Winning coach

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Winning coach

Winning coach: Gilles Eyquem
Gilles Eyquem celebrates France's semi-final win against Switzerland ©Sportsfile

Winning coach

Pedigree and experience was certainly not in short supply on the respective benches for the 2016 Women's European Under-19 Championship final. To the right sat – or invariably stood – Pedro López, winner of the 2015 UEFA Women's Under-17 Championship final and assistant of the senior Spanish team between 2011 and 2015. Appointed to the Under-19s in 2015, he was tasked with delivering a first triumph at this level since 2004, and to end the agony of back-to-back final defeats.

I was pretty much set on a 1-4-3-3 formation with two attacking midfielders behind the attacker, but we saw that this did not work very well during this tournament
France coach Gilles Eyquem on changing his approach

To the left was Gilles Eyquem. The last man to guide Les Bleuettes to glory in Wales in 2013, winning his first tournament at the helm of a group he inherited in August 2012, the triumphant final just his 16th game in charge.

While he was a newcomer to women's football then, the former Bordeaux, Guingamp, Cannes, Niort, Angers and Cherbourg defender, who took his first steps in coaching in the 1991/92 season and spent eight years at Agen before moving onto the coaching staff at the French Football Federation (FFF), has become something of an expert since: his 53rd game in charge consecrated a second title with his overall 44th win in Senec.


France celebrate in the Senec rain

Current France coach Philippe Bergeroo will have been the first to pass on his congratulations and compliments to a man he has sponsored on a successful path to two WU19 titles in four years, with the fruits of that labour sure to have an epilogue when the next FIFA Women's World Cup comes around – in France in 2019. "I worked with Philippe Bergeroo for ten years and I was inspired a lot by him," Eyquem said. "There is a continuity between us. I try to prepare players to be ready for the senior team.  The main aim is to prepare the players to go to that level."

Indeed, preparation was one of the leitmotifs of France's success in Slovakia. Hampered by two late cup finals on the domestic front which deprived him of "half of my squad", Eyquem could only get hands-on in May. "We've not had a great preparation since the Elite round," admitted the 57-year-old, who more than made up for lost time once in Slovakia. As technical observer Patricia González noted, they were finding their way and gradually getting better as the tournament progressed.

Eyquem concurred with that assessment, saying his players "kept improving during the tournament and their victory was well deserved even if Spain were also very good." It was in that final game that they hit their zenith. "I had believed in them all the way," Eyquem continued. "They deserved it. The football we played was pleasing on the eye and above all direct, which exalted the attacking potential of our team."


Eyquem turned things round after an opening defeat

A 1-0 defeat by Norway in their opening fixture in Zlaté Moravce provided no real suggestion of what was to come from France, though. It even baffled Eyquem, who admitted to feeling a certain degree of surprise at how much he had to adapt his team along the path to European glory. "I was pretty much set on a 1-4-3-3 formation with two attacking midfielders behind the attacker, but we saw that this did not work very well during this tournament," he said. "The 1-4-4-2 was more suitable and it is with this system that we were able to show our true athletic potential and to perform."

He nevertheless reverted back to that earlier approach for the semi-final win over Switzerland before switching for the second half, daringly suggesting he had "rested" some of his key players to create such an impact in the second 45 minutes. Given the contributions Perle Morroni and Clara Mateo made when called into the cause, he had two aces up his sleeve who ensured his strategy was spot on.

Finishing things off, the tournament's top-scorer Marie-Antoinette Katoto showed that she too can spring from the bench and make an impact, as her hat-trick against Slovakia proved. "She's a hugely talented player," Eyquem said. "She proved that again here. She's still very young, but she's already got great attributes. We're going to see her soon in the senior France team, at the highest level."

The same can surely be said of many more of Eyquem's title-winning group. "I think the potential is there," Eyquem said. "There's no need to rush things, which is what I often tell my players, you have to take each step as it comes and be in the best shape possible when that opportunity comes knocking. I think we need to let these talents express themselves, let them work with their respective clubs, and I can promise them a bright future." And that is a promise Eyquem will be delivering in person to Bergeroo, with French women's football in expert hands.