A competition bringing together the elite of world volleyball, the League of Nations, the first stage of which takes place in Ottawa, Canada, from June 7 to 12, is a test for tricolor volleyball players, champions at the Olympic Games (OG) in Tokyo. After the gold medal won at the beginning of August 2021, the first in its history, the France team suddenly came down from its cloud a month later at the Euro, beaten three sets to zero in the round of 16 by the Czech Republic. At her place.

Since this defeat, the Blues have changed coach. The Brazilian Bernardo Rocha de Rezende, known as “Bernardinho”, who had replaced Laurent Tillie after the Olympics, returned to his country for personal reasons. He was replaced in March by the Italian Andrea Giani, coach of the Modena club, where Earvin Ngapeth, the tricolor volleyball star, plays.

In Canada, where it first faces Italy (June 9), winner of the last Euro, before facing Serbia, Canada and Poland, France, which has never won this League of nations, will have to deal with the absences of several executives (Benjamin Toniutti, Jenia Grebennikov, Trévor Clévenot and Nicolas Le Goff). A situation that does not worry Andrea Giani:

There is a large reservoir of very high level French players. The French team is Olympic champion, everyone dreams of beating it. Whatever the circumstances, we must be able to win. It is on the regularity of our performances that we must work.

In the past, the results of the Habs have often been irregular: unable to qualify for either the Beijing Olympics in 2008 or for those in London in 2012, they won their only world title in 2015, but they did not could do better than 9th at Euro 2017. In the recent history of volleyball, only two national teams have managed to stay at the highest level for more than a decade: Brazil, coached by Bernardinho between 2001 and 2016, and Italy between 1989 and 2005, with a certain Andrea Giani in its ranks.

“Establish very precise patterns of play”

At 52, the Italian is a living volleyball legend. As a player, he won three world championship titles, four Euros and two Olympic silver medals. His track record as a coach is more modest – the Modena club is coming out of a difficult season – but he has the advantage of having coached several pillars of the French team playing in the Italian championship (Trévor Clévenot, Jénia Grebennikov…), which facilitated his integration.

Captain of the Modena team, Earvin Ngapeth also played an important role in the appointment of the Italian at the head of the France team. Andrea Giani does not yet speak French, it is he who translates his instructions to the group during training.

To establish the French team permanently at the top of world volleyball, Andrea Giani intends to strengthen its game identity, which is based on the quality of its defense, when other teams, such as Russia, rely on the power of their attackers.

“Tactically, Giani is trying to put in place very precise game patterns, as the Italians are used to, details central Barthélémy Chinenyeze, who is preparing to leave the Milan club. But he leaves us a lot of freedom on the pitch. It is important, because the French team plays on instinct. Unlike other teams, who can get stuck in a system, our game is varied and unpredictable. »

Gain rigor and regularity

A vision shared by the receiver-attacker Yacine Louati, who plays in Fenerbahçe, Turkey: “Giani has very precise tactical proposals, but he leaves each player the freedom to appreciate the situations. The rigorous framework it provides allows everyone to express their creativity. »

The whole challenge of the current project is to manage to gain in rigor and regularity without losing the grain of madness which is the strength of the Blues. “Between French and Italian culture, there are a lot of similarities and some differences,” adds receiver-attacker Kévin Tillie. The French are more technical, commit fewer mistakes. The Italians play harder, hit harder on serve and rely heavily on blocks. If, thanks to Giani, the French team could have these qualities, it would be ideal in view of the 2024 Games.”

At 31, the son of former coach Laurent Tillie, who led the Blues to the Olympic coronation in Tokyo, will play his last major international competition in Paris. Several other team executives are in the same situation, including captain Benjamin Toniutti and libero Jenia Grebennikov. Absent in Canada, they should return in blue for the second stage of the League of Nations, in the Philippines (June 17 to 26), along with Nicolas Le Goff and Trévor Clévenot.

If the 2024 deadline may still seem far away, Paris is already in people’s minds. Between now and the Olympics, France will play four competitions: two Leagues of Nations (this one and another in 2023), a world championship (from August 26 to September 11) and a Euro (in 2023). “Each time, our objective will be to reach the semi-finals,” announces Andrea Giani, according to whom “the current team is the one that will be at the Games. It’s a great chance for these players to be able to compete in such an event in front of their home crowd. »

For Earvin Ngapeth, “the Nations League comes at the right time, because it will give the coach and his staff the opportunity to spend six weeks with players around the world, it’s a good thing to strengthen cohesion of the group with a view to 2024”. In the warm-up match, on June 5, the Blues could only draw with Canada (two sets everywhere). But a marathon is not won by warming up.