Seeing is believing for France captain Wendie Renard
Wednesday, 27 July 2022
"It is important to believe in your dreams," says France captain Wendie Renard, as her generation continues to give young female footballers role models to aspire to.
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Back in her native Martinique, when France captain Wendie Renard told her schoolteachers that she wanted to become a professional footballer, she was left in no doubt as to what they thought. "I was told that it was impossible," she remembers. "That it wasn't a real job. That it didn't exist as a career choice."
Now 32, the imposing central defender has already made that seemingly impossible dream come true, and is aiming to add another major string to her bow as France take on Germany in the UEFA Women's EURO 2022 semi-finals. Les Bleues had never got beyond the last eight in the tournament before this campaign, but they are now in sight of the final and – more exciting still – a first major international trophy. More importantly, they are giving girls in France something to aspire to.
Renard did not have that kind of example when she was growing up on the Caribbean island of Martinique, one of France's overseas territories. She started playing football at seven with the boys, but saw very little women's football.
"Given that I am from Martinique, there was not much visibility," she explains. "I cannot cite any names of female players I looked up to because women's football wasn't being shown on TV, so it was hard to have a role model. I looked up to Ronaldinho, [Zinédine] Zidane, [Carles] Puyol, [Gerard] Piqué, [Sergio] Ramos and nowadays [Cristiano] Ronaldo. There were so many I admired, but the ones that really made me fall in love with football were Ronaldinho and Zidane."
While Renard had talent, her teachers perhaps understandably did not do too much to encourage her passion: female professional footballers were vanishingly rare in Europe at the time, and non-existent in Martinique. However, she followed her dream regardless, going for a trial at France's Clairefontaine academy at the age of 16 before being picked up by Lyon, with whom she has now won 15 French titles and eight editions of the UEFA Women's Champions League.
How does it feel to keep winning? "We tell ourselves that our dreams keep on coming true," Renard says. "My sweat and blood, and the sweat and blood of all of my team-mates, go into every campaign, so when you start a season with nothing and you end up with a trophy, there is nothing better.
"That is my motivation. That's what I am always aiming for. I am a competitor and every time I am on the pitch, I want to win. So, it doesn't matter what match it is. I want to win."
That desire has marked her performances at the Women's EURO; tidy at the back, her extraordinary height ensures she is a dangerous presence at the other end of the pitch too. Having won the Women's Champions League with Lyon this season, she can become one of a select band to have taken the top continental club and national-team honours in the same summer, and her ability to handle pressure and motivate team-mates will be vital as her side take on Germany.
Crucially, she will also be giving a visible example to girls all across Europe that playing professional football is no longer a non-existent option. "Looking back on it today, I have a beautiful career," she says. "But at the age of eight, I never thought that I would have had this opportunity. But that's how it is. It is important to believe in your dreams because if we don't believe in ourselves, no one will ever believe in us."