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France coach Diacre under pressure as tensions grow ahead of Women's World Cup
The Women's World Cup is just a few months away but France's preparations for the showpiece in Australia and New Zealand are in disarray after a revolt by leading players piled pressure on coach Corinne Diacre.
On Thursday, the French Football Federation -– itself in crisis following the resignation of its scandal-hit president Noel Le Graet –- will meet to discuss Diacre's position.
Diacre has been in charge since 2017 but there is a strong feeling her position has become untenable after some of the team's biggest stars said they would no longer play for the current coach.
Captain Wendie Renard of Lyon announced last month she would not go to the World Cup.
"I can no longer support the current system which falls a long way short of the demands required to compete at the highest level," said defender Renard, who has 142 caps.
Paris Saint-Germain forward Kadidiatou Diani, who like Renard was nominated for last year's Ballon d'Or, followed suit along with her PSG teammate Marie-Antoinette Katoto.
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"We have reached a point of no going back. The girls just can't cope with it any more," Diani told broadcaster TF1 last weekend before adding she would be willing to return "if the necessary major changes finally arrive".
Diacre hit back on Wednesday, saying in a statement to AFP that she had been the victim of a "disgraceful media outburst" and that she was "completely determined to carry out my job and, above all, to do France proud at the next World Cup".
The French federation (FFF) therefore must decide between backing the coach or listening to the players.
There are comparisons to be drawn with Spain's national women's team, who were plunged into crisis last September when 15 players resigned en masse, calling for major changes.
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The Spanish Football Federation backed coach Jorge Vilda and none of the rebels have featured since.
In France, however, it seems player power will win out.
"We have the best players in Europe, maybe the world, and we are not getting results. With the World Cup and the Paris Olympics coming up, we need to closely look at the situation and take decisions," Jean-Michel Aulas, president of Lyon and a key figure at the FFF, told sports daily L'Equipe.
"The Federation cannot do nothing after the message delivered by the best French players."
Diacre, 48, has an admirable CV, from winning 121 caps to a groundbreaking three-year spell in charge of men's team Clermont in the French second division.
But she has been a divisive figure as France coach, from the moment she stripped Renard of the captaincy early in her reign.
Another Lyon star, midfielder Amandine Henry, skippered the team at the 2019 World Cup on home soil, but has been out of the picture since late 2020.
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In a television interview Henry described the atmosphere at the World Cup, in which France lost to the USA in the quarter-finals, as "total chaos" and added that "some of the girls don't dare speak out because they are afraid" of Diacre.
France, the beaten semi-finalists at last year's Euro, have at international level been unable to capitalise on Lyon's success at club level.
Lyon won the Champions League last season for a record eighth time but there are concerns that the French club game -– where the talk now is of a professional league finally being launched –- will soon be left behind by the rest of Europe.
"Last year, OL's victory in the Champions League detracted from the bigger picture," said Lyon coach Sonia Bompastor.
"I have been warning everyone for a while about the growing challenge coming from Spain, Italy and England. There will come a time when we can't keep up if we don't react."
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France are ranked fifth in the world, in between European champions England and Olympic champions Canada, another team in crisis.
The Canadians recently threatened to strike in a row over pay, funding and contractual issues, demanding the same terms as the men's team. The dispute led to the president of Canada Soccer resigning.
France begin their World Cup campaign against Jamaica in Sydney on July 23.
It appears likely they will do so with a new coach in charge.