• Jessica Houara has earned 58 caps at the back for France
  • She recently secured a treble – French League, French Cup and UEFA Women’s Champions League – with Olympique Lyonnais
  • Her dream is to lift a major trophy with Les Bleues

If, as the saying goes, history only remembers the winners, Jessica Houara no longer has to worry about being forgotten. Despite spending a decade with three prominent French clubs – Celtic de Marseille, Saint-Etienne, and Paris Saint-Germain – and collecting nearly 60 caps with one of the world’s top women’s national teams, she had, up until this year, only ever got her hands on one trophy – the French Cup – in 2010. 

While that sole piece of silverware was long viewed as being a mere consolation prize for such a talented and committed player, things underwent a radical change in May 2017.

“When I signed for Lyon last summer, the aim was to win trophies. We won three, and so I’ve very much achieved what I set out to do,” she told FIFA.com, referring to the Division 1 Féminine title, the UEFA Women’s Champions League crown and the French Cup that the club captured during 2016/17 season. “I’ve obviously not got any regrets, even though I must admit that it was heart-breaking to leave PSG.”

Indeed, despite being brought up by a father who supported Olympique de Marseille, the defender only had eyes for PSG for a significant portion of her career, between 2009 and 2016. “Winning silverware wasn’t my main goal – that came later,” she said. “My career has progressed gradually. After my first two clubs, PSG enabled me to make a living out of football and to become part of the French national set-up. Lyon, and a real hunger for success, came afterwards.” 

She continued: “I still believe that trophies and medals don’t necessarily equate to the quality of a player. They’re great, of course, and that’s something I’ve got some experience of now, but feeling like you fit well within a club is another thing altogether. It’s a different form of job satisfaction. You just have to look at Francesco Totti to see what I mean!”

The point may be valid, but Totti did capture the Serie A title in 2001, and was part of the Italian team that lifted the FIFA World Cup™ in 2006. And holding aloft a trophy with her national side is exactly what the France No8 would love to do next. “Winning the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ in France in two years’ time is my ultimate dream, explained the Angers native. “But any kind of honour with Les Bleues would also bring me great joy.”

As it happens, Houara will soon have a chance to achieve that goal, as the 2017 UEFA Women’s Championship kicks off in the Netherlands on 16 July. “We’ll go into the tournament with our feet on the ground,” she said. “Our goal is to do better than we did during our last two appearances, i.e. get beyond the quarter-finals. If we reach the semis, then we can allow ourselves to start dreaming.”

Improving the mindset
The French international is perhaps right to exercise caution, given that her country, despite currently sitting in the lofty position of third in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, has never won a major tournament. France’s last appearance on the global stage saw them bow out in the quarter-finals of the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament Rio 2016.

The coach in charge during that competition, Philippe Bergeroo, who was replaced by Olivier Echouafni in September 2016, stated at the time that he believed the team’s failings were mainly mental. “I partly agree with what he said,” admitted Houara. “The fact is, when we let in a goal, we were unable to get ourselves back into the match, or to find an equaliser.”

She added: “There’s no doubt we’ve got the talent, but at the highest level that’s not enough these days. There’s also an important mental aspect to think about. But we’ve been doing a huge amount of work in that area, on top of technical and tactical work. We’ve done loads of little exercises together – the goals are getting to know each other, acting as one, working together as a group, and building team spirit. And that’s what a team sport comes down to: battling together, fighting for your team-mates, and helping each other out.”

The increased effort already appears to have borne fruit. During the recent SheBelieves Cup, held in March in the United States, France immediately showed that their mindset had changed in their opening game, when they came back from a goal down to defeat England 2-1. After a subsequent 0-0 draw with Germany, they saw off hosts USA in convincing fashion (3-0) to emerge victorious from the friendly competition.

“It’s a good start, but we’ve still got a long way to go,” said the 29-year-old. “We have to try to perform in exactly the same way at a major tournament.” And luckily for Houara and her compatriots, a major tournament is just around the corner.