of the group ... however she had a changing room just for her."

In 2005 she left her all-male environment to join the island women's team RC Lorrain, impressing enough to get a chance the following year with Lyon, where she has since conquered every title the game has to offer... except the World Cup.

"The person I knew at 14 is still the same at 29. We laugh, we talk, we speak Creole," says Mongis.

Her cousin Cavelan also sees little difference from the young girl who so impressed him in her early days kicking a ball.

"When she comes back she goes to see all the old people she knows in the neighbourhood, she goes barefoot, she goes to the seaside jogging," he says.

"She has not forgotten where she comes from."