Hervé Renard Set to Coach France at Women’s World Cup

PARIS — Hervé Renard, a French coach with vast experience in international soccer but none leading a women’s team, was set to be hired to lead a France squad that will be among the favorites at the Women’s World Cup in July.

France is expected to announce Renard’s hiring by the end of the week, just over two weeks after the country’s soccer federation fired its longtime women’s coach, Corinne Diacre, in the face of player revolt.

Renard, 54, most recently coached Saudi Arabia’s men’s team but announced his departure on Tuesday, hours after the Saudi soccer federation said it had agreed to a French federation request to end his contract immediately.

The French soccer federation made no announcement that it had hired Renard, but the Saudi federation’s president, Yasser Al-Misehal, essentially confirmed a deal was in the works when he told a Saudi sports channel on Tuesday night that Renard had been offered the France post and that the coach “expressed his desire to take this opportunity.”

Renard’s arrival could be a welcome breath of fresh air for Les Bleues, as the French women’s team is known, but also for the embattled French federation, which will be eager for a fresh start after a leadership change as well as a series of internal conflicts that were threatening to tear apart its star-studded and trophy-chasing women’s team.

Time is short: France’s players will have only a matter of months, and a handful of exhibition games, to adapt to Renard before they run out for their Women’s World Cup opener against Jamaica on July 23 in Sydney, Australia.

But Renard also will have only a short window to persuade his players that he can adapt his style to them, and to the women’s game. While he has decades of coaching experience in multiple countries, he has not previously coached women at the professional or international level. At least one prominent player agent said that would not be a problem.

“As someone who’s known for leading men, I’m sure he’ll have no problem leading women,” Sonia Souid, an agent who represents several players on the French women’s team, said in an interview last week. Souid suggested that Renard’s transition could be seamless as long as he can make the players believe they can succeed.

“The real challenge is that Renard will be expected to have immediate results,” she said. “That’s difficult for any coach.”

Renard’s most immediate task will be to heal the wounds of a “fractured” group, as the federation called its women’s team in the communiqué that announced Diacre’s departure. Fissures between Diacre and some of her best players broke for good in February, when several top players, including the team captain Wendie Renard and the Paris-St.-Germain star Marie-Antoinette Katoto, announced that they would leave the team and refuse future calls to international duty amid disagreements with the management of Diacre, which they denounced as “nowhere near top-level requirements.”

Wendie Renard announced on social media that she had chosen to prioritize her “mental health” by quitting the French team. Two weeks later, Diacre was fired.

Hervé Renard has a reputation as an itinerant leader who extracts results from his players and then moves on. He has never stayed more than four years on the same coaching bench in a career that has taken him to Africa, the Middle East, England’s fourth division, France’s Ligue 1 and to local teams in the Algerian and Vietnamese championships.

Sharp-jawed and favoring crisp white dress shirts on the sideline, Renard attracted attention and headlines during last year’s World Cup in Qatar, where he led an unheralded Saudi Arabia team stocked with domestic-based players to a stunning group-stage victory over Argentina.

A video of an impassioned speech he delivered to his players at halftime of that game racked up millions of views on social media, but also offered a glimpse into both his methods, his passion and his no-nonsense coaching style.

His first look at his new team could come within days: France will gather for a training camp next week ahead of a set of friendly matches against Colombia and Canada in early April.

As he prepares for the World Cup, Renard will have to work quickly to merge a new generation of talents like Katoto with an older group of players whose international careers came to an abrupt end under Diacre. That latter group includes not only Renard and goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi but also midfielder Amandine Henry, who remains a mainstay of the French powerhouse Olympique Lyonnais Féminin at the age of 33. Henry has not played for France in more than two years, and was left off the national team’s roster by Diacre for last summer’s European Championship in England.

That tournament, like so many others, ended in disappointment and frustration for France. Despite its talent, it has never reached the final of a major championship like the World Cup or the Euros or claimed an Olympic medal in its 50 years of existence.

Tariq Panja contributed reporting.