World Handball Championships: the French team in the quarter-finals as their new coach settles in…

Wednesday, 27 january 2021

At 8:30 pm tonight, the French Handball Team will be facing Hungary in the quarter-finals of the World Championships currently being held in Egypt. A first for coach Guillaume Gille.

Difficult conditions

It’s clear that things could have got off to a better start! Guillaume Gille’s career as the new coach of the French team effectively began with the 2021 World Cup in Egypt (January 13-31) after the Covid-19 pandemic prevented him from working with his players for nearly a year. In fact, it took exactly 343 days between his appointment on January 28, 2020 (replacing Didier Dinart), and the first warm-up match against Serbia on January 5. This preparation proved to be rather problematic owing not only to the lack of sporting encounters but also to a rash of injured players – Nikola Karabatic, in particular – and then, to crown it all, a place in the final four of the Champions League just before the start of this World Cup. All these factors go some way to explain the difficulties encountered by the French team at the beginning of 2021. So far this year, Les Bleus have alternated good matches, such as their victories over Norway, Austria and Portugal, with mediocre games such as those against Algeria or Switzerland. Despite this uneven track record, however, they’ve still made it to the quarter-finals! This evening’s match against Hungary will be very important in the process of building a motivated squad for their future encounters. Because his team hadn’t played for months, Guillaume Gille had no other option than to get down to work when the competition was already underway and not shy away from rotating his players.

A coach open to dialogue

From the moment he was appointed he anticipated the main thrust of his communication by staging a whole series of individual interviews and going on an extensive tour of the clubs. He’s a coach who’s very open to dialogue. This approach has led him to set up a kind of participative democracy in the French team. He gets the players enormously involved in the process of drawing up the game plans and the tactics based on the principle that they will find it all the easier to assimilate and execute a game plan when they have been involved in its conception.

This led to his decision to appoint a group of eight players to work on the games. He invites the players to analyze previous matches or consider forthcoming games as they travel to the gym. He is a so-called ‘cerebral’ coach who has inevitably learned from the great coaches he’s encountered in his career. We have in mind, of course, Daniel Costantini and Claude Onesta. He can also count on the support of Philippe Bana, the new president of the French Federation, who played an active role in getting him appointed to this position (when the decision was made, he was then working as the National Technical Director). For a coach at the beginning of his mandate, it’s important to feel supported by his governing bodies. Guillaume Gille, 44, has the enormous advantage of having been selected for the French national team no fewer than 308 times. He knows everything about a squad and how it works, and has already been able to leave his mark on the French team, notably in the players’ attitudes during matches at difficult moments in the game. What is more, the new coach on the sidelines still shows himself to be the strong-willed player he used to be. There’s nothing uncommitted about him… But it will take a lot of commitment and willpower on the part of both coach and team to get through the challenges that lie ahead of them: these final phases of the World Cup, and the Olympic Qualification Tournament on March 12 and 14 later this year in Montpellier…

A major partner of handball, the Caisse d’Epargne has been supporting the French men’s and women’s handball teams since January 2015.

Crédit photo : S.Pillaud / FFHandball