Laura Georges is a key figure in French women’s football, in more ways than one. For the last 15 years, the Paris Saint-Germain central defender has been a mainstay for her country, winning 164 caps and scoring six goals. In that time she also has cheerfully championed her sport on TV and earned unanimous admiration for her talent and charisma. She is quite simply Le Roc, a nickname that could not be more appropriate.
“Our former national team coach Bruno Bini came up with that name,” the player herself told FIFA.com. “I was, and maybe I still am, regarded as a rugged player, which is where Le Roc comes from. But I can tell you I wasn’t all that happy about it at the time. I was a little annoyed about being pigeon-holed as a tough, not to say an aggressive, player.
“Looking back now, though, I think it’s very flattering. A rock is a very strong symbol and epitomises solidity. In all modesty, I think it kind of suits me. A rock symbolises what I am on the pitch and in my head: I never go to pieces; I never give up.”
There is no denying that determination, which came to the fore when she suffered a career setback in the lead-up to the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament London 2012, when Olympique Lyonnais coach Patrice Lair unexpectedly decided to dispense with her services, this after more than five years as a highly dependable and faithful servant of the club.
At those Games that I discovered the real Laura Georges again. All the same, there’s still that bitter taste of missing out on an Olympic medal.
Taking the reverse in her stride, Georges promptly went to the Games intent on proving her worth. She certainly did that, scoring against Korea DPR and Sweden, and starring throughout a competition in which France finished fourth, just outside of the medals.
“It was a very important tournament for me, and I’ve got some wonderful memories of it on a personal level,” recalled Georges. “As a player, it was a stage in my career when I was really committed and combative. I made decisive contributions in some big games and I scored goals, which was all very exciting for me. I’d had a tough season with Lyon and it was at those Games that I discovered the real Laura Georges again. All the same, there’s still that bitter taste of missing out on an Olympic medal.”
A fresh chance to win one will come Georges’ way this summer in Brazil, when she will hope to add to an already impressive list of career honours, which includes six French championship and two UEFA Women’s Champions League titles. It is an opportunity she is determined not to pass up: “Obviously the aim is to go there and win a medal. We can’t wait to be there. It’s a special tournament in a special place: Brazil, the home of football.”
As she went on to say, Georges has discussed Rio 2016 with Erika and Cristiane, her Brazilian team-mates at PSG: “They’ve spoken to me about the facilities, the stadiums and the atmosphere, and I’ve got an idea of what we can expect. It’s all very exciting.”
Taking a cue from Thuram
Georges and her Bleues colleagues had a little taste of things to come when they travelled to the United States for the recent SheBelieves Cup, a tournament that featured fellow Rio 2016 qualifiers Germany and USA, as well as England, who lie fifth in the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women’s World Ranking.
“It was an interesting tournament,” said the centre-half. “Playing big teams across a short space of time and with only a few days to rest and recover between them is rewarding in terms of experience. The opening two matches were pretty frustrating: we conceded a last-minute goal against USA and we lost 1-0 to Germany, a scoreline that didn’t reflect the run of play.
“We didn’t score, so the tournament wasn’t exactly a great success for us. We can’t get too worked up about it, though. We’re going through our preparations at the moment and what really counts is being able to perform when the competition starts.”
I make no secret of it: he’s my role model.
As she warms up for the big event, Georges has a few other pressing engagements to attend to, not least the Women’s Champions League, a competition in which her current employers lost out to Frankfurt in last year’s final. Then there is also the small matter of the title run-in in a Women’s Ligue 1 dominated for the last nine seasons by her former club, l’OL.
“I won the lot with Lyon, and my goal now is to go and do the same with PSG,” she said, mindful of the fact that the gap between the two clubs is closing every year. “All I care about is my team and what I have to offer it. We’ve got our strengths and we’re making progress. Lyon are making their own way too. I don’t like it when people compare us.”
One comparison Georges is more than happy for people to make is between her and Lilian Thuram. The two have much in common, after all: their position, their longevity in the game, their Guadeloupean roots and their charisma. “I make no secret of it: he’s my role model,” she explained. “I met him when I was still a trainee at Clairefontaine [France’s national football academy], in 2002.”
Expanding on her admiration for Thuram, Georges, who has quite an aura of her own, added: “We quickly became friends, and he watches PSG and the France team whenever they play. I loved him as a player, but I like him as a person even more, his character. I always said to myself that if I became an international one day, I’d love to be as down-to-earth and approachable as him."