Dominant Lyon at centre of ugly row tearing apart French women's team

Paris (AFP) –


It is one of the great peculiarities of football that while Lyon reign supreme as the dominant club team in the women's game, a France national side comprised mainly of players from the Champions League winners has consistently underachieved.

They lost in the quarter-finals of the last two World Cups, the 2016 Rio Olympics, and the last three European Championships.

An explanation for their most recent failure, as hosts at the 2019 World Cup, is perhaps to be found in the apparently poisonous relationship between the Lyon contingent in the France set-up, and national coach Corinne Diacre.

In recent weeks, as France's men bask in their status as world champions, the women's team has been at loggerheads in public.

It explains why, just as Lyon and Paris Saint-Germain, the heavyweights of French women's football, prepare to clash on Friday, there has been just as much focus on the next France squad announcement due the day before.

Diacre has been in charge since 2017, keeping her position despite 'Les Bleues' losing in the last eight of last year's World Cup to eventual winners the USA.

But she is under pressure after Lyon goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi and brilliant midfielder Amandine Henry, the France captain, revealed all on their relationship with the coach.

Bouhaddi, capped 149 times, recently retired from international duty and fired a parting shot towards Diacre, saying: "I can't see myself winning anything with her as coach, and lots of the other players think the same thing but don't say it."

Henry, aged 31 and with 92 caps, followed up in an interview with Canal Plus in which she said the atmosphere in the squad at the World Cup was "total chaos" and added that "some of the girls don't dare speak out because they are afraid" of Diacre.

In any other context, she would surely have no chance of being recalled.

"When you go to war with the national team coach, you always lose," 1998 World Cup winner Robert Pires tells Matthew Spiro in his book Sacre Bleu, describing why he lost his place in the French men's team when Raymond Domenech was in charge.

But this is different.

Diacre cannot afford to alienate Lyon stars like Henry, towering defender Wendie Renard and France's record scorer Eugenie Le Sommer as she hopes to lead the team through qualifying for Euro 2022.

As French Football Federation president Noel Le Graet pointedly told sports daily L'Equipe: "The coach's job is to pick the best team."

- Can Lyon be toppled? -

While the English WSL gets stronger every year, the best team anywhere in women's football is Lyon.

They won their fifth consecutive Champions League title in August, their seventh overall, and have won 14 straight French titles.

They have won all eight games in the French league this season despite being without injured Norwegian striker Ada Hegerberg, the 2018 Ballon d'Or winner.

England right-back Lucy Bronze has left for Manchester City, but her international colleague Nikita Parris remains, as do Germany's Dzsenifer Maroszan, Japan's Saki Kumagai and more.

But if anybody can beat them, then perhaps it is PSG, who are two points behind in second before hosting Lyon at the Parc des Princes.

PSG lost 1-0 to Lyon in the Champions League semi-finals in August but have not lost any of their last four home league meetings.

They have stars of their own, like towering Chile goalkeeper Christiane Endler and 42-year-old Brazil midfielder Formiga, who has played at seven World Cups and six Olympics.

"We are focused on the PSG match. All our energy is on that and everything else is put to one side," said Lyon coach Jean-Luc Vasseur when asked about the national team row.

It is just a shame no fans will be allowed to attend Friday's game after a record crowd of over 30,000 watched their last league meeting, before the coronavirus pandemic.