"Now I'll be able to spend time with my family and friends, all the people who have supported me over the last three years. I have to give back all the love – the last few months have been very difficult for me."
These are by no means the average post-match quotes that one would expect to hear from a coach who has just lifted the UEFA Women's Champions League title for a second successive season. But Gérard Prêcheur's comments in Cardiff highlight the stresses endemic to the coaching profession and, in particular, the strain on a man who strives to attain the right balance between the professional and the personal. Like Josep Guardiola, he had decided that a three-year cycle provided adequate fulfilment and, whatever the result in Cardiff, had announced his departure from the Olympique Lyonnais bench.
After the shoot-out victory, he was quick to congratulate Patrice Lair as, ironically, his swansong pitted him against the coach he had succeeded at OL in 2014 – Prêcheur having previously acted as director of the French national association's training centre at Clairefontaine. The development of women's football was among his responsibilities and vocations. "France has been working hard to nurture and develop women's football," he said in the Welsh capital, "so it was great to have two teams in the final. I'm sure this will give a strong impetus to women's football in France."
Eight out of nine possible trophies rewarded the 57-year-old's three seasons of total dedication to the task at hand. "Everyday coaching at a club is demanding because you have to invest all your energy in the job. From a personal point of view, I was happy that I found myself capable of responding to all the challenges. It was quite complicated at times."
In the context of life at Lyon, one of the significant challenges was to prepare a squad physically, technically and mentally equipped to deal with top-level UEFA Women's Champions League fixtures intermingled with match action in the French domestic championship. In coaching terms, this meant setting up a team for games where they could expect to amply dominate, while devising a less flamboyant, more pragmatic style for contests against highly competitive top-level opponents.
Prior to the previous season's final in Reggio Emilia, Prêcheur and his staff had meticulously prepared a side capable of blunting Wolfsburg's most dangerous weapons whereas, before Cardiff, there had been less need for scouting work on highly familiar opponents. Among the key decisions was a game plan based on a back four, rather than the three he had deployed in the semi-finals, and a three-pronged attack aimed at pre-empting the menace from Paris's wing-backs. "It was a tough final," he admitted, "and there were some tired, end-of-season legs. But the players were outstanding."
Constantly prowling the technical area during the two hours of football in Cardiff, Prêcheur's style was to issue advice and instructions without stridencies or histrionics. "I have always said that you need to be modest and to remember that the important ones are the players out on the pitch.
Back-to-back trebles have been great for the club and great for the girls. I don't think anyone has done that in the past, so they deserve congratulations for an exceptional achievement." After rounding off a three-year cycle of success with victory against Paris, so does Gérard Prêcheur.