“I felt seriously comfortable playing barefoot”… Melchie Dumornay takes us into her beginnings in Haiti

At the OL training center,

The chance that “Corventina” so dreamed of having in the premier competition is undoubtedly there. Slowed down in her ascent for four months by an ankle injury, Melchie Dumornay dynamited the Lyon attack during his two appearances against Benfica in the quarter-final of the Champions League (2-1, 4-1).

When it comes time to challenge PSG for the semi-final first leg, this Saturday (7 p.m.) at Parc OL, the 20-year-old striker could benefit from the withdrawal of Eugénie Le Sommer (injured) and the uncertainties hovering over Delphine Cascarino and Ada Hegerberg to immediately show all his talent. That of a young Haitian girl who discovered football in her neighborhood of Mirebalais, barefoot, in the street, only with boys, and often “without a real ball”. A tortuous and inspiring journey that the former revelation of Stade de Reims tells 20 minutes.

Melchie Dumornay showed off his explosiveness, in a joker role, during the double confrontation against Benfica in the quarter-final of the Champions League.– Pauline Figuet/SPP/Shutterstock/SIPA

What memories do you have of your first steps in football in Haiti?

These are moments that are engraved in me forever, already because I shared them with my childhood friends, who I still see today. Football chose me from the moment I was born, it happened naturally, even though no one ever pushed me down this path. It’s like those children who enjoy playing hopscotch, jumping rope, singing. Football has always been my passion. I had more fun there than in all the other games.

What were these improvised football matches like… and often without a ball in the streets of your neighborhood in Mirebalais?

In fact, we could have had access to a real ball, but our soccer games would then have ended much more quickly on our small rock fields not suitable for the ball. So we considered it unnecessary spending (smile). Anything could serve as a balloon: a lemon, socks that we filled with sponges, it was unforgettable. Obviously, when I see the big gap between the conditions I knew then, playing barefoot at the start of my career, and this professional level today, I know that I am living a dream.

Have you ever suffered physically while playing barefoot on stones?

Oh yes, I remember having pain in my feet, with even pieces of glass cutting me. But when we play neighborhood, we remove the piece of glass from the foot and we resume the game (laughs). This is also what allows me to be here today.

How valuable do you think it was to discover football without shoes?

Some families in the neighborhood couldn’t afford sneakers, and some children found it much more comfortable to play barefoot. This was actually my case. At first, I felt seriously comfortable like this. Playing barefoot allowed me to have this control of the ball and to know how to perfectly use all the surfaces of my foot.

But once I left my neighborhood, I realized the importance of having shoes to protect my feet. Our feet are a treasure, we must take care of them. And now, I can no longer play barefoot (smile).

Were you the only girl participating in these street matches at that time in Mirebalais?

Yes, I was 10 years old then and some of the boys who played opposite me were 16. It was very important for me to start playing football with boys. The speed of play and the contacts were not the same as if I had started only against girls. It allowed me to sharpen my technical quality and my explosiveness. It pushed me to play simple, to be intelligent to avoid obstacles and contacts, to widen my field of vision and my movements, all things which are very important in our football today.

I owe all this to my beginnings with boys. And psychologically, it also strengthened me, it taught me to be strong. I never told myself that I was a girl playing against boys. No, I put myself on an equal footing with them. For me, there was no gender difference on the field.

It wasn’t easy at first. But little by little they noticed in the neighborhood that I was quite talented. When the teams were forming, I wasn’t that person picked last, which is a small humiliation. I thought it was a good sign (smile). In any case, the boys never gave me gifts, and I really appreciated that, I prefer to deserve things.

Was it also difficult to convince your family about your football practice?

Yes, my mother rarely let me go out. I started to be spotted by several people in football in Haiti, who thought I was a boy (smile). They contacted my mother to suggest that I join the “Camp Nous” training center, located in Croix-des-Bouquets. It was hard for my mother because I was only 11, but she eventually realized that there would be great opportunities for me outside the neighborhood.

Was it possible to dream of a destiny as a professional footballer, as a young girl living in a neighborhood in Haiti?

At that time, I dreamed of one day being able to play in a beautiful stadium, but it was impossible to see women’s football matches on television in Haiti, and therefore to plan on professional football. I was quite far from that. I also think that all over the world, women must take care of the house, household chores. I went through these rules, this society which is rather difficult.

It was hard to get people to accept that girls also had the right to play football. But I was lucky that my mother wasn’t too strict. She didn’t forbid me from football because she saw that I was fulfilled thanks to this sport. She didn’t want to stop me from doing what I loved. But there were conditions: everything at home had to be perfect before I could go play.

You are now 1.60 m tall. We imagine that you also had to convince the coaches that you had a future at the high level with such a size, right?

For sure. When I started at the training center, everyone only saw my small size and my rather fragile physique, even if I played from then on with girls. But once people actually watched me play, they saw there was something a little special. I wanted to grow up, to be strong, and that’s why I got serious about bodybuilding very early on.

During the summer of 2018, Melchie Dumonay revealed herself to the world during the U20 Women's World Cup played in France, when she was only about to celebrate... her 15th birthday!
During the summer of 2018, Melchie Dumonay revealed herself to the world during the U20 Women’s World Cup played in France, when she was only about to celebrate… her 15th birthday!– CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP

You joined the AS Tigresses club in Port-au-Prince in 2017, then you were invited for a week of training at Olympique Lyonnais in November 2018. How complicated was it to return to Haiti after having tasted, at only 15 years old, training with the best team in Europe?

I really wanted to start my career in France because one of the Haitian players that I admired a lot, Nérilia Mondésir (25 years old), had just left AS Tigresses to sign for Montpellier. Concerning the unsuccessful internship with OL then, part of the explanations were linked to my young age, but there are other details that even I still don’t know. But that’s good, maybe I wouldn’t be here today if the test in Lyon had already been successful at the time. It was hard to take to wait so long afterwards in Haiti but I knew I would come back. I didn’t give up, I worked hard, and I’m very proud of that.

You finally reveal yourself in Reims, your first experience away from your country from 2021 to 2023, before arriving for good in Lyon last summer. Obvious to you?

After my internship in Lyon, all I wanted was to wear the jersey of this great club. So one of my dreams has come true.

After seven months of competition with OL, marked by your six goals scored but also by a major ankle injury, do you feel there to refresh a squad that has already won everything and for the role of offensive joker?

Even though I haven’t yet had the opportunity to have as many trophies as the girls who were already at the club, I have a winning mentality, and that’s what everyone at this club shares. I fit well into the group, the choice of starters belongs to the coach. We saw from my entries against Benfica in the quarter-final that I wanted to try to change the situation.

Before facing you in the semi-final of the Champions League, do you find points in common with the revelation of PSG and top scorer of D1 Tabitha Chawinga, both in your career and your astonishing speed ?

I’m already praising her for what she’s doing right now. We manage to get by in a country and a culture that is not ours, and we both experienced football in the streets. But I think we remain players with quite different qualities. I have developed my speed but my first quality is explosiveness.

What did you feel, on February 22, 2023, when you scored a double against Chile (2-1) synonymous with qualification for the first World Cup in the history of the Haitian selection?

For me but also for all the Haitian people, it remains a historic moment. We dreamed of this and I am very honored to have been able to give this opportunity to all my teammates. At the World Cup, we weren’t very far away. We lost our three group matches, but only by small margins. This qualification is still unforgettable.


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