ROTHERHAM, England — Corinne Diacre punched the air, allowed herself a cursory smile of satisfaction, after which turned on her heel. She managed to dodge the primary couple of staff members rushing past her on their method to join the celebrations on the sphere after France’s quarterfinal victory, only to seek out her path blocked by Gilles Fouache.
Fouache, France’s assistant goalkeeping coach, will not be a straightforward obstacle to avoid: broad-shouldered and shaven-headed and with the air of a kindly bouncer. Diacre, a redoubtable central defender in her playing days, quickly recognized there was no well past. Fouache swept his manager up in a temporary bear hug, after which she sent him on his way, too.
Once she had done so, her smile melted away. She sought out her Dutch counterpart, offered some words of congratulation and condolence, after which made her method to her players. A handful received a pat on the back. Others were offered just some immediate performance feedback. She had come to Euro 2022 on business, not pleasure.
By some measures, that victory against the Netherlands last weekend was enough to make sure Diacre had done her job. France had never previously made it past the quarterfinals of a European Championship; Eve Périsset’s penalty, deep into beyond regular time, finally ended the hoodoo.
Diacre, though, arrived in England with barely higher expectations, and so did her country. France, in spite of everything, is home to 2 of probably the most powerful women’s soccer clubs, the reigning European champion Lyon and its great rival, Paris St.-Germain. Diacre had an unrivaled pipeline of talent from which to create a squad.
To her, and to French soccer, it felt reasonable to declare reaching the ultimate the team’s “stated ambition.” On Wednesday night, it failed to satisfy it. France might only have fallen narrowly to Germany, by 2-1 of their semifinal in Milton Keynes, England, however it fell nonetheless. And that, unfortunately, gives Diacre an issue.
A few weeks after Diacre, 47, and her players arrived in Ashby-de-la-Zouch, the small town in rural Leicestershire where France’s national team has taken up residence for this tournament — that it selected a spot with a distinctly French name is, apparently, coincidental — a journalist from a French magazine contacted the team’s press officer to ask why no local junior team had yet been invited to look at a training session.
Such outreach initiatives are a staple of major tournaments, a reasonably easy public-relations maneuver designed to thank the community for its hospitality. France, in contrast, had made no contact with amateur sides in Ashby. The team, the journalist was told, was not in England to make friends.
It’s a tunnel vision that’s characteristic of Diacre’s management style. She veers between distant and acerbic with the news media, despite employing a P.R. “teacher”; she has admitted that communication will not be her strong suit. She makes no secret of the incontrovertible fact that she doesn’t benefit from the public-facing features of her job.
Along with her players, too, she has not at all times fostered probably the most conducive relationships. One among her first moves after taking charge of her nation’s team five years ago was to strip Wendie Renard, France’s totemic defender, of the captaincy.
Since then, she has contrived to alienate a variety of players from Lyon, the country’s dominant women’s team, to such an extent that Sarah Bouhaddi, the goalkeeper, claimed she had inculcated a “very, very negative environment.” Bouhaddi has subsequently said she’s going to not play for her country while Diacre is in charge.
One other veteran, Gaëtane Thiney, was dropped for criticizing Diacre’s tactics, and a 3rd, Amandine Henry, was dropped after she had described the French squad in the course of the 2019 World Cup as “complete and utter chaos.” The decision during which Diacre broke the news lasted, Henry said, “14 or 15 seconds; I’ll remember all of it my life.” More remarkable still was that Henry had inherited the captaincy from Renard; her banishment meant that Renard was restored to the post.
Diacre’s biggest gamble of all, though, may perhaps have been her squad for this tournament. Diacre was already without each Kheira Hamraoui and Aminata Diallo, a legacy of the assault scandal that has roiled French soccer for much of the last 12 months, but she also selected to omit each Henry and Eugénie Le Sommer, France’s profession goal-scoring leader.
The manager defended the moves, citing the necessity to protect and preserve the “mentality” of her squad. Early results bore her out. There was no sign, in France’s month or so in England, of club enmities poisoning the atmosphere among the many players. The longstanding divide between the Lyonnaises and the Parisians looked as if it would have evaporated.
Besides, it was not as if Diacre didn’t have players of impeccable quality to exchange them. The depth of talent at her command was such that she could juggle her team for every of France’s first 4 games of the tournament with no apparent diminution of quality.
The difficulty, though, was that making those calls turned Diacre right into a martyr of final result. Had France met her aspirations, and reached Sunday’s final against England, she would have been vindicated; leaving Henry and Le Sommer at home would have gave the impression of a masterstroke, proof of her daring conviction.
That France didn’t means it’s all but inconceivable to not ponder whether the final result may need been different had two of the important thing players on the most effective club team in the ladies’s game been on the sphere, and even on the substitutes’ bench, available to call on in an emergency.
In reality, the border between those realities is slender, and blurred. It hinges on a moment, an quick: Had France remained attentive when Svenja Huth picked up the ball on the sting of the penalty area, fairly than assuming it had drifted out of play, then perhaps it could still be within the tournament, and Diacre’s call would have paid off.
It’s the manager, though, who made that bargain, who made it plain that the gauge of success and failure was what she did, not how she did it. France got here to Euro 2022 with a destination in mind. Now that it has fallen short, it cannot claim credit for the journey.