Given their status of pre-tournament favourites, France’s quarter-final exit at the UEFA Women’s Championship 2013 last August was a hammer blow.
Following a surprise 1-1 draw, Les Bleues suffered a penalty shoot-out loss to Denmark, a result that led to Bruno Bini, who had held the national reins since 2007, making way for Philippe Bergeroo. The effect has been remarkable, with the former goalkeeper proving himself to be a safe pair of hands.
Having prevailed at the recent Cyprus Cup and embarked on a five-match winning run in their FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015™ qualifying campaign, the French are yet to taste defeat with their new coach at the helm.
With any doubts and inconsistencies seemingly behind them, the team ranked fourth in the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women's World Ranking constitute a force to be reckoned with once again. “I’m obviously satisfied by my nine months in charge,” the man in question told FIFA.com.
“However, I’m also aware that there’s a long road ahead if we’re going to reach the very top. Let’s take one objective at a time. We have important matches coming up, including the one against Austria on Wednesday, which may take us closer towards the World Cup. And then, if we make it, we’ll need to get ready for the tournament itself – and so on.”
Bergeroo is certainly not lacking in experience. Highly respected in the football community, the ex-international (3 caps) coached Paris Saint-Germain in 1998/99 and Rennes in 2002, and has also fulfilled numerous roles within the national set-up, from goalkeeper coach at the 1998 FIFA World Cup France™ to head of the France U-19 side.
But up until September 2013, he had never led a women’s team. “I’m not a men’s coach or a women’s coach; I’m just a coach. Female or male: the level of work and enjoyment are identical,” he explained.
Praise and professionalism
“I’ve been surprised by my players’ professional approach and commitment, though. As an example, one night before an international I put a video up on the projector to demonstrate the strengths and weaknesses of our upcoming opponents.
“At the end of the session, our captain, Wendie Renard, asked if she could put it on a flash drive so she could go over it again with her team-mates. No male player has ever asked me that!” he recounted. “They deserve to do well. Whatever happens, they know that I’ll be trying my hardest to steer them to success.”
While he has not been slow to dole out praise where it is merited, the calm and reserved tactician has also made some clear-cut demands of his charges: “There isn’t a specific ‘Bergeroo method’, but there is a professional approach based on a 4-4-2 system and certain fundamental football principles.
"These include organisation, moving the ball around as a team, and knowing what to do with the ball when possession is regained. But I don’t think we’re the only side to work on those areas,” he added with a smile. “To succeed, you need hard work and talent, as well as a lot of luck.”
That recipe is one that his female compatriots know well. Winners of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Azerbaijan 2012 and the UEFA European Women’s U-19 Championship, the French have developed a generation of particularly promising players that Bergeroo is determined to incorporate into the senior team.
“I’m bringing them in gradually, match by match. That way, they’ll steadily gain confidence,” he said. “Griedge M'Bock Bathy has already had some playing time with the seniors, and I’ve also called up Sandie Toletti and Marine Dafeur. More players will follow. But we have to tread carefully, and make sure not to burn them out. They need to be handled with care,” he concluded.