Herve Renard: From Saudi Arabia men's coach to France women's coach in four months

France's coach Herve Renard reacts during the Australia and New Zealand 2023 Women's World Cup Group F football match between Panama and France at Sydney Football Stadium in Sydney on August 2, 2023

Herve Renard has had a quick turnaround from his last job managing the Saudi men’s side – Getty Images/Franck Fife

Standing in his untucked, long-sleeved white shirt, arms behind his back and a reflective expression on his face, France manager Herve Renard gives off a calm vibe that is at odds with the chaotic nature of the nine-goal thriller playing out in front of him in Sydney.

Yet, as the coach who oversaw one of the biggest World Cup shocks of all time when Saudi Arabia beat Argentina at the men’s World Cup last November, he is well-accustomed to major-tournament drama.

He barely even reacts when Panama, ranked 52nd in the world, take a surprise second-minute lead as Marta Cox curls in a stunning free-kick that, theoretically, could have knocked his team out. He is similarly unmoved as France respond to race into a 3-1 lead. His biggest reaction comes as France go 4-1 up on the stroke of half-time – he starts to clap and makes a rare foray to the edge of his technical area to slap goalscorer Lea Le Garrec’s hand in celebration.

When the final whistle blows, with France winning 6-3 to top Group F and reach the last 16,

54-year-old Renard becomes the first manager to oversee a victory in both the men’s and women’s World Cups. It also marks the first time the team he has coached has progressed to the knockout stages, following group-stage exits with Morocco’s men in 2018 and Saudi Arabia in 2022.

Born in the foothills of the Alps, Renard is an experienced manager who used to be in charge of Cambridge United. He has also won the Africa Cup of Nations twice as a coach – first with Zambia in 2012 and then the Ivory Coast in 2015 – but the challenge of trying to guide France to their first major trophy is arguably his steepest one.

Despite their qualification to the last 16 and the six goals scored, he was dissatisfied with the display. He had rested several key players after their win over Brazil and said: “What I saw this evening wasn’t good enough.

“In the second half, the girls weren’t playing as they should have been playing. [Some of them] need to work a little bit harder and pull their socks up. We were 5-1 up, the game was in the bag – all my leaders were sitting on the bench. It will show the younger girls, you need to play to the very end.”

He has only been working with this squad since the end of March but he has been quick to make an impact after replacing Corinne Diacre, whose tenure ended in disarray as Wendie Renard, Marie-Antoinette Katoto and Kadidiatou Diani all went public with their refusal to play under her.

Diani hit a hat-trick on Wednesday and the mood in the camp appears transformed. Le Garrec, who was left out of the France side for more than five years under Diacre, said simply: “I am here because of him [Renard]. He has confidence in me, he trusts me. Even if sometimes he is hard on me, I want to play for him.”

Herve Renard, Head Coach of Saudi Arabia, gives their team instructions during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group C match between Argentina and Saudi Arabia at Lusail Stadium on November 22, 2022 in Lusail City, Qatar

Renard took charge of the Saudi men’s team during the Qatar World Cup – Getty Images/Hector Vivas

Despite how calm and composed Renard appears on the touchline, he is not always that way. His rousing half-time speech as Saudi Arabia manager seemed to inspire his team to stun Lionel Messi and co in Qatar, and he was at it again last week with another stirring dressing-room monologue, this time before France’s win over Brazil.

But he is here with a clear aim: to win. As he looks ahead to the knockout stages, he concludes: “This is the real competition that’s starting now, this is the do-or-die, the knockout stages. We know what we want, we know what we’ve come for. Now let’s go and find it, all of us together.”

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