Players desperate to end Domenech era
Published 20/06/2010 | 05:00
France's enfeeblement at this World Cup is more chameleon than karma. In Dublin they laugh that Les Bleus are being punished for the Thierry Henry handball that sent France to South Africa ahead of the Republic of Ireland, but the cause is less faith-based, unless you count Raymond Domenech's astrological leanings.
The chameleon Domenech has led this generation into the Seine with his oddball selectorial whims, tactical aberrations and confrontational modus operandi. Blindingly apparent in Thursday's 2-0 defeat to Mexico was that these French players are desperate to reach the end of the Domenech era so they can start afresh under Laurent Blanc, even if that means withdrawing their labour during games. Professional footballers who hoist the white bedsheet while on national service take a grave risk, because the public are seldom inclined to support an insurrection that wrecks a major campaign, but the side led by Patrice Evra have plainly had their fill of the great survivor, Domenench, who held on to the post despite France failing to progress beyond the group phase at Euro 2008.
The French federation's refusal to act on the coach's deep unpopularity in the dressing room exhibited suicide loyalty. In 2006, in Germany, France drew with Switzerland and South Korea before beating Togo to set off on a winning run that was inspired by the senior players, almost in defiance of their leader. Persuading Zinedine Zidane to return from international retirement proved a masterstroke, but only because it gave the rest of the squad a hero to coalesce around, when the alternative was to quit on the job -- which they appear to be doing now.
A report now confirmed in reliable sections of the French press is that Domenech tried to make Chelsea's Florent Malouda play in a defensive midfield position in the opening 0-0 draw with Uruguay to allow Yoann Gourcuff freedom to roam. Malouda, arguably the best attacking player in the Premier League after Wayne Rooney last season, objected and was left on the bench. Meanwhile, William Gallas expressed his disgust at being overlooked for the captaincy by refusing to talk to the media. France claimed the title of the new Holland: a warring family determined to sabotage their own talent.
In theory they could still advance if they beat South Africa and there is a positive result between Uruguay and Mexico but the game is already up, with L'Equipe calling this team "The Impostors" and Zidane diagnosing that Domenech has lost control of the camp. The coach will not have to consult his star signs to know that old pronouncements will be thrown back at him like rotten brie. Leos, he once said, were "show-offs" who made unreliable defenders. Robert Pires was handicapped by being a Scorpio. Naturally.
So for the four years since they lost to Italy on penalties in the 2006 final, French football has been in a race to destruction. The only doubt was who would end up with the bulk of the blame: Domenech or his rebellious players. This mortification will pass and France will draw on its Clairefontaine academy system to produce new heirs to Zidane, and Blanc will reverse the folly in leaving Samir Nasri and Karim Benzema at home.
This is the end for the William Gallas-Thierry Henry-Nicolas Anelka generation and now Malouda, Nasri, Benzema, Lassana Diarra and Franck Ribery, if he gets his mind right, will lead France from the mire in the spirit, Blanc will hope, of fraternite.