France have one of the best squads at the women’s Euros, yet few expect them to win it. Why? For years they have been dogged by controversies, infighting and intrigue – and the issues refuse to go away.
The coach, Corinne Diacre, has been in charge since 2017 and insists that the aim is to reach the final but it seems almost impossible considering what is going on in the background.
A month ago Lyon’s Amandine Henry scored a wonderful goal in the
Champions League final and was voted player of the game, but she is not going to the Euros, having fallen out with Diacre after a disastrous 2019 World Cup. Her Lyon teammate Eugénie Le Sommer is not going either and Paris Saint-Germain’s Kheira Hamraoui will miss out too.
Whereas the first two are indicative of the problems that exist between some Lyon players and Diacre, Hamraoui’s absence is because of a horrendous incident in 2021 when she was attacked by two masked men and repeatedly hit with an iron bar.
Hamraoui’s clubmate Aminata Diallo was taken into custody and questioned by police but released without charge a day later. An acquaintance of Diallo’s who was also questioned by police was similarly released without charge.
That may seem like a club issue but the fallout has spilled into the national team. In February two France players, Katidiatou Diani and Marie-Antoinette Katoto, celebrated a goal against the Netherlands by forming an A with their fingers and confirmed it was in support of Diallo. In April another France player, Sandy Baltimore, had a training-ground altercation with Hamraoui at PSG in what has been seen as a reminder that all has not been well between the different factions of this group.
The France Football journalist Théo Troude does not think that the team can overcome the internal issues and have a successful tournament. “This French team is a ticking bomb,” he says. “It is really strange for us to see that Corinne Diacre is still there because there are so many problems with her. Players were crying in their rooms before 2019 World Cup games. She spoke badly about many players. It’s complete chaos in the team.”
Lyon’s Amandine Henry, pictured with the Champions League trophy in May, is not part of France’s squad. Photograph: Harriet Lander/Copa/Getty Images
As if that were not enough PSG were hit by another scandal towards the end of the season with the women’s team’s coach, Didier Ollé-Nicolle, was accused of inappropriate behaviour and suspended. The coach has denied the allegations.
Troude believes the issue could lead to more tensions in the squad. “We have five players from Lyon and five from PSG,” he says.
In the meantime some football will be played. The first of two friendlies, against Cameroon, was won 4-0 and France normally have a great record in group stages of tournaments. They then seem to underperform and have not got past the quarter-finals of a major finals since the 2012 Olympics.
After the 2019 World Cup the goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi said she would not return to the national team while Diacre was in charge. “Winning a title with this coach seems impossible to me,” she said at the time.
Defeat by the United States in that tournament, in the last eight, meant France missed out on the Tokyo Olympics and at the end of 2020 Henry, who was then the captain, denounced Diacre’s management style. Henry had not been called up for Euro 2022 qualifiers and said she was shocked by the nature of the phone call from the coach, which she said lasted less than a minute.
The omission of Henry is a “scandal”, according to Troude. “Henry is the one you look up to when, mentally, you need help. She’s the one who organises the team.”
Diacre has defended her selection, describing it as “very natural, very professional” and saying: “We wanted to trust the players with whom we have been working for a while and who have qualified for the next World Cup in order to maintain a certain balance.” She said Hamraoui had not “played for several weeks, so it’s hard to judge her performance and that tipped the balance against her”.
It does not look promising for France, who kick off their campaign against Italy on 10 July. Will they be able to overcome their issues and go far? Only time will tell.
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