• Wednesday, 23 June 2010

    France's next move

    It could scarcely have gone worse for France at the World Cup. Internal disputes saw the side pulled apart as it has threatened to do since the extension to Raymond Domenech's contract was announced after the dismal European Championships of two years ago. Many commentators have compared this implosion to those of the Dutch sides of the 80s and 90s, but this is on a different scale. Star players verbally abusing and physically threatening the coach, a strike (how very Gallic), a horrible official statement relating to the strike, players sent home, the captain dropped for his part in the revolt and the old man of the side assuming control of team affairs for the last game - hey, you've read it all elsewhere. That makes the Dutch of twenty years ago look like mere amateurs. Spain and Belgium too - they were merely dipping their toes in the shallow end while this crop of Frenchmen took a running jump off the ten-metre board.

    Needless to say, results on the pitch were about as predictably awful as can be expected in the circumstances and they are on their way home - flying economy - barely ten days after the tournament began. The names Evra, Anelka and Henry are all mud, but there are a few players whose reputations have been enhanced by the fiasco, namely Patrick Vieira, Karim Benzema, Hatem Ben Arfa and Samir Nasri. All four were omitted, surpringly so, by Domenech and while missing out on a World Cup wasn't in the script for any of them, they may be pleased they sat this one out.

    Domenech is gone now and, oh boy, what a legacy the new guy has been left. Laurent Blanc takes over and European qualifiers are just around the corner. One thing Blanc has got in his favour is that he commands respect in a way Domenech never has done, but what personal rifts there are in the squad after all that's gone on in South Africa need identifying and resolving as a matter of urgency. There's a crop of young players who it would be easy to see as being resentful to the older group - the agitators - for ruining their World Cup. Before the French kick another ball in anger, Blanc could do a lot worse than get together with his squad - and players like Nasri et al who weren't there for this one - and bend them to his vision. Draw a line under this episode and regroup. Lingering resentment will hold back the nation for many years. This needs sorting and sorting now.

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