French captain Wendie Renard announced that she was 'stepping back' from international football on Friday. The 32-year-old center back has been an icon on the women's national team for years, but now will not compete in the upcoming 2023 Women's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. Renard issued a statement on her social media referring to the current state of the team.
"I defended the blue, white, and red shirt 142 times with passion, respect, commitment, and professionalism. I love France more than anything. I am not perfect -- far from it -- but I can no longer support the current system," wrote Renard.
"Not to mention the requirements at the highest level. It is a sad, although necessary, day in order to preserve my mental wellbeing. It is with a heavy heart that I inform you with this message that I am stepping back from the French national team. Unfortunately, I will not participate in a World Cup under these conditions. My face can hide the pain, but my heart is hurting. I do not want to be in pain any longer. Thank you for your support and respecting my decision."
Renard's farewell is just the latest player departure for the France women's national team under manager Corrine Diarce who has been in charge of the team since 2017. Several players have attempted to speak out on conditions within the team culture, and players have either stepped away from the team or have suddenly been omitted from rosters following public comments. Despite the constant occurrence of player walk-outs and tournament eliminations, France Football and President Noël Le Graët, who was himself forced to step down after comments directed at Zinedine Zidane, continued to support Diarce remaining in charge.
Veteran players that have either been turned into outcasts or walked away from the team due to the current conditions include midfielders Gaëtane Thiney and Amandine Henry and forward Eugine LeSommer. Long-time goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi "paused" her national team career in 2020 and has not returned.
Other France national team players take similar action
National team players Kadidiatou Diani and Marie Antoinette Katoto posted to their personal social media accounts following the news of Renard's retirement.
Katoto, a 24-year-old forward on the team, was controversially left off the World Cup roster during the 2019 event held in France. She is Paris Saint-Germain's all-time leading scorer with 148 goals. Katoto has a strong case to crack the 2023 World Cup roster, but has also stated that she will step back from international duty momentarily.
"Our captain Wendie's words have led to my turn to speak about France's national team situation," wrote Katoto. "The events of 2019, the injury of 2022, and recent events have shown me that I am no longer aligned with the French management and values passed on. I am therefore deciding to suspend my international career until the necessary changes are made."
A final wake up call for France Football
Renard released her autobiography "Mon Etoile" in 2020 and provided further details of the time Diacre stripped her of the captaincy with the national team in the early days of her first training camp with the team as the new coach. Renard explained that Diacre stated her play wasn't at an"international level" and the armband was just a starting point of a long, ongoing, poor relationship with Diacre that never improved.
Tension continued to escalate to a point where former Olympique Lyon manager Gérard Prêcheur told Coeurs de Foot in 2020, "The current relationship between Corinne Diacre and the players is very bad. It was the case before the World Cup, during the World Cup, and I can assure you that after Tournoi de France -- which had positive results, the relationship has not improved."
Current and former international teammates across the globe have expressed support for Renard's decision, including former Ballon d'Or winner and Lyon teammate Ada Hegerberg. Hegerberg recently made her return to Norway's national team after a five-year absence. She stepped away in 2017 after what she perceived as a lack of support for the women's team and the development of youth soccer in Norway.
She also refused a call to Norway's World Cup roster in 2019, but recently returned to the team in 2022 for the Euros after long discussions with Norway football president Lise Klaveness, a former Noway women's national team member. Hegerberg and the team are now preparing for the upcoming 2023 World Cup.
"How long will we have to go through these lengths for us to be respected?" Hegerberg wrote. "I'm with you, Wendie, and with everybody else going through the same processes. Time to act."
After 142 appearances with the national team, Renard is now stepping away, five months ahead of a World Cup. She is one the most accomplished players in the history of women's soccer with eight Champions League trophies and 14 French league titles with Lyon. What began as a window of promise with talented players back in 2017 is now slammed shut with Renard's departure, and France Football needs to address the concerns of player wellness and performance beginning with Diacre.