Confined with his wife and two children in his house in Rennes, Julien Stephan takes an enlightening and responsible look at the global health crisis caused by the coronavirus epidemic. This 39-year-old father also talks about his daily life to say the least, and postpones all the issues related to the possible resumption of a Ligue 1, where his club, current 3rd, competes for a place in the Ligue des champions.
How do you approach this unprecedented health crisis?
JULIEN STEPHAN. In light of all that is happening today, of the tragedies and the misfortunes in certain families, we are inhabited by a very strong feeling of solidarity. Football really takes second place. The priority is elsewhere.
Do we come to relativize a lot of things to refocus on the essentials?
We can better understand how trivial little boredom can be everyday. It also allows you to enjoy different, privileged moments with your wife and children. We are not used to living them in normal times.
Do you talk a lot at home about the situation with your children?
Mine are 5 and 8 years old. We talk to them with simple words. Choose. We explain to them what is going on. Why they no longer go to school, why they are at home without being allowed to go out. It must also make sense to them. They understood perfectly.
Do you associate yourself with the tribute paid each evening at 8 p.m. to the frontline healthcare staff in the fight against the pandemic?
Absolutely. The dedication and courage of all the hospital staff commands respect. To save lives, they do not hesitate to endanger their own. They struggle on a daily basis in particular and difficult conditions. Their work is simply exceptional.
You talk about delicate conditions. Are you concerned by the shortage of masks in a country like France?
You have to master your subject to be able to pronounce. I do not have enough information to make a relevant judgment on this.
What does a coach do when he has been confined to his home for two weeks now?
Like everyone, we respect the instructions and orders given. The day is divided into several moments. The morning is reserved for school time. My wife takes care of it and I can sometimes help her. There is also a lot of time spent on the phone with the players to get news and the various staffs to define training programs.
Is it even more difficult to be deprived of your job when it is also a passion?
I do not know if it is more difficult, but we have, it is true, this chance to rhyme daily passion with profession. It follows, obviously, a certain lack in the absence of this adrenaline, this contact with the players. But, I repeat, when you take a little height, you minimize.
With your workforce, how do you adapt?
We are constantly adapting. We have no other choice during this period. Concretely, whether it be my assistants or myself, we remain in close contact with the players. We have a detailed follow-up for each of them. They must follow a specific program. Some are doing it at home, on treadmills, others outside, respecting the authorized perimeter of one kilometer.
Do you fear among your players a form of mental dropout?
This can be one of the concerns that we try to fight to the maximum. It takes the form of frequent discussions. Boys are requesting programs. The biggest difficulty is to prioritize the objectives over the coming weeks.
Can you detail?
In the absence of visibility, it is useless to go too fast, nor, conversely, to relax too much under penalty of being delayed in its preparation. Work balances should therefore be balanced as well as possible. To maintain a high level of motivation, the player needs clear and precise objectives. We cannot provide them at this time. It is therefore a question of being professional and conscientious in order to be as fit as possible when it is allowed to return to the field.
Are you dealing with a fairly peaceful group or, on the contrary, men who are questioned?
A bit of both. Everyone became aware of the seriousness of an unprecedented situation, sanitary serious, vital, with actions to adopt. There is also a very developed sense of empowerment among players. Some have decided to get closer to their families to experience this confinement. But the majority remained on Rennes. We share, we discuss. Our phones are open every day to answer all their questions. We are at their service.
Does it really make sense today to debate the date for the resumption of the championships?
We will start again when we have overcome the pandemic. It will then make sense to evoke this. But not before. Then there are important economic data for the clubs. One can not deny it. However, it is first necessary to eradicate this virus. It will take weeks, maybe months, but it has to be done. It will then be time to address these calendar issues. There is a time for everything.
Personally, would you be ready to finish the season in July or August?
We will adapt. The authorities are considering different scenarios. It is their role and their duty to do so.
Some of your colleagues, like Christian Gourcuff or André Villas-Boas are campaigning for the start of the future season this winter. What is your position on this subject?
Between Ligue 1 coaches, we talk. But the situation will only become ideal again when the pandemic is gone. We always come back to it. As long as it is not the case, it is useless to me to speculate on such or such scenario. Let us mobilize all our energy and be united in order to, all together, win this fight for life.
The President of the Republic has repeatedly spoken of a “war” to be won. How does the resistant grandson (Editor’s note: entering the resistance in 1943, Denise Le Flohic, Julien Stephan’s maternal grandmother, was arrested the following year and deported to Ravensbrück camp, then to Sachsenhausen camp) received this comparison?
He spoke, in effect, of a health war. This word has a special resonance in the family. But I’m not there, either to personalize the situation. The president has undoubtedly insisted on this in order to promote or accelerate general awareness and to make us aware of the danger that awaits us.