On Thursday, the French soccer federation fired the embattled head coach of France's women's national soccer team, Corinne Diacre, citing an "irreversible" rift between the coach and a number of the team's star players, several of whom had vowed not to play for the national team as long as it was under Diacre's leadership. The firing comes only months before the World Cup and just one day after Diacre complained that she was the victim of a "smear campaign" by her critics.
In the statement announcing the firing, the French Football Federation (FFF) said it had undertaken an investigation into Diacre's tenure, the results of which showed “a very significant divide” between Diacre and the players. In the past two weeks, three French national team players, including world-class defender Wendie Renard and Paris Saint-Germain stars Marie-Antoinette Katoto and Kadidiatou Diani, announced they would not play in the World Cup due to concerns about the team's leadership.
"I love France more than anything, I am not perfect, far from it, but I can no longer support the current system," Renard said. "It is a sad day but necessary to preserve my mental health."
Diani and Katoto expressed support for their teammate and announced they too would be sitting out.
"The words of our captain Wendie lead me in my turn to talk about the situation in the France team," Katoto said. "I take the decision to put my international career on hold until the necessary changes are applied."
"Following the statement of our captain Wendie Renard and in view of the recent results and management of the French team, I announce that I am suspending my international obligations in order to concentrate on my club career," Diani wrote on social media. "I am the first fan of the French team and if the necessary changes are finally made, I will return to the service of the French shirt."
Problems between Diacre and her players have been widely reported in recent years. In 2019, Diacre left Katoto off the 2019 World Cup squad, despite the fact that the forward was the Ligue 1 top scorer for that year. She also omitted Amandine Henry from the 2022 Euros team after a public fight with the veteran player. And former French goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi announced she wouldn't play while Diacre was in charge, citing the negative atmosphere Diacre created for the team.
It's unclear if any of the players will rejoin the team now that Diacre, who took over as head coach in 2017, is out. Diacre, through her lawyer, went on the offensive, saying on Wednesday that she the victim of a "smear campaign." Per the Associated Press, Diacre said she has been shocked by the "violence" and "dishonesty" of what she sees as an attempt to undermine her.
"In view of the shameful media outburst of the last few days, I nevertheless wish to reaffirm publicly what I told the commission," Diacre said, referencing the FFF's investigation. "That I am fully committed to carry out my mission and, above all, to do France proud during the next World Cup."
The FFF, somewhat reluctantly, canned her anyhow. “This fracture has reached a point of no return," it said in the statement, before giving a warning to the players. The FFF's statement said that the manner in which the players expressed their criticism would no longer we "acceptable" in the future. Hm, seems a little hard to sell that line when their actions had the desired effect!
As women's national teams around the world, like Canada and Spain, confront their countries' soccer federations over allegations of mismanagement and unfair treatment, the example set by the French players is a notable one. The players have the power, and they can leverage that power for change.