Winning coach

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Winning coach


Winning coach

When the final whistle sounded in Llanelli, Gilles Eyquem's first reaction was to embrace his team manager Erny Jacky, his assistant coach Sandrine Ringler, his bubbling goalkeeper coach Sandrine Roux and the rest of his back-room team.

He was well aware of the importance of his support staff, having spent a decade or so performing the role of second-in-command to the coaches of France's age-limit sides in the men's game. This had entailed close collaboration with Philippe Bergeroo who, as it happened, was named the new head coach of the senior women's team a few weeks before Eyquem led his squad to Wales.

Eyquem had been invited to take over the women's Under-19s in August 2012 – which meant that the final at Parc y Scarlets was only his 16th game in charge of the group. "This has been my debut in women's football," he admitted, "and I was surprised by the quality of the opposition we met in the elite round of qualifying. I also learned quickly about the levels of risk-management among our opponents – probably because there are high degrees of respect for the French team."

A newcomer to women's football, maybe. But no novice in terms of experience. Eyquem's playing career as a defender had taken him to the footballing outposts of Bordeaux, Guingamp, Cannes, Niort, Angers and ultimately Cherbourg, where he made his first steps in coaching in the 1991/92 season. He then had eight years at Agen before stepping up from regional responsibilities into the coaching staff at the French Football Federation (FFF).

His challenge upon taking the WU19 job was to repeat the 2010 UEFA European Women's U19 Championship victory (over England) achieved by Jean-Michel Degrange and to encourage members of the squad that had won the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup under Guy Ferrier to scale further rungs on the ladder.

"My main selection criteria," he said, "were technique and attitude. We were strong on competitive spirit because the World Cup generation had the winning habit and knew what it takes to win titles. But even they were surprised by the difference in tempo and the physical demands at Under-19 level.


The victorious team take a stroll on the beach

"The World Cup girls didn't join the rest of the squad until January 2013, so before travelling to Wales I got a group of 25 together for an 11-day training camp in a similar climate in Brittany. For the last three days I worked with 19 players – the squad, plus an extra keeper because of injury worries. We trained twice a day and I realised that I had been working them very hard – to the extent that some were carrying minor strains and niggles. But it stood them in good stead for a demanding tournament schedule."

His experience with men's under-age sides stood Eyquem in good stead in terms of managing the WU19 group with skill, wisdom and a degree of elegance – mixing the hard work with relaxing use of leisure time, taking them out to eat or visiting the cinema to break the routine. His team selections, substitutions and positional permutations proved to be as effective as his tactical approach to the key knockout games against Germany and England.

To lift the UEFA trophy in Wales was undoubtedly a great personal satisfaction for the 54-year-old debutant in women's football. For Gilles, however, the greater satisfaction is passing on to his friend and colleague Bergeroo a generation of winners which augurs well for the future of France's senior squad.