Azby-de-la-Zouch… or is it Achbee? Asby? The hardest part so far for the French players since arriving in England on Monday for Women’s Euro 2022 has been trying to correctly pronounce the name of the small village where they are staying for the duration of their participation in the tournament. The second part, “de-la-Zouch” is easy and even sounds almost French, as if it were fate. The first part, however, is tricky!
In any case, Ashby-de-la-Zouch is the little corner of paradise when The Blues landed. It’s quiet, green, spacious and exactly what manager Corinne Deacon wanted for her players. If, like most people around the world, you don’t know where ADLZ is (to put it simply), it’s not far from Birmingham and for now, the French camp is a happy camp!
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Happiness has not always been the atmosphere that has prevailed around the French women’s team since Deacon took the job in 2017. Tensions between the head coach and his players have been pretty much present since his first day. But at the moment, there are more smiles all around France HQ than grimaces, which Deacon had to prioritize to enter the Euros. How long this harmony will last remains to be seen, but the mood is more harmonious than it has been in the past five years.
Deacon strives to change; she is more relaxed and less authoritarian. The long walks and discussions she shared last summer with her agent Jean-Pierre Bernès (who is also Didier Deschamps’ agent, by the way) were of great help. She had to understand that she had to change to succeed in this role, and the fact that she decided to give the captain’s armband back to Wendie Renard (31, 131 selections) illustrates her attempts at reform. After taking her away from the Lyon defender to impose her authority on the group, Deacon realized her mistake and her U-turn was the right decision to make.
Deacon also ruled out players she didn’t get on well with or disliked – namely midfielder Amandine Henry or striker Eugénie Le Sommer – which is another reason why the atmosphere is better. Everyone is now pulling in the same direction.
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France have never passed the quarter-finals of a Euro before, and this stage has been their ceiling for some time now in major competitions: the last time they went further was a while ago. ten years, when she finished fourth in the 2011 World Cup and fourth in the following year at the Olympics. Yet they arrive at the Euros having lost just one of their last 30 matches since losing to the United States at the 2019 World Cup in Paris. (Yes, that loss was a quarter-final.)
In 2022, they are confident and dynamic. In Marie-Antoinette Katoto, they have an exceptional goalscorer up front and at just 23, the PSG striker may be one of the stars of the tournament. They have a mix of youth and experience and wonderful individual talents (Sakina Karchaoui in defence, Grace Gyoro in midfield, Kadidiatou Diani and Delphine Cascarino up front) and to maximize that potential they need to form a happy side and harmonious.
The French have not yet been in England for a week, but they already feel at home. “We have everything here to be happy here, it’s perfect,” one of the players told ESPN. They have a large entertainment room, which they very kindly call the “living room”, where they spend a lot of time. There they watched England take on Austria and were so impressed with the atmosphere at Old Trafford. They also followed Germany’s 4-0 destruction of Denmark, with encouragement for Sara Dabritz: some of the girls used to play with her at PSG last season, and she will be a new teammate for others when she completes her move to Lyon. after the euro!
The team has also taken advantage of the other entertainment options: video games, table tennis tournaments and billiards available to them, but the biggest attraction of all so far is undoubtedly the basketball arcade game. . You hear screaming, laughing, arguing and joking all the time there as they try to beat each other’s high scores! PSG midfielder Gyoro claims she is the best and although many team-mates disagree, of course friendly competitions help to build that team spirit.
All around the camp you can also find large framed photos of the team: The Blues are everywhere. On the door of each player’s room, all spacious and comfortable, there is the player’s name and photo. Each player room has a bed, a desk, a large bathroom and a wardrobe. Some, like defender Eve Perisset, brought part of their schoolwork: the future Chelsea defender is following a course as a real estate agent and must study! There are also popular rooms – some players like to hang out in Katoto’s room, listen to music, or just talk – but it’s very much like a united team. For now, anyway.
The first group match against Italy on Sunday in Rotherham must validate all the good vibes that emerge from the French camp in the first days of his stay in England. Otherwise, the ghosts of the past could very quickly come back to haunt France and curb their ambitions.