Last Sunday was a beautiful day. Cold and sunny, a regular beautiful spring day. In Lyon, there was a little bit of fever. Two giants were getting ready for the UEFA Women’s Champions League semi-final. A clash of the titans. Two French teams, which secured a French spot for the big final against a German team. In the French elite division, the Olympique Lyonnais has been holding the first place for more than ten years now. And then, PSG stands fiercely. They know each other quite well. It’s like an everending story. But they know each other also because they are playing with each other in the French Women’s National Team. And despite all the efforts made, despite all the international spots filled with some of the best players in the world, throughout the years, the ending is always the same. So we knew.
We knew what would happen. But somewhere, hidden in our soul, we wanted to watch Paris fighting for the spot. A secret hope to witness a miracle. 22,000 fans have bought a ticket for the Gerland stadium, which is huge for women’s soccer in France. It was a beautiful day. It was history. Laure Boulleau was just back from injury. Caroline Seger was wearing fiercely the captain armband. It was not supposed to end like that.
It was a slaughter. It took less than 45 minutes to turn the women’s soccer celebration into an horrible nightmare for the parisian team. Laure Boulleau got injured at the 18th minute. Kheira Hamraoui went down at the 30th minute, lying on the pitch, crying. And nobody cared. They played the entire action until somebody got her up and she was subbed out – Perle Morroni went in and proved herself which was obviously not enough, yet a nice individual performance that should be noticed. The OL players who were used to be disappointing within the National Team played extremely well. Queen Hegerberg, the leading goal-scorer of the French Division 1, just humiliated the Polish goalkeeper who eventually gave up. Louisa Necib scored an amazing goal. Eugenie Le Sommer, whose performances were not really good during the last FRAWNT game against Ukraine, was explosive. At 36’, the last key player was subbed out on another injury: defender Laura Georges was out. Within 6 minutes, the Olympique Lyonnais scored 3 other goals. At the end of the first half, PSG could have resigned. They were led 5-0. And when the final whistle blew, they were losing a big 7 – nothing. It was a beautiful story for the OL. But a very dark day for the French Division 1.
7-0. It’s the kind of score you get when you are the USWNT and you are playing Puerto Rico with all due respect. It’s the kind of score you get when PSG is playing a bottom team of D1. It’s the kind of score you don’t get in a UWCL semi-final. Lack of fitness, lack of understanding of the injuries, lack of smart moves by the Parisian staff. We just can’t really say what went that wrong in that game. Maybe an awkward mix of all of those reasons. Fact is, who would trust Farid Benstiti, the Parisian head-coach, anymore?
But you know, sometimes, you can have a very bad game and that’s what makes soccer beautiful, right? Yet the bitterness of this game comes from the fact that it’s not the first time this year that Lyon defeated in that awkward fashion Paris. Back to September, they lost 5-0 against Hegerberg’s team. The question that shaked the social medias was obviously: what the effe is wrong with Paris? And it’s a pretty legit question: when you have international ambitions like the PSG does, you just can’t have such results – PSG is the only team in France that has so many different nationalities. When you have international ambitions, you just do what you have to do in a financial and/or managerial way, because otherwise, what’s the point?
But the real question is: what the effe is wrong with the French league. For the last few years, the French league has been considered as a valid option for international young players. The most recent example is Lindsey Horan. The brilliant midfielder from Colorado took the bet. Skipping college is quite a dangerous yet strong decision. Giving the fact that all the USWNT at that time had a brilliant collegial career, going to Europe and getting professional experience that young was a bet and a very ambitious choice. Considering how well Horan is doing both in the USWNT and with the Thorns, she made the right decision. For her last time in France, a derby game against Juvisy, which holds the fourth place in the D1 Classement, she scored a beautiful goal on an assist by the Brazilian Christiane. She left us with a smile. And she now plays with the Thorns as if she had been there since the beginning. No doubt that her French and European experiences brought her many things. We are known for our technical skills, right? So what happened?
