France Football reaches boiling point ahead of Women’s World Cup: Le Graet, Diacre and everything else to know

This week is shaping up to be crucial for the French Football Federation (FFF) with president Noel Le Graet and France women’s national team head coach Corinne Diacre possibly on their way out. Le Graet was partially retired by his peers earlier this year after a bizarre show of disrespect towards national treasure Zinedine Zidane after forcing through Didier Deschamps’ contract extension while Diacre’s World Cup plans were thrown into disarray last week when a host of players followed captain Wendie Renard’s lead and withdrew from international duty. Tuesday is now expected to be a day of reckoning when the FFF’s executive committee meets to discuss the pair’s futures as well as the full-time presidency itself with Philippe Diallo only an interim figure for now. With sports minister Amelie Oudea Castera already hinting that a recent audit into the FFF will be bad news for the likes of Le Graet when the results go public, this could be a watershed week in French soccer.

We break it down for you.

What is going on?

Lots. Le Graet lost any remaining credibility and respect when he went on a staggering rant when asked about Zidane as a possible alternative to Deschamps in the days after he had forcibly renewed Les Bleus’ head coach after the run to the FIFA 2022 World Cup final in Qatar. That came after he was targeted in an audit of the FFF after waves of serious allegations of cover-ups of sexual misconduct and even abuse which has already cost director general Florence Hardouin her job for her role in the scandals. As for Diacre, things came to a head last week when Wendie Renard announced her immediate international retirement and was followed by the likes of Mary Antoinette Katoto and Kadidiatou Diani. The timing could not have been more perfect in terms of forcing the FFF’s hand and Olympique Lyonnais president Jean Michel Aulas, who could be a candidate for the FFF presidency given his executive role, has hinted that her position is considered untenable

Why is this happening now?

Although the situation probably comes across as a major blast of controversy, this has actually been brewing for months now. France’s relative success at the World Cup in reaching the final as defending champions before their loss to Lionel Messi’s Argentina covered up much of the wake of a series of damaging allegations which the FFF initially attempted to ride out despite Oudea-Castera’s public declarations until Le Graet totally lost the plot with his winding Zidane diatribe which turned the French soccer world against the 81-year-old and forced his removal for the good of the FFF image. 

“It was so inappropriate, so disrespectful, that you can only feel that is someone who is not 100 percent with his mind there,” Oudéa-Castéra said in an interview with The New York Times. Hardouin was also removed at the same time and has since been suspended and served with a letter of dismissal from her role.

“We have delivered our work on time and in accordance with the correct methods and in complete independence,” said Oudea Castera. “The general inspectorate has filed its conclusions and now it is up to the French soccer authorities. It is up to Noel Le Graet to do the right thing too. There is an executive committee meeting on Feb. 28 and I am confident that the authorities will take responsibility and find a quick solution to this crisis.”

“I am one of those closest to Noel Le Graet,” added Aulas. “I felt, even if it has cost him a lot, that the interests of the federation had to come before his own given his state of mind. The meeting is on Tuesday and it is up to him to speak. I think it would be wise for him to step back and to explain what is acceptable and what is not with regards to what he has been accused of.”

What about the Women’s World Cup?

Obviously, Diacre out would mean that Les Bleues would need a new boss and presumably institutional changes would be actioned which bring Renard, Katoto, Diani, and others back into the fold. That will be easier said than done, but it appears that Diacre leaving could be one major hurdle out of the way and that it would then be up to the FFF to identify a successor with current PSG Feminine boss Gerard Precheur an early frontrunner for the role. Such a decision could also be dictated by the next permanent president with Aulas’ strong links with the women’s game and a desire to create a fully professional French league of huge importance.

What next for the FFF?

The federation will either continue with Diallo as interim president for a while longer before designating a permanent replacement or he will take over the role himself which would end any of Aulas’ potential ambitions as well as those of RC Strasbourg Alsace supremo Marc Keller who has long been considered the most likely to succeed Le Graet. Perhaps the fact that the man from Alsace was Le Graet’s preferred succession candidate will ultimately count against him if he and Aulas both run given that the OL chief has been a pillar of the domestic game spanning decades. In any case, things are not quite so advanced and the FFF must take a stance on the findings of the audit which Oudea Castera has hinted are highly unfavorable.

What about Aulas and Lyon?

True, any potential presidency for both Aulas and Keller would require either one to step away from their day-to-day roles with Lyon and Strasbourg respectively. OL have recently been taken over by American John Textor while Racing were recently linked with Todd Boehly’s Chelsea. However, despite Keller’s assumed role as Le Graet’s heir, Aulas’ accumulated respect and influence could see him get the job. The architect of OL’s dominant run in the early 2000s has made it his personal mission to ensure that the women’s game becomes fully professional and would presumably prioritize that if he takes office.

“I will devote all of my strength towards the creation of a professional women’s league and its administration,” he said. “I do not want to see the women’s game falling behind its European competitors who have made great progress. Philippe (Diallo) must be able to assume those sorts of responsibilities. There will surely be interesting solutions to the presidency. When we see how the French team has been managed, it is not comparable with other major European sides. I know that we have the best players on the continent — maybe even the world — yet we cannot get the results.

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