When the French women’s national team steps out onto the field, one player towers over the rest. She’s the centerback and you can always see her coming. She’s intimidating, her 6’2 frame posing a formidable challenge for any opponent. Yet, like a fox, she’s as cunning as she is dominant, figuring out ways to outwit her opponent to find space to own the air and find the back of the net. For many, that ability to defend and dominant offensively would be a dream. For Wendie Renard, it’s just a day ending in -y.
Wendie Renard was born in Martinique, the youngest of 4 daughters. According to Renard, they called the town she grew up The End of the World.
“It’s a part of Martinique called Le Prêcheur. It’s waaaaay up on the northern coast of the island about an hour away from any kind of village or town. When you stand on the beach, Mount Pelée rises behind you. When you look out in front of you, it’s just miles and miles of the Caribbean Sea. The warm, blue water sparkles with the sun... There’s maybe fewer than 2,000 people who live in Le Prêcheur. Which is not a lot to begin with. But sometimes, standing out there when the sun is coming up … it feels like it’s only you and the island that exist.
The End of the World.”
Her father died of lung cancer when she was 8 years old, which really shaped her life. At that point, she used it as motivation to do what she dreamed of doing: representing France in soccer.
“In Martinique, it means something, the French shirt. We are 8,000 kilometres away, but … that jersey. The Rooster. We are French, but we know on the island we have to work that much harder to get to that level, you know? In the Caribbean, we respect that shirt. We know it needs to be earned.
And when I saw [Marinette] Pichon wearing it on that day, I don’t know, something happened. I just knew, I had to wear it too. I would wear it too.
“That’s how it began.”
Not everyone believed her. One of her teachers, when Wendie wrote professional football player on an assignment about what job they wanted as an adult, said plainly to Wendie, “[that] job doesn’t exist.” Wendie was set to prove it did exist. She watched Ronaldinho and wanted to emulate his style of play, but she also worked on developing a style of her own.
When she was 15, Wendie flew to France for a trial at Clairefontaine, which was a center that developed French soccer players as a pipeline into the national teams, but she didn’t get in. It turned out to be a good thing, as she then took a train to Lyon for a trial with Olympique Lyonnais. This trial was successful, and at the age of 16, she joined Lyon and permanently left her home at The End of the World.
Life at Lyon was initially hard, with people making fun of her Martinican accent, but she soon started to figure it all out. She made her club debut in 2006 and quickly became someone who was a regular in the starting lineup. In the process, she has helped take Lyon to heights no one imagined could happen in the women’s game.
She also came up in the French national team system, starring as a defender for the U-19s almost immediately after becoming a starter at Lyon and also performing briefly for the U-20s. She then made her debut in a match against Switzerland at the 2011 Cyprus Cup. From there, she went from budding star to one of the best players in the game.
In addition to being a strong defender, she’s also fast and no one can match her in the air. She has used that speed and cunning ability to slip between the defense to her advantage, beating her opponents to spots in the box and rising over everyone with precision and power. It’s no wonder her last name is Renard, which is French for fox. She’s also great at taking free kicks, a little bit of Ronaldinho’s magic sticking with her. It’s incredibly rare to find someone who’s dominant at both ends of the field, but Wendie Renard is just that.
With Lyon, Wendie Renard has scored 116 goals in 370 appearances. That’s better than many forwards. She has scored over 10 goals in 6 separate seasons for the club. And she’s one of the most decorated players in women’s soccer history at the club level. Lyon has won the league every single year that Wendie Renard has played for them, a total of 14 consecutive years that is only in danger of being threatened this year. She’s won 9 Coupe de France titles, 1 Trophée des Championnes, 1 International Women’s Club Championship, and 7 UEFA Women’s Champions Leagues (including a current streak of 5 in a row).
For France, she’s won 2 Cyprus Cups and was on the 2017 France team that won the SheBelieves Cup in the United States. She was the captain of the team beginning in 2013, taking them to the 2015 World Cup (where they lost to Germany on penalties in the quarterfinals) and a quarterfinal finish in UEFA Women’s Euro 2017. Then, she was stripped of her captaincy by coach Corinne Daicre in favor of Amandine Henry. Still, Renard has continued to dominate, scoring 28 goals in 124 caps. She was an integral part of the 2019 World Cup team that hosted the world before losing to the United States in one of the best soccer matches ever played.
Renard is racking up the individual awards as well: 5 FIFPro World XIs, 4 IFFHS Women’s World Teams, Champions League Defender of the Season in 2020, and IFFHS World and UEFA Woman’s Team of the Decade honors for the 2010s. She’s made it. And along the way, she’s fought to help change the game for the ones that could be dreaming back in her home at The End of the World.
“We went from only getting victory bonuses when I first arrived in 2006, no salaries at all …
To, three years later, signing our first professional contracts.
I could call my mother, who for so long felt embarrassed that others were taking care of her daughter in Lyon, and I could tell her I was making my own money. As a woman. Playing football.
We’ve gone from having 50 people in our stadium …
To playing in front of 20,000 in a Champions League final, primetime broadcasts and people stopping us on the street asking for autographs and pictures.
Not there yet, far from it, but I can start to see the light at the end of the tunnel. And, you know, all I want is to feel that light on my face. But we’re ambassadors for the next generation. Just like the women before me and the women right in front of me: My aunt, who is still refereeing in Martinique. My sisters, who let me stay out a little bit longer to play with the boys in the neighbourhood. My mother, who watched every game on TV with me, never said I couldn’t and did everything to make it so.”
Above all, she wanted to show little girls all over France and Martinique that there is a path to becoming a professional soccer player, no matter what their upbringing. That job that she said she was going to have on that assignment? “It does exist.”
And she’s just getting started.
For more Black History Month stories, check out our Black History Month hub. We will be bringing a story each day this month to highlight some of the biggest moments in black American and world soccer history.