However the real thing is that the difference of level between the first teams and the bottom of the classement is so huge that it is alarming today. Our league players play with their heart. But most of the time, when a bottom team plays PSG, OL or MHSC – for Montpellier Hérault Sporting Club, a southern team -, they are struggling. Because of the lack of means. Most of the teams cannot pay their players as a full-time employee as in a national selection. The result is obvious: our women’s players have a job elsewhere. They have a limited time to practice. They don’t have also all the fitness training that is required to pretend to fight against the best professional teams. Semi-pro clubs like the FCF Juvisy Essonne, which trained some of the French Women’s National Team players like Gaëtane Thiney or Sandrine Dusang, find a way to link both the soccer field with a professional project, assisted with the region: they help the young players to find a job with employers who know how important is it to practice and play and consecutively adapt the players’ timetables. As they just can’t be full-times soccer players, you can figure the picture of how hard it is to find young and promising players to fill the national roster when the time comes. We are at that turning point, like many other european teams. Today, our roster is mostly composed of players from OL, PSG and MHSC. Then you have a few players from other teams. And the chemistry is quite difficult to set up between two strong groups and individuals coming from those teams. How can you be happy to watch your team being defeated 9-0 at every game against PSG? How can you get involved or at least interested in women’s soccer after that?
In 2016, during the FIFA women’s football and leadership conference held in Zürich, Switzerland, Brigitte Henriques, a former FRAWNT player and the current head of the women’s development at the French Federation, said that the next step for the FFF is to professionalized all the clubs. We have to give the opportunity to every player to get a good real challenge and better results. If the French federation still wants to have competitive team and a good environment that would seduce international players, it will have to show more support to women’s soccer. It’s not the case right now. People are not even aware that there are women’s counterparts to men’s biggest teams. We just can’t watch most of the games on TV because no TV channel is interested in. At least we can watch some major games, like for the UWCL or the national team. But that’s all. We are well aware that broadcasting the NWSL games on YouTube pretty much shows the same – although Fox Soccer’s deal is getting better and better with the NWSL -, but at least, we can watch top quality women’s soccer games wherever we are – and thank you for this, really. 22,000 people in the stands for OLvPSG is a record. Most of the time, the stands are empty – and if it’s on TV, you can hear everything that’s going on on the field, which is quite funny but also quite sad. We need more consideration to get sponsors attention. We are not talking about the women’s performances: they play well and they want to show that they deserve it, but about media coverage, league attention and clubs financial investment. Here is another example: before the humiliation, the rematch between OL and PSG was set to be played at the Parc des Princes, the prestigious men’s field which is rarely given to the women. After last Sunday, people were not that sure anymore. They could play the game in their historical stadium, the smaller and less famous Stade Charléty. Fortunatly, it has been later confirmed that they would play at the Parc des Princes. But think about it: when the PSG men’s counterpart played one of their laziest game this year against Manchester United for the Champions League quarter final, nobody thought about making them play elsewhere than the Parc des Princes. And Charléty was just out of question. You would never see this for a men’s team. Not such a punition.
If we want to make things change in a better way for women’s soccer in France, we have to make an effort. A global effort. From the league – because it’s one of the best starting point if you want to star in the national team -. But also from school. Here in France, going to college is mostly free. So we don’t care about collegial sports. When I was attending college, I did not even know if my university – one of the biggest in Paris – had a soccer team. And guess what. I still don’t. We don’t fight for our colors. We don’t know much about women athlete, except in swimming, horse-riding, tennis, athletics and gymnastic. And you know what? Women’s soccer in France is still considered as a lesbian sport and guys are used to laugh at us when we say that we’re playing soccer. Making a change is urgent. Because otherwise, in a few years, we will mourn our league. It would turns into a boring and agonizing league where you know who’s gonna win. Every year. Every championship. It would look like an ashamed league that would spend every second remembering the “old good time when” PSG took on Tyresö and we had beautiful fights. And who will be left to watch?
At a time when women’s soccer is becoming more and more important and when the men’s soccer is getting more and more corrupted and less and less interesting to watch, we have to make things change. We have to realize how hazardous it is to have such a difference of levels in our league. And how it reveals our weakness. Because in 2019, we are hosting the FIFA Women’s World Cup. And nobody seems ready for this.
Last Sunday was a beautiful story for the OL. But we shed a little tear, hoping for better days.