If you have been following France’s superb progress at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Papua New Guinea 2016 closely, you may have found yourself asking just who their coach Gilles Eyquem is.
The mastermind of their epic 1-0 defeat of Germany in the quarter-finals, Eyquem sat down for a long chat with FIFA.com ahead of their semi-final meeting with Japan and revealed five sides to himself. A former central defender and a born teacher, he quickly developed a taste for coaching and has proved his worth in developing France’s brightest young women’s players, steering the U-19s to the European title in 2012. Among the charges flourishing under his careful stewardship is Hawa Cissoko, who also gave us her views on the Bleuettes coach.
1. An old-school player
I was what you might call a 'no-nonsense' player, an old-fashioned stopper who went in hard, was short on technique and was a bit of a workhorse. I knew players who were a lot more gifted than me, but who didn’t have the career I had. I never got injured and my coaches knew they could always count on me. I was fortunate enough to play with some great players like Marius Tresor, Alain Giresse and Gerard Soler when I was at Bordeaux, my first club. I ended up moving to Guingamp, in the second division, because I loved playing and I wanted more time on the pitch. I spent most of my career in the second tier and I wound up as a player-coach in division three before finally hanging up my boots for good in 1989.
2. A social worker
When I was in charge at Agen, one of my local clubs, I got really involved in football-based social inclusion programmes. I gradually became a social worker and got more and more involved in everyday problems affecting people in disadvantaged neighbourhoods, helping out families in need. It was a purely social thing and had nothing to do with football. I got a lot out of it on a human level and it’s been really useful for me in my coaching career.
3. A keen pupil
I learned a lot from Aime Jacquet. At Bordeaux, he’d turn up half-an-hour early for training, so a few of us would turn up early too and have a chat with him. He was a great coach. He was very close to the players and very kind and modest with it too. I was also lucky enough to be Philippe Bergeroo’s assistant when we won the U-17 European title in 2004 with the famous 'Class of 87', which featured the likes of Karim Benzema, Samir Nasri and Hatem Ben Arfa. Philippe is a wonderful person too and he taught me a lot about tactics and the psychology involved in working with players.
4. A family man
The team and the coaching staff are like one big happy family. I treat everyone a bit like a father would. I give out instructions and I’m not afraid to raise my voice, if I have to. My two assistants, Sandrine Ringler and Sandrine Roux, are more maternal and have a stronger emotional bond with the players. I like my players a lot and the hardest part of the job for me is making choices. It’s always heartbreaking to have tell a player that they haven’t made the squad or that they’re not going to play. My job here is more about helping them progress than actually winning the World Cup, though it’s very rewarding to win things.
5. A shrewd tactician
I’m always telling the girls to be more patient and more cunning. Against Germany, we could see that they were waiting for us to push on so they could hit us on the break, and we kept on pushing on, even after we’d taken the lead. It almost cost us dear. I’m lucky to have some very talented and gifted players, but they’re a bit too naïve sometimes. I’m trying to make them see that football is like a game of chess, where you have to outfox your opponent. I loved that side of the game when I was a player and I’m trying to get that across to them now.
The players’ view on Eyquem: Hawa Cissoko, France central defender
I’ve known Gilles for two years now. The first things I noticed about him at my first training camp were his accent and his keepy-up skills. When a coach keeps the ball up like that, you have to listen to them. Gilles is a really nice guy off the pitch. He makes us laugh, and he gets the balance just right. He treats all the players the same way, no matter whether you’re playing or not. He gives us confidence on the pitch. He gets stressed sometimes and he can lose his temper during games, but that doesn’t stop him being a good coach. On a personal level, he’s helped me a lot over the last two years and especially during this tournament. I didn’t have a great game against Ghana, but he picked me up and gave me confidence. A lot of other coaches would have just stuck me on the bench, but not Gilles. After the win against Germany, he told me he knew I could do it. The whole team has faith in him.