Superficially, there were similarities between the two benches at the Stadio Città del Tricolore. Gérard Prêcheur and Ralf Kellermann observed the proceedings with outward calm. Vigorous gesturing and histrionics were conspicuous by their absence. Yet, in professional terms, there were marked contrasts between the two coaches.
Kellermann, a former goalkeeper, had been on the VfL Wolfsburg bench for eight years and, in 2015, had been handed the FIFA Women’s World Coach of the Year award by Ottmar Hitzfeld at the high-profile gala in Zurich. Prêcheur, a midfielder from the second tier of French league football, had taken the baton from Patrice Lair in 2014 and led Olympique Lyonnais to Reggio Emilia on the back of two successive league and cup doubles.
Previously, however, he had played more academic roles as director of the French national association’s training centre at Clairefontaine with the development of women’s football among his responsibilities, along with scouting missions for the national teams. “I came back into everyday coaching two years ago,” he said after the final in Italy, “and I know how demanding it is. You have to invest all your energy in the job and that is why, on a professional level, the victory made me very happy. It meant that Gérard Prêcheur the man could say to Gérard Prêcheur the coach, ‘I am proud of what you did in that final and in the last two years with Lyon’.”
He took his team to Italy ten days after a hard-fought victory over Montpellier HSC in the final of the Coupe de France, when OL had fought back to win 2-1 after conceding an early goal. Prêcheur, as he had done in the two legs of the UEFA Women’s Champions League semi-final against Paris Saint-Germain, had opted for a 1-4-2-3-1 formation. “As a coach, you can rotate your squad but the coaching staff cannot take a break,” he said. “We watched Wolfsburg a lot and we prepared meticulously for the final.”
So too, of course, did Kellermann and his staff. “I regarded Lyon as the benchmark,” he confessed. “A team that plays football at the highest level in terms of technique, tactical awareness and athletic condition. They also had the advantage that, give or take a few exceptions, the team had been playing together for a long time. So the team mechanisms were well-oiled.”
Mutual respect and, in consequence, a degree of caution presided over the final. Prêcheur commented: “Wolfsburg’s strong suits are in their physical power and their attacking potential.
One of the keys will be to counter their ability to go long and to control the spaces behind our back line. Defensively, it will be our toughest game of the season.”
Prêcheur’s reference to his ‘back line’ rather than a ‘back four’ concealed his decision, after in-depth study of his opponents, to inject an additional centre-back and combat Wolfsburg’s power play with a 1-3-5-2 structure that afforded greater cover against direct attacking and a solid platform for controlled back-to-front combination play. “We organised our defensive play well,” he said after the final, “and, in general, my team worked perfectly in defence and attack. We managed to neutralise their four middle-to-front players and we had the match under control. Wolfsburg had very few chances to score but, in the 88th minute, they managed it. Their equaliser came after one pre-match instruction was forgotten. We could have spared ourselves all the drama if we had not done that and if we had scored a second goal. But the girls showed great mental strength and we were all extremely happy to have won it.”