A former international goalkeeper, Philippe Bergeroo was renowned for having a safe pair of hands during his playing days. Now the coach of France’s national women’s XI and mindful of the importance of his present role, he has continued to exhibit a steady hand, overseeing the rise of an ambitious and highly motivated side.
When asked about France’s successful FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015™ qualifying campaign, during which his charges recorded ten victories in as many matches and scored 54 goals while conceding just three, the Aquitaine native’s response was typically measured.
“There were three teams with a possibility of qualifying, although we were viewed as the favourites,” he told FIFA.com.
“We knew that the match in Austria would be tough, and that Finland were also a tricky proposition. There were weaker teams in the group, but we couldn't afford to drop points away from home, because qualification could have come down to goal difference.
“We were very keen to avoid the play-offs, which can be difficult, especially with a semi-final and final involved. In the end, the girls did what they had to do.”
Feet on the ground
The prime objective for Les Bleues was to then keep that momentum going, and the ex-Paris Saint-Germain supremo has helped his players to do just that, steering them to friendly wins over Brazil and Germany, and to a tight defeat at the hands of World Cup favourites United States.
“What’s important is to reduce the gap between us and the major footballing nations,” said Bergeroo, aware that the Official Draw for Canada 2015 is just around the corner.
“I want us to test ourselves against the best to see how far we’ve come. We’re getting there. We’re on the right track, but we need to keep our feet on the ground. Remember that France haven’t won anything yet,” he added.
The same cannot be said of their coach, who was Aime Jacquet’s assistant when the French men’s team lifted the 1998 FIFA World Cup on home soil, having previously reached the semi-final of the tournament at Mexico 1986, where he was the squad’s third ’keeper.
With the FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala approaching, he is therefore well placed to comment on the sometimes delicate relationship between goalkeepers and individual accolades.
“It’s very difficult to win the award when you’re a goalkeeper,” pointed out the Frenchman, conscious that Manuel Neuer appears alongside Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo on this year’s final three-man shortlist.
“We often see the negative aspects of goalkeeping – the goals they concede, the pivotal mistakes they make. But I saw a great German goalkeeper at the World Cup, who performed exceptionally well. And so I think it would be a tremendous boost for the position, which deserves to be regarded in a different light,” he noted.
In the women’s game, another German, Nadine Angerer, showed in 2013 that it was possible for someone wearing the No1 jersey to be designated the best player on the planet.
In being named FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year, she was able to negate the old cliché that states that goalkeepers are women’s football's greatest weakness. Bergeroo, though, does recognise that there is still progress to be made in that area.
“We have one or two excellent goalkeepers, but there’s no point in denying that at the back, things can get a bit tricky,” he admitted. “I think that we need to work more on scouting out good ’keepers, and most importantly, not pigeon-holing players as keepers right from the start.”
The former Bordeaux custodian’s experience ran contrary to that sort of premature labelling, having played rugby up to the age of 16, before getting into football by chance when he was called upon to replace an injured goalkeeper during a local match in Saint-Jean-de-Luz.
“We have to focus more on coordination with female players,” said Bergeroo. “Teaching them a couple of moves from another sport, for example. We don’t need to concentrate on specifics too much. The advice that I’d give to budding keepers is to first gain experience of other positions or even other sports. And once their coordination is at the right level, they can play in goals. That’s what’s missing right now: coordination.”