French sport is opening up to foreign technicians

“My mission is to really help, not to position myself as a ‘guru’ of the discipline. “ Modest, Jürgen Grobler. Presented last November 4 by the French Rowing Federation which has just recruited him as “High performance executive consultant”, the German coach does not need to boast. His record speaks for himself: since 1972, the technician has always brought back medals from his Olympic Games, with the East German team first, but above all by taking charge of the British team after the fall of the Berlin Wall and until his retirement in August 2020. This end of his career seems to have had an unfinished taste for him, and he is therefore embarked, at 75, in a new challenge with the tricolor rowers. On course for 2024. “Expertise, we have it, promises Sébastien Vieilledent, the national technical director (DTN) of the federation. But with his unquestionable authority, Jürgen can position a strong leadership and have an external discourse that carries faster than an internal equivalent, thus allowing us to save time. Because we are in a hurry with Olympic qualifications in eighteen months. “

This foreign contribution, rowing is not the only discipline to summon it. Volleyball and swimming, among others, made a similar choice. The Dutchman Jacco Verhaeren thus became, in September, director of the swimming and open water teams. With his ten Olympic titles on the clock, behind the triple champion Pieter Van den Hoogenband (in 2004 and 2008) then the Australian team (from 2013 to 2020), the 52-year-old Batavian is a world leader. Useful skills to restore the image of a poor French swimming in Tokyo (only one silver medal). “We needed someone very expert, but not a teacher”, summarizes the federal DTN Julien Issoulié. Above all, do not offend the coaches in the clubs, riding on their prerogatives and accustomed to working each in his own lane. “Jacco is not linked to this story, and he is a very pragmatic person, able to pull everyone up”, ensures the DTN. However, the experience is likely to be shocking.

Swimming indeed symbolizes quite well this tendency of French sport to hardly open up to technicians from elsewhere. We remember, in April 2019, the vote of the 1,742 rugby clubs in France, consulted by the President of the French Rugby Federation Bernard Laporte on the recruitment – which he defended – of a foreign coach to replace Jacques Brunel after the 2019 World Cup: it was no, at 59%.

This kind of prevention is not in the DNA of volleyball. It is the Brazilian Bernardinho who pilot the Blues around 2024 after their historic coronation of Tokyo. It must be said that the deal was signed even before this divine surprise, from April 2021. The arrival of the one who is considered the best coach in the world, four times finalist and double winner of the Games (in 2004 and 2016) with his selection national, showed the federal desire to finally win this medal which was refused in French volleyball. “The feat of the Blues in Japan adds additional pressure to his mission, comments Éric Tanguy, the president of the French Volleyball Federation. But if anyone can lead our team to a double, it’s him. “ Volleyball, anyway, did not do violence to call the Brazilian expert. He had already tried the experiment in the 1990s with the Russian Vladimir Kondra, who had however failed to qualify the Blues in Sydney. This time, all the French teams are in the hands of foreign technicians, the women under the leadership of Belgian Émile Rousseaux since 2017, and beach volleyball under that of Brazilian Lissandro Carvalho since 2018.“We must get out of our Franco-French superiority complex and, on the contrary, be flattered by the interest shown in us by foreign technicians”, judge Éric Tanguy. Who also applauds the role of the National Sports Agency (ANS) in these recruitments difficult to imagine without the financial support of the body.

But these reinforcements are not seen only as blows to secure podiums. “I also hope that this will help change mentalities, emphasizes Julien Issoulié. Moreover, Jacco will also have the right to oversee all our practices, to advance all of swimming. “ Same hope beyond Paris 2024 for Sébastien Vieilledent, who is already planning Los Angeles 2028. Rowing hopes to regain the momentum brought in the 1990s by another East German, Eberhard Mund, who started rowing French and whose methods still define the local tradition. Like what, it is possible.


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