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Sunday, May 19, 2024

‘It’s not just money that counts’: Paris FC boss Soubeyrand plots another Champions League shock

At the top of a whiteboard, underneath the Paris FC crest, lies a handwritten quote in blue ink.

In French, it reads: “Those who play for themselves play for their opponents. Those who play for others play for themselves.”

“It’s a quote that inspires me; how I see football and team sport,” says Paris FC manager Sandrine Soubeyrand, who cites Pep Guardiola and Diego Simeone as her coaching role models.

Born in the 1970s, Soubeyrand grew up idolising France midfielder and three-time Ballon d’Or winner Michel Platini, as well as the Euro 84-winning France team he starred in, and has now been involved in the game for over 30 years.

She always knew she wanted to be a coach and, after her 16-year international career came to an end, Soubeyrand transitioned into management straight away, leading France Women Under-17s for three years before moving to Paris FC in 2017.

“Football is my passion,” says Soubeyrand, who is still France’s most-capped player with 198. “As a footballer, I liked finding solutions to counter teams, to push myself to new levels. I’m lucky to have my profession as my passion. I enjoy getting up every morning to pass on what I learned as a player, and now as a coach, to help my team.”

Soubeyrand speaks to The Athletic

Another of Soubeyrand’s passions is American sports, especially the NFL. She is intrigued by their performance models, large staffing and philosophies. Her team-focused approach came to fruition when Paris FC, debutants in the Champions League, knocked out European heavyweights Arsenal and Wolfsburg in the summer.

“It was a great feeling of pride and joy,” the 50-year-old says. “We experienced emotions we’ve never experienced before.”

But when Paris FC were drawn with Real Madrid, Chelsea and Hacken for the group stage, there was, in her words, “a desire to be very ambitious but an awareness that it was going to be difficult”.

On the left of Soubeyrand’s whiteboard, laid out in formation, are the players available for selection; adjacent to that is the week’s timetable: meetings, training schedule, video analysis, operational logistics. “That’s how to get into position when we’re playing traditional weeks,” she says. Although since Paris FC have qualified for the Champions League, they have had to grow accustomed to an increase in schedule intensity.

“There is no longer a classic week,” chuckles Soubeyrand. “It’s no longer Monday, Tuesday… in fact, there aren’t any days of the week anymore. We just talk in terms of matchday minus one, minus two, plus one and so on.”

Paris FC, who sit third on seven points in Group D, must beat visiting leaders Chelsea tonight (Tuesday) and hope Hacken fail to win away against last-placed Real Madrid in the group’s other match this evening to advance to the quarter-finals (Women’s Champions League games are available to watch live on DAZN).

It is a tall order, especially considering their 4-1 defeat to Emma Hayes’ side in November in which Sam Kerr ran riot, scoring a sensational hat-trick.

Kerr’s absence — sidelined for the rest of the season with an ACL knee injury — comes as a relief for Paris FC, who will tweak their game plan accordingly.

Scribbled on the right of Soubeyrand’s whiteboard are three reminders for analysing opponents: the quality of each player’s first touch, the intensity of their passes and runs, and their attitude in transition when they lose or win the ball. Chelsea have plenty of players who excel in those areas and Soubeyrand is fully aware of their strength as a team, coupled with individuals such as Lauren James, Guro Reiten and Erin Cuthbert, who can “unlock situations”.

Paris FC beat Arsenal and Wolfsburg to reach the group stage (Cathrin Mueller/Getty Images)

Such Champions League experience is invaluable for Paris FC, who lie third in Division 1, six points behind city neighbours Paris Saint-Germain and 14 adrift of leaders Lyon. They narrowly lost 2-1 to PSG in December and 1-0 to Lyon three weeks ago, but the perennial question is how to close the gap on their domestic rivals who have significantly larger budgets and resources — Paris FC work with €2.5million ($2.7m; £2.2m), 10.4 per cent of the club’s global budget of €24m, whereas Lyon dedicate around €15m to their women’s teams and PSG are in a similar ballpark.

“By trying, by winning, by taking part regularly in the Champions League, first of all,” Soubeyrand says.

“It allows us to raise our game and gain experience and maturity, but also attract players of a higher standard. We have to keep working. We’re not working on the same project but they’re the driving forces that should make us want to keep progressing to try and unsettle them.”

Soubeyrand points to parallels in English football’s Women’s Super League, asking how Aston Villa compete with the financial clout and squad depth of Chelsea and Arsenal. “The model is different, but that doesn’t mean we can’t exist,” she says. “You have to develop your team, have strategies for recruiting in areas where you’re not competing.”

Paris FC focus on their youth programme and scout intelligently from within the French game and age-group leagues abroad, as opposed to making big international signings with hefty salaries.

“That is what is motivating because it’s not just the money that counts,” Soubeyrand says. “Obviously, it saves time. We don’t have the same players, we don’t have the same project, but we can flourish, even if we’re not Lyon or PSG.”

(Top photo: Cathrin Mueller/Getty Images)

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