Corinne Diacre, a veteran coach facing a revolt by several of her best players only months before the Women’s World Cup, was fired Thursday as coach of France’s women’s soccer team. The move upended the preparations of one of the world’s best teams four months before women’s soccer showcase championship, but it could open a path for the return of several French stars who had said they would skip the tournament rather than play for Diacre.
The French soccer federation announced the change, saying an investigation it had commissioned had revealed “a very significant divide” between Diacre and her team. In recent weeks, at least three French players, including the star defender Wendie Renard, had announced they would skip this year’s World Cup because of concerns about the team’s leadership and atmosphere, an unspoken — but unmistakable — critique of Diacre.
The situation inside the team, the federation said Thursday, had deteriorated enough that leaving Diacre in her post was now actively harming France’s chances of success. “This fracture,” the federation said in a statement, “has reached a point of no return.”
Diacre’s firing came one day after she had complained that her critics were running a “smear campaign” against her and vowed to remain in charge of the team, and less than a week after she lost a powerful ally when Noël Le Graët, the powerful president of the French federation who had supported her, resigned after a report that was critical of his own management.
Diacre, who in 2014 had become the first woman to coach a professional men’s team in France, had led the women’s team since 2017. She led her team to the quarterfinals of the World Cup on home soil and to the semifinals of the European Championship in England last year. But her tenure also was marked by years of private and public disputes with some of her team’s best players — stars like Eugénie Le Sommer, Amandine Henry and Renard — and repeated complaints about her management style.
Known as a taskmaster with no patience for mistakes, dissent or defeat — “What we remember is the final result, and nothing else,” Diacre once said — she was viewed as a cold and ruthless force by some who played for her. She would drop players for not being fit enough, and cut others after they criticized her methods or her tactics. Henry, a star for France’s team for years, said she learned she had been cut from the World Cup roster in 2019 in a phone call from Diacre that lasted “14 or 15 seconds.”
But that driving style also had pushed players away, including several key members of Olympique Lyonnais Féminin, France’s dominant women’s team, and its top domestic rival Paris St.-Germain. The goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi, for example, has said she will not play for her country while Diacre is in charge, and last month Renard’s decision to skip the World Cup was quickly echoed by two of her teammates, Marie-Antoinette Katoto and Kadidiatou Diani.
“It is a sad day,” Renard wrote on social media when she announced she was out of the World Cup, “but necessary to preserve my mental health.”
The decision to drop Diacre as coach so soon before the World Cup could upend — or, in the view of Diacre’s critics, rescue — the preparations of one of the favorites in this summer’s championship. France will open the tournament against Jamaica on July 23, and then will play Brazil and Panama to complete the group stage.
The team’s next two games, among its final chances to get together before the World Cup kicks off in July, are a set of friendlies against Colombia and Canada in April.
France did not name a replacement for Diacre, but it did seem to issue a veiled warning to the team’s players.
“The way used by the players to express their criticisms will no longer be acceptable,” the federation statement said, adding that it planned to propose a change in the governance of the women’s team that would introduce new layer of oversight.