Since their foundation 40 years ago, Juvisy have become one of the bedrocks of French women’s football, building up a solid reputation as a friendly club that likes to play the game the right way. National champions on six occasions, the team from the suburbs of Paris are well placed to land a seventh title this season, leading the way from Lyon in a championship that is developing all the time but where the gap between big guns and also-rans is still considerable.
France’s veteran captain Sandrine Soubeyrand, who has been with Juvisy since 2000, is one player anxious to see the little clubs close the divide, as she explained in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com.
“It would definitely be a lot more interesting for us if the overall standard improved,” said the vastly experienced midfielder. “Winning 7-0 is all very well but it doesn’t help us progress. The more competition there is, the better the football. There’d also be more interest in the women’s game because the league would be tighter and more unpredictable. Right now the big teams in France have a couple of slip-ups a season, but that’s all.”
Separated by three points, with frontrunners Juvisy having played a game more than Lyon, this season’s top two are French football’s most successful women’s clubs. With Lyon boasting a welter of international stars in their line-up and a budget ten times larger than their championship rivals, the battle between the title contenders would appear to be an unfair one. Even so, the Parisians held them to a 1-1 draw in December, and with the two squaring off on the last day of the season at Juvisy, the title race is expected to go to the wire.
A different plane
“Lyon are in another world to us, a professional world where the players don’t have to think about anything else other than football,” said Juvisy coach Sandrine Mathivet. “Our players have to work as well, as football helps them make ends meet. The good thing is that it helps us keep our feet on the ground and stops us getting too much exposure in the media and spending beyond our means.
“The fact that the players have to face up to life’s real obstacles means they don’t dwell on defeats too much and can put things in perspective. The downside comes when you have to juggle matches, treatment, work and training. The workload is pretty heavy because the girls never get the chance to recover, either physically or psychologically. It’s all pretty exhausting.”
At Juvisy, everyone gives their all for the team and moves together in the same direction.
Lyon aside, there is not a team in France’s Division 1 Feminine that does not face these selfsame problems, although what makes Juvisy stand out from the rest of the clubs in the upper reaches of the table is that they are the only ones who do not have a men’s side in Ligue 1.
Nevertheless, sporting the same badge as high fliers such as Montpellier, Paris Saint-German or Saint-Etienne is no longer a guarantee of success, as Gaetane Thiney, another of Juvisy’s France internationals, explained: “I’d rather be in the position we’re in right now than in Paris Saint-Germain’s, where players can get frustrated at being at a wealthy club and not being able to make the most of it. At Juvisy, everyone gives their all for the team and moves together in the same direction.”
A sense of balance
Discussing the switch to a professional set-up, Soubeyrand said Juvisy need to take their time. “Let’s not delude ourselves: everyone wants to live out their passion,” she commented. “What you can’t do, though, is go from being an amateur club to a professional one overnight, without preparing the ground first. The players need to have the right facilities and a job that allows them to train as best they can.”
Amateur status also has its advantages. “On a personal level, having a job, meeting other people and not being totally absorbed by football gives balance to my life,” added Thiney. “That balance also has a positive impact on my football because mentally I’m in the right frame of mind.”
Having a solid youth policy also helps when it comes to competing with the best, as coach Mathivet explained: “I think you have to try and educate players from a very young age and tell them that being a professional player is not necessarily going to fulfil them as women.
“They need to understand that just because they want to make a good living out of the game doesn’t mean to say they shouldn’t prepare for the future first and study hard. You need to take the perks of being a pro, with all the material things and resources that brings and the advantages for your sporting career, and weigh that up against all the time that lies of you after your playing days.”
Juvisy’s model of prudence and careful planning will stand them in good stead as they continue their gradual progress towards professionalism. In the meantime, the amateurs have another title challenge to negotiate, one in which they will again hope to show the big spenders that money does not buy you silverware.