The female Van Dijk? Why France's Wendie Renard is so much more than that

The defender earned comparisons to the Liverpool man after her headed goals in the Women’s World Cup opener, but it’s Van Dijk who should be flattered

Match winners come in various shapes and sizes. Some are tricky, attacking midfielders. Some are ruthlessly composed strikers. Some are towering, powerful defenders.

The latter was certainly the case in the opening game of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Hosts France got the tournament underway with an emphatic 4-0 win over South Korea , and two of those goals came from the head of their towering, powerful defender Wendie Renard.

Armed with her Player of the Match award, Renard expressed her delight with her brace after the game, saying: “I had never scored a goal in the World Cup. It is really good on a personal level.”

But then, showing the leader she is, she added: “These two goals were also very important collectively, because they arrived just before half-time, which is great for confidence.”

The difference between this type of player and other match winners, is that they are often the type that make teams title winners, too.

Not only is Renard, as midfielder Elise Bussaglia put it, “a true weapon” for France at set pieces, but she is the commanding leader at the back that organises and galvanises the team.

She’s a figure of composure and relaxation, a player as technically slick and talented as she is fast and strong. It was no surprise, then, to see many of those watching the 28-year-old play for the first time take to social media to compare her to Liverpool’s Dutch defender, Virgil van Dijk.

While many went for ‘the female Van Dijk’, one observer said he’ll be calling the Dutchman the male Renard from now on, and one Liverpool fan imagined just how formidable a centre-back partnership between the two would be.

But, unlike Van Dijk, Renard already has her perfect centre-back partner, in Griedge Mbock Bathy.

“People who know women’s football and who watch it know that France have one of the best central defences in the world,” Julie Debever, back-up to the pair at this World Cup, said this week.

“It’s impossible for me to oust them.”

Since Mbock joined Renard at Lyon from Guingamp in 2015, just months after turning 20 years old, the duo have won everything.

They’ve won all four Champions League titles, all four Division 1 Feminine titles and, in the only blemish on their record, three of four Coupe de France Feminine titles – finishing as runners-up in 2017-18 after a 1-0 defeat to Paris Saint-Germain.

Renard has been doing this for years before Mbock, however. In her time at Lyon, which began in 2006 when she was just 16, she has picked up 27 major honours, as well as winners’ medals at the now discontinued International Women’s Club Championship in 2012, and the Valais Women’s Cup in 2014.

In a way, it’s almost insulting to compare the France international to a player whose only major honours are two Scottish Premiership titles, a Scottish League Cup and one Champions League win.

“We have a real advantage with her on a corner and we can’t deny it,” Bussaglia said, with Debever able to offer an experience of what it’s like to mark her from a set piece.

“Not only is she tall, but she’s got great timing too and not everybody has this skill.

“Sometimes, I’m on the defending team against her and I can tell you it’s really complicated!”

But Bussaglia emphasises that there is more to France’s – and Renard’s – game than headers from set pieces, saying: “We must also have other strategies and work on them.”

France’s short corners were as regular a feature in that win over South Korea as those that picked out Renard in the air.

It was just another way for Les Bleues to show how impressive they are on the ball and in possession, something that their commanding centre-back plays a huge part in.

“She has exceptional potential and is an exceptional competitor,” Lyon coach Reynald Pedros said of his captain last season. “She is one of the best in the world in her position and can still get better.”

Just over a year on, he appears to be right, and if Corinne Diacre’s side can put on another statement performance against Norway, it’s likely she will be at the heart of it once more.

So, forget the ‘female Van Dijk’ label and next time you want to praise the Dutchman, call him the ‘male Renard’.

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