When the ownership of then-Reign FC changed hands to OL Groupe last year, it opened the possibility of a direct player pipeline between the NWSL club and the French/European powerhouse club. To date it’s been OL Reign players going to France either in a direct transfer (Jodie Taylor), a loan spell (Celia Jiménez Delgado), or training sessions with the team and access to their facilities (Sofia Huerta and Bethany Balcer).
A player from Olympique Lyonnais’ deep and very talented squad coming to the United States and playing for OL Reign has yet to happen. However, with the NWSL having announced their framework for 2021 and plans to return to normal season, we could be close to seeing the benefits of that pipeline working in favor of the NWSL club that represents the Puget Sound region.
Bonjour à Wendie Renard?!
Renard and OL Groupe President Jean-Michel Aulas appeared on French program Téléfoot on Sunday to discuss a bevy of topics including the ongoing crisis with the France Women’s National Team and its head coach, Corinne Diacre. The portion of their conversation that will be of most interest to OL Reign fans is clipped below.
Aulas’ comments, translated for us by French football reporter Sylvain Jamet, are:
“It is a pleasure and an honor for Lyon to have Wendie. My project is that she stays in OL Groupe as long as possible at Lyon, if possible [for] her whole career. That would be also an example for everybody else; that’s why we bought OL Reign in Seattle last year. We will offer her, if she wishes, to alternate between the USA and France.”
In the past, Aulas had hinted at having some of Lyon’s younger players possibly go on loan to OL Reign, as well as doing exchanges between the two academies, to continue their development. But this is quite possibly the strongest indicator of an established first-team player considering a move to the Reign. Renard understandably has been a sought-after player for many clubs, and as far back as 2016, three NWSL teams, including Seattle, had been reported to be pursuing her transfer. And with good reason — Renard’s honors at the club level and her reputation as one of the world’s best defenders are beyond question.
The move would also be a reunion for Renard and OL Reign head coach Farid Benstiti, as it was Benstiti who noticed Renard in a training session and signed her in 2006. And the rest, as they say, is history.
So could we see Renard in Tacoma in 2021? While OL Reign did not respond to a request for a comment before publication, there’s reason to think it’s more than just an idle hope. The NWSL is cautiously confident they can have a full 24-game regular season in 2021 and clubs are preparing accordingly. OL Reign CEO Bill Predmore has used the word “ambitious” in describing the plans he and Benstiti have for the roster. Landing a world-class talent like Wendie Renard would definitely make headlines not just in the NWSL, but in women’s club football around the world.
If the move does indeed happen, it’s possible that Renard could join the team after Lyon’s commitments in both Division 1 Féminine and UEFA Women’s Champions League campaigns, scheduled to end in May. Coincidentally, the middle of that month is also when the NWSL is planning the start their 2021 regular season, after a pre-season Challenge Cup ... just in time for players who have been in European competition to join clubs in the United States.