“You can’t win with lambs”, the secrets of Franck Azéma (1/3)

In six months, Franck Azéma brought RC Toulon out of their slumber. For Midi Olympique, the Var manager talked about the beginning of the adventure, his method and the future of Rouge et Noir.

When you come, it is assumed that you have carried out an audit. What was wrong with the RCT?

I don’t want to make any waffles. I don’t care if we talk about it. There are things that still come to mind today. The most interesting thing is what we are doing now. I’m not here to judge what has been done before. If Toulon has found itself in this position, it is not a single thing’s fault. It is never a big deal. It is the addition of a multitude of things that, from one end to the other, causes the swing to fall on the wrong side. I wanted to rebalance these things, take small gains that, little by little, tip the scales in the right direction. In truth, the whole process happened naturally. Everyone sticks to it. I assure you that I have not wasted energy in analyzing what was wrong. What would I use it for?

In all negative situations, we try to take stock to improve the future, right?

Contrary to all that has been said, I did not come to a field of ruins. There were fundamentals and foundations. If the club was in trouble, it wasn’t Patrice Collazo. I know how it works: when it doesn’t work, you have to find a culprit. I won’t tell you it was Patrice’s fault.

From the outside, and your players say so too, your contribution seems undeniable …

I tried to bring who I am, what I like in the game, in the way I work but above all in the way I want to live with the kids. Today it works, but the reality is that it is thanks to everyone’s investment: from the president, to those who wear the jerseys, including the players and the staff. Everyone decided to make an effort to get Toulon back on the road. I relied, with my staff, on what we could control: the pitch. I’m here to develop it. All the staff went into it. I didn’t waste time convincing them. Of course, sometimes they have to have doubts. I don’t know where it will take us. It is still far from finished.

You just said “bring what I am”: how did you take care of this bruised group on a daily basis to make the most of it?

I’m always looking for the middle way. The whole club must feel considered in the project. It’s about the staff, the players as well as the employees. Everyone matters. I wanted to create a good working atmosphere. Next, we can look at the quality of our players: Ollivon, Etzebeth, Parisse … Beyond these CVs, they have such high standards, such a desire to go there every weekend. This is what’s good. They are the ones who send the best messages. I’m not saying it was easy, it’s just that we got into other habits. We must have a long-term requirement. I want my players to have the ambition to learn every day. I learn from my boys. A word, a situation, an idea… I tell myself that it is not stupid and that I will use it in a context. On this aspect we have a rich workforce thanks to guys like Paia’aua, Kolbe … For those with a less extensive curriculum, like Villière, they too have been able to rise to the occasion.

As soon as you arrive you have formed a core of leaders. Why ?

I have not chosen. I made an election to name my leaders. Everything has to come out of the group. The most important thing, just like the pitch, is the locker room. This locker room, it must be real. If it’s prefabricated, or if that’s what Franck Azéma wants it to be, it’s wrong. I can try to educate and help. But what interests me is that my wardrobe is authentic. You don’t win with lambs. It’s good to have guys with character.

Can this method be compared to a participatory management mode, or even more so by naming it as a democratic management?

I don’t like these terms very much. In one day, we go through all the states. Sometimes I express something that is not negotiable. They have no opinions to give. Managing a group is like raising a child: sometimes you like it, other times … (laughs) I never say to myself: “I’ll be in the participatory for three weeks, then in the directive the other week.”

Continue…

With the staff, we use this group to get feedback. Gradually, we fall into the qualitative thanks to trust. They are also testing us. When they come up with something, they pay attention to it. They return to being players in the field of rugby and extrarugby. As long as everyone is respectful, I can hear everything. They have the right to tell me that a practice is not good. It doesn’t make me happy (laughs). But it remains necessary to improve all our aspects.

Coming to Toulon, he kicked me in the ass. The situation didn’t look good. There was work.

This method allowed for fantastic healing. Last of the Top 14, were you still dreaming of the top 6?

I’ve always dreamed of the first 6. I’ve never talked about them openly. After all, I know where I want to go. That belongs to us. This is our story. This doesn’t stop me from being realistic, we have to go step by step.

You are rather taking the elevator right now, you are the best team in the Top 14 in terms of points earned in the last ten days …

These statistics are tangible. They gave us certainty and confidence. This is not a coincidence. It is thanks to the work of the players and the life of the group. How they live together right now is very important.

That is…

You need to talk to them about it (smiles). I feel, I see. Let’s hear this little thing. There is a good atmosphere. Rugby is still under discussion. As long as you generate it, as long as you make the effort to keep it, this thing grows. If you wait in this atmosphere, you are dead. We are not relaxing. We want more quality in our education, investment, way of living together. We must have ambition.

Do you feel the pressure on Toulon?

Based on the results, people dwell on us. But that doesn’t interest me. You know, Toulon still has a lot of room for improvement to be satisfied. We must have that in mind.

What points can still be improved?

We need to be more precise in the details. A winning move is played on ten centimeters: a call, a false call, an entry on the ruck. In decision making, we need to be more synchronized collectively. Furthermore, standards must always be present.

Toulon celebrates the 30th anniversary of the 1992 title. Many veterans draw parallels with this succession. Are you superstitious?

For nothing. I take advantage of this answer to say that if seniors want to come to the place for a coffee, they are welcome. It is thanks to them that this club has such an identity, such a heritage. Whenever a guy comes here, we will appreciate him. It will be an opportunity to introduce them to the group. In 1992 something happened between them. They loved each other, they wanted to share and go together. There was nothing that could separate them. Every titled group, there is this same bond between people. If you don’t believe in people, you don’t believe in anything. You have to trust.

Can we still use the same recipes?Today you still operate the same levers. We don’t repeat them the same way. However, the same things are possible. We do not set fire. We are not even in the top 6. We must never forget that the weight of history is important here. But that’s not a disadvantage. It is a resource. It is up to this team to build its history and add new weight.

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