The French blueprint: Why is developing players more important than winning titles

01 Jul. 2024

The French blueprint: Why is developing players more important than winning titles

Two years ago, at Slovenia 2022, France finished on the 13th place, after conceding a loss in the main round against Montenegro, when the opponents delivered a fantastic performance, thinking out of the box and shocking the France team with a 4-2 defence and a seven-on-six attack.

“I did not react and it was, probably, my mistake. I probably made a mistake,” says France junior women’s national team coach, Eric Baradat. Two years later, though, Baradat and his team did not make many mistakes and went on to deliver one of the most dominant performances in the history of the IHF Women’s Junior World Championship, securing the title with eight wins in eight matches, including a 29:26 fantastic win against Hungary in the final.

It was the crowning achievement for an excellent generation, a closely-knit team, exactly in the France mould, without any players really shining, despite centre back Lylou Borg being named the MVP at North Macedonia 2024. But the sheer depth, the fantastic efficiency and the great defensive spirit – a trademark for France – were enough to see this gifted generation rise above their opponents in any setting.

“At the Under-17 EHF EURO in 2021, this generation finished 11th. One year later, at the IHF Women’s Youth World Championship, they finished fifth. At the Under-19 EURO, they went sixth. And now they are world champions. They really outdid themselves and played an amazing handball,” adds Baradat.

For a team that secured the title at the IHF Women’s World Championship three times – in 2003, 2017 and 2023 – France were surprisingly inefficient at a junior level, despite producing fantastic talents in the system used from the top of the pyramid to the bottom. Their best performance before North Macedonia 2024 was a silver medal at Czechia 2012, 12 years ago, with a team that included goalkeeper Laura Glauser, wings Coralie Lassource and Pauline Coatanea and centre back Grace Zaadi.

Since then, France have never made it into this phase of the competition, as that performance became their only medal. But now, with a fantastic generation, France secured the title in superb fashion.

“Before the start of the competition, I told my players that they can win the title. They were all looking like me like I was crazy. But I knew that if they stayed true to their roots, played like they can play and be strong, they can win. And here we are, taking the trophy back to France,” says Baradat.

And it was truly a win for the ages, in the most possible French way possible. The champions had the fifth best attack in the competition, averaging 31.7 goals per match. Yet none of France’s players went into the best 50 players in the top goal scorer standings. Which means another well-rounded effort, where France delivered win after win, but without a player dominating the scoreboard.

But France had two players – line player Lilou Pintat and right wing Manon Errard – in the All-Star team of the 2024 IHF Women’s Junior World Championship, plus the MVP, centre back Lylou Borg, who had the largest number of assists in the competition, 37, with seven of them coming in the final.

Now, France hold the title in both the senior and the junior IHF Women’s World Championships, as the senior side also prepares for a long journey at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, on their home court, where they aim to retain the title won at Tokyo 2020.

Usually, after the Olympic cycle reaches its end, changes are made in the senior national teams and with Olivier Krumbholz leaving his position, some young players could also make their way into the senior team. Several from this side look already ready, with the French DNA imprinted into their game.

Yet this title at the 2024 IHF Women’s Junior World Championship is just the cherry on the cake for Baradat and his players, as the primary objective for the France junior and youth national teams is to prepare players for the big step, when they will feature in the senior competitions.

“The objective I have is to get players ready for the senior team. I answer in front of the president of the Federation regarding this, not necessarily about results and titles. This is the most important thing for everybody, for us, as a Federation, for the players and for the future of the French handball. This is crucial and we will not change our philosophy. But, of course, winning titles feels amazing and we are all happy for being here and winning this final against Hungary,” concludes Baradat.