Women’s Soccer United caught up with Wendie Renard, captain of France and Olympique Lyonnais, during this year’s Algarve Cup.
Still just 24 years of age, one might think that Wendie Renard’s professional football career was only just beginning, yet nothing could be further from the truth. Since breaking into the first team at Olympique Lyonnais in 2006/07, the gifted defender has already won two UEFA Women’s Champions Leagues, eight consecutive Ligue 1 titles and four French Cups, all the while working her way to 63 senior caps for Les Bleues and a firm grip on the captain’s armband for club and country.
Dominant in one-on-one situations, powerful in the air, good on the ball and with an enviable eye for goal – evidenced by no fewer than 16 international strikes – Renard was hailed by Patrice Lair, her coach at Lyon between 2010 and 2014, as “the best central defender in France, by some distance”. During France’s run to the final of the annual Algarve Cup, and with the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada fast approaching, Renard made time for an exclusive interview with Women’s Soccer United.
Women’s Soccer United: Is the Algarve Cup a kind of dress rehearsal for the World Cup, which starts on 6th June in Canada?
Wendie Renard: Yes, that’s right, for me it’s a kind of mini-World Cup, especially since the best national teams are here. It’s a chance to train, play a series of matches, and see how things are looking ahead of the World Cup.
WSU: When you look at the other teams that were in your group at the Algarve Cup [Denmark, Japan and Portugal], the feeling beforehand was that Japan would be most likely to cause you problems…
WR: You might think that, but it was Denmark who knocked us out in the last EURO [Editor’s note: at EURO 2013, Denmark beat France in the quarter-finals, on penalties]. Their team’s getting better. You can’t dismiss Portugal either, who have beaten Switzerland twice recently. These nations need to be taken seriously. But of our three opponents, Japan were the most highly ranked. They have a great national team, which has already won one World Cup, so of course they had to be taken seriously. You must always respect the opposition, so we prepared in the same way for Denmark, Portugal and Japan. [Editor’s note: France beat Portugal 1-0, Denmark 4-1 and Japan 3-1, before losing 2-0 in the final to USA]
WSU: Despite the fact that the margin between national teams is growing ever narrower, you sailed through the European qualifiers for the World Cup. In fact, many people see you as serious contenders for the title. Do you share this view?
WR: Yes, it’s true that, if you look at our most recent performances, people see us as among favourites to win this World Cup. France have to go over to Canada aiming high. In recent years, we’ve often finished fourth in the major international tournaments and we want to do something about that, because finishing fourth is very painful. Now we must continue to work hard and stay humble, because when you look at the nations who have won previous titles we are a long way from having their pedigree. Having said that, we will do our utmost to go as far as possible.
WSU: Let’s take a quick look back at the friendly against USA on 8th February in Lorient, Brittany [France won 2-0]. How do you interpret this victory?
WR: We prepared in the best possible way for this match, by working hard and taking it very seriously. You could see that on the pitch. We started well, we were able to impose our game, score goals and not concede any, which is always nice. Afterwards we were very pleased with our performance but when all’s said and done it was a friendly. It’s something we need to be able to recreate if we play USA in the World Cup.
WSU: Canada is a French-speaking country, so are you hoping for a lot of support from the spectators or have you no idea what to expect?
WR: Yes, we can expect a fair amount of support because a lot of French people live in Canada. It’s a place where French people enjoy living. But even if we don’t have any supporters in the stadium, I know that back in France the whole country will be behind us, and our families too. We’ll do everything we can not to let them down, play our best game and go as far as possible.
WSU: The other teams in your group for Canada 2015 are England, Colombia and Mexico. Have you already started to focus on each of these opponents?
WR: Not yet, no, because we’re in the middle of a competition, but the coaching staff have already started to think about this, as the World Cup is our most important tournament. Our first match is against England and we’ll be aiming to pick up some points as early as possible. But everything in its own time: we’re playing in the Algarve Cup now, but the World Cup is in the corner of our minds. We think about it every day and it’ll come around quickly. Of course, the staff already have information about those nations and they will pass it on to us when the time comes.
WSU: When you say that the World Cup is in the corner of your minds, it makes me think of the Christmas speech made by Le Graët [President of the French Football Federation], who recently said that France’s objectives for the World Cup had not yet been set. We want to believe him, but with regard to Les Bleues’ performances both in the qualifiers and against USA in Lorient, it’s hard to believe that France are not aiming for at least a place in the Final, isn’t it?
WR: Yes, especially since, like I said before, we’ve finished fourth twice recently [at the Women’s World Cup Germany 2011 and the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament 2012]. We don’t want the same outcome again, so we’ll do everything we can to go as far as possible. When you’re competitive, your goal is to play in the Final and win it. But, like I said, you have to stay humble, work hard and take each stage as it comes. There’s no point in imagining yourselves in the Final when you haven’t even played the group stages, the quarter-finals and so on. The French team will have big ambitions, that’s a given, because none of us want to finish fourth again. But we won’t be telling ourselves that we’re going to reach the Final and win because that would be overconfidence, even if it’s something we all dream of doing.
WSU: It would be even more of a dream given that you will celebrate your 25th birthday just a few days after the World Cup Final…
WR: Yes, it would be fantastic, for sure. If I got that amazing gift, I would be the happiest girl alive. But we’re not there yet!
Interview by Christophe Huette, translation by Janet Aitken & Jennifer Arpin-Pont