Born to be a role model
Article by Johanna Frändén for Aftonbladet
187 cm Wendie Renard has opened up for the West Indies - now she is going to lead all of France.
After the Euro 2013 fiasco they have torn down and built up, redone and made it right. The new France has kept the old stars, but the pressure on one of them has just gotten a little bit bigger. 23-year-old defender Wendie Renard has a CV that few footballers can boast about after an entire career already. Now she is going to take Les Bleues to their rightful heights as the team captain.
In the shadow of the Algarve Cup, France yesterday faced Australia in a Twelve Nations Tournament on Cyprus. The French parade event “worst when it counts” can seem a little unmotivated when one looks at the country’s historical football achievements lined up, but this summer it got new fuel when a thus far superior France got lost against Denmark in the quarterfinal in Euro 2013 in Sweden and lost on penalties.
Les Bleues got rid of manager Bruno Bini, the eternal team captain Sandrine Soubeyrand said her thanks at the age of 40, and Philippe Bergerôo took over the coaching job in one of the world’s most talented national teams.
Who took over the captain’s armband on the pitch?
Wendie Renard, 23 years old, and already seven-time French champion.
That Renard would play national team football was decided already in 1998 on the French island of Martinique in the West Indies, when she saw a match of the women’s national team on TV and explained to her mom, who had just been widowed after the passing of her father:
— Soon I am going to be playing in that jersey.
As a 14-year-old, Wendie Renard split her time between the handball- and football pitch, but around the same time she was “discovered” by the island’s football association who called her up to a talent development project.
— During a whole year she trained with boys, she was the only girl. Every Wednesday she played a match with them. Naturally, everyone did not think that it was a good idea, I had to convince many, says Jocelyn Germé, responsible for sports development on Martinique, who took Renard under his wings.
When the year was over, Wendie Renard wanted to go farther and so it had to be. Mainland France, in other words, and the football association’s educational centre in Clairefontaine outside of Paris.
And it was here that the fairytale about Wendie Renard could have ended.
— It was too cold, she summarized the adventure afterwards. The first few days on European ground went badly, the West Indies football culture had very little to do with the French and when Jocelyn Germé was reached by the reports, he did what he could. He called an acquaintance in Lyon and asked if they couldn’t take a look at the tall, 15-year-old from Martinique instead, before she got on a plane back to the West Indies.
Wendie Renard got a trial with Olympique Lyonnais and coach Farid Benstiti, now the coach for PSG’s women’s team, liked what he saw. So he gave Wendie Renard a contract and the plane ticket back to the West Indies archipelago went unused.
Half a year later, the 16-year-old central defender was a starter in what would become the 2000’s most successful women’s football team. She has not lost her place since, and four championship titles and the same amount of years later she made her debut for the French national team in 2011, where the then-manager Bruno Bini sastisfied established that the 20-year-old Lyon talent that he had long been keeping an eye on is “a monster”.
With Renard’s 1.87 metres above sea level and tactical maturity, it is easy to understand what he means.
But it was not until after the first World Cup tournament the same summer and a bit into the fall that Wendie Renard herself felt at home in her national team.
— On my part I first felt like a part of the French national team when we went on a training camp to the Antilles (in November 2011) and I scored my very first national team goal on Martinique, right in front of my mother on her birthday, says Renard.
Just like many male football stories have a supporting father in the background, Wendie Renard’s mother has played a decisive role in her daughter’s career.
When the Lyon-defender was asked to be the new captain last fall she first thought about herself for a moment, and then on the person that let her go on the adventure of her life at the age of just 15.
— The national team manager offered me the captain’s armband and gave me a few days to think about it, but the next day I had made my decision. I let my mother find out the news via the radio. She was touched. I called her a little later, she was really proud and I think she had been crying a little. Just eight years ago I was on Martinique with her, I was no one, now I am representing my country, says Renard.
From home, in Lyon, praise hails over Wendie Renard who was already team captain at her club when she was asked by the French national team.
— When young players have talent, but also maturity because they have not always had an easy life, they become like Wendie. She is a leader on and off the pitch, says Lyon President Jean-Michel Aulas.
Wendie Renard is 23 years old, with seven French league titles and two victories in the Champions League, on good way to being among the greatest in the sport.
— A fantastic header both defensively and offensively. She is comfortable with the ball and skilful one on one defensively. Incredibly professional in everything she does, on and off the pitch. In that sense she is exemplary as captain, says Lotta Schelin of her club teammate.
At home, Renard is already a celebrity.
— I am not surprised, she had enormous qualities already here, both mentally and morally. She has lead the way for all other young football players on Martinique, they now have a reason to believe that you can succeed by working hard, says Jocelyn Germé who continues to work with sports on the island, and continues:
— Wendie has never forgotten where she comes from. She often talks about the island, not least when she was named captain of the national team. For us here today, Wendie Renard is the image of Martinique.
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