Pichon: It's time for France to step up

“I don’t think I’m aware of the impact I’ve had,” a smiling Marinette Pichon told FIFA.com. “I’m still amazed when people ask me for photos, talk to me about my career and thank me. I don’t truly realise everything I’ve done, which is just as well, really.”

The legendary French forward retired from the game nearly ten years ago, having scored a record 81 goals in 112 appearances for her country, the crowning achievement of her storied career. The player closest to beating that mark is Marie-Laure Delie, who has 62 goals to her name at the age of 28.

“I hope the record goes as soon as possible,” joked Pichon. “It would mean that things are going well for the France team. I just want the girls to keep on scoring lots of goals and showing what they can do. Records are there to be beaten.”

Now into her 40s, Pichon does not live in the past. The general manager at her former club FCF Juvisy, and French TV’s leading women’s football commentator, she enjoys a better view than anyone of the development the game is experiencing.

“I’m making the most of it, but I have more time on my hands now. I have fewer obligations,” she explained with a smile. She is also the biggest fan of the Bleues team that will be going for glory at the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament Rio 2016 in August.

“France haven’t won anything yet and we need to back up the progress we’ve made by winning titles,” she said. “It’s quite a good draw at the Olympics, with Colombia, New Zealand and USA in our group. There is a whole generation of players who are perhaps playing at their last Games, and it would be a shame if they come away with nothing.”

Casting her mind back to the defeat to Canada in the bronze medal match at London 2012 and to the promising but ultimately luckless FIFA Women’s World Cup™ campaigns in 2011 and 2015, the former striker said: “We need to have a bit more success up front and stop missing our chances, like we have in the past.

“There’s a psychological block, but the players have to be aware of their individual and collective abilities, and give it their all to win a medal, whatever the colour. That would be a fine achievement and it would open the way for the team.”

The first time The next women’s world finals are set to take place in France in 2019. That is an occasion the ex-international is looking forward to immensely, having enjoyed a special relationship with the competition, not least because she formed part of the first France team to grace the biggest stage of all, in the USA in 2003. “I have some magical, amazing memories of that tournament,” said Pichon, who was in her prime with Philadelphia Chargers at the time.

“I scored France’s first ever World Cup finals goal,” she added. “It was against Korea Republic and I got another against Brazil. The stadiums were full and the organisation was outstanding. It’s still a source of regret for me that we didn’t get past the first round because the World Cup is just so special.”

France have grown in stature since then, developing into one of the strongest nations in the women’s game and one of the teams most likely to figure in the knockout rounds of major competitions and to go all the way. Asked if she would have liked to have been playing now, Pichon said: “No. You can’t have regrets. I think I would have had a lot of fun playing with the current team, who have a lot of talent, but I’m still involved in football and I’m in contact with the playing side and the players, whether it’s at Juvisy or as a commentator on TV.

“I’m also taking a university course in general management in professional football, and I’m really looking to the future of the women’s game.”

Her past still resonates today, however. “Some players have told me that I was a role model for them,” explained Pichon, who had only male players to look up to during her playing days. “Laure Boulleau told me the other day that I was her idol, and that she used to stick up photos of me when she was younger. It was very honest of her and very touching too.”

Should Les Bleues finally win that elusive international trophy one day, they will owe a fair bit of their success to a player who helped lay the foundations for French women’s football.