The Libero - France are in disarray
Published: 09 Jun 2010 - 07:44:13
So you think England's preparations for the World Cup have suffered from an untimely collection of injuries, scandals and poor performances?
Well, spare a thought for our Gallic neighbours from across the Channel, whose national side are at their lowest ebb for years with just two days to go before the start of their tournament.
Zut alors, could things get any worse for France? Short of Raymond Domenech being sectioned, Franck Ribery arrested and William Gallas involved in a freak yachting accident before Friday's Group A opener against Uruguay, probably not.
Yet the way things are going at the moment for Les Bleus, even that kind of far-fetched fiction sounds plausible.
France are a team riddled with problems, a squad that has endured the worst possible build-up to the tournament in South Africa, characterised by a succession of poor decisions, entirely avoidable misfortunes, damaging scandal and bad press. Lots of it.
That their coach regularly features in upper echelons of the country's most-hated lists - and bear in mind there is some pretty stiff competition in France - speaks volumes. And as an outsider peering in through the French windows, it's easy to see why.
Domenech is an oddball, a maverick, someone who does things his own way and without compromise. That's great when things are going well - everyone loves a successful eccentric, just ask Jose Mourinho - but disastrous when they're not.
Things have not been going well for Domenech for some time, and it's actually a miracle he still finds himself in the job. The truth is that he really should have gone when his side limply bade farewell to Euro 2008 without making it past the group stage - and he tried to deflect attention from the failure by proposing to his girlfriend on live television immediately after.
But he's still there in the hotseat, the man who picks his players depending on their Zodiac sign, presiding over France's latest shot at emulating the heroes of '98.
That epic night in Paris, when the nation was brought together by the majesty of Zinedine Zidane, is but a distant memory now. And the way Domenech has gone about his preparation for South Africa suggests those memories of success are set to fade even further.
Domenech might not be to blame for the sex scandal involving an under-age prostitute, Ribery and Sidney Govou, but he can take the rap for a dismal dip in form since reaching the World Cup final four years ago.
Les Bleus' showing at Euro 2008 marked a low point, but it could have been even worse had Thierry Henry not cheated Ireland out of a ticket to South Africa with his now infamous handball in last year's World Cup qualifying play-off.
Can there be a more disliked side at this year's tournament? Certainly in Dublin, there are few fans of the French side. Nor, bizarrely, are there in Paris, where the team are regularly heckled and booed by their own 'fans' at the Stade de France.
Recent results have not helped appease those Parisian dissenters, despite Domenech shelving his much-maligned 4-2-3-1 tactics in favour of, shock horror, a bolder 4-3-3. Unfortunately, the new formation didn't work either and a draw with Tunisia was followed by defeat to China.
Nor has the French federation's decision to house the squad at a luxury hotel on the beautiful Western Cape coastline for the tournament helped improve their popularity back home. The resort, usually reserved for millionaire playboys (hmm...), has been branded too flashy by a sports minister who said that in times of crisis, a bit of decency should be shown.
Accusations of a lack of class have also been thrown in the direction of Gallas, who has issued a blanket refusal to speak to the press for the duration of the tournament in South Africa. The Arsenal defender, like his coach, is an eccentric, but many in France are at a loss to understand his latest stance, which has done nothing to ease the already fractious relationship between players and the media.
Yet, as dislikeable Domenech is, as unsavoury Henry and difficult Gallas are, there has to be a modicum of sympathy to be had for the current crop. They live in the shadow of a golden generation, a set of players who would be difficult to emulate - and impossible to better.
And they are suffering for it. Sure, Domenech has not helped himself with decisions like the recent ones to take his squad hiking up a mountain or race buggies around a track - the latter left Gallas eating gravel - but to follow in the footsteps of a team like Zidane's is an unenviable task. After all, all good things must come to an end.
And so too must Domenech's tenure in charge of France. This World Cup will be his swansong with the far more popular Laurent Blanc set to take over at its conclusion.
What remains to be seen is whether Domenech can summon one final hurrah to prove his critics wrong and exit with his head held high. But with an underperforming and disliked team, poorly marshalled and dogged by scandal that certainly looks like a long shot.
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- FOOTBALL.CO.UK BLOGGER:the libero
- Libero (noun): 1. Versatile, ball-playing defender given licence to roam. Expected to break up opposition attacks while instigating counters. Role patented by German legend Franz Beckenbauer. 2. Versatile weekly football columnist, aka journalist Mike Hytner, given licence to write what he likes. Expected to file every Wednesday. Not nearly as talented as his boyhood hero Der Kaiser.
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