Over the past two days, the media has had a field day criticising the French squad for not having made any progress in terms of attitude and team spirit. While it can be argued that the French camp was a bit tense over the past 3 weeks, the media is becoming more and more british for going overboard and comparing this situation with the sorry strike event that happened in Knysna.
I don’t think people realise the magnitude of what happened two summers ago when Patrice Evra told his buddies to stop being told what to do and instead tell Domenech what he should do (funny that Domenech has been opening his gob in the press since we got knocked out). The result of this was a psychological malaise that can’t be erased by the blink of an eye. Blanc and the staff have worked very hard to restore camaraderie within the French camp. They didn’t do that bad a job as, Nasri aside, I can’t single out a single player who has had a pathetic attitude on and off the pitch. The ex-Arsenal playmaker has been a peripheral figure for his current club, Manchester City, and this column did think that him not playing that many games would provide freshness. That didn’t happen. Still the rest of the squad shouldn’t be treated the same way just because we went out on a whimper. There was a lot positive thinking in this squad starting by players who were called up for the first time in a major competition (or at least ones who weren’t used to those summer reunions) like Debuchy, Cabaye, Giroud or Réveillère. It’s not like the so-called chavs of South Africa were being bullies this time around either: Evra was poor before and during the tournament, he was benched against the Ukraine to Gael Clichy’s benefit and took it like a man without making a fuss. Ribéry and Benzema, the two players who we were probably over-reliant on, tried hard but were quite isolated in trying to unlock defences. Even Alou Diarra played well! No, this wasn’t Knysna#2.
What this team lacks, and what most football fans know worldwide, is that France need a leader on the pitch. Players stick together when a charismatic presence is felt on the pitch. The 2-0 win against Ukraine was our first in a European Championships final without Platini or Zidane. A good manager can do whatever he wants, if that presence on the pitch cannot be found, France are an average team at best who can be beaten by most of their neighbouring European powerhouses. A major concern as right now no one seems willing to take the bull by the horns. The squad seriously lacks character. It feels like a classroom full of quiet, serious students who listen intently to the schoolmaster (here Laurent Blanc) but seem bereft of ideas as soon as a bit of work is needed. On paper it looks good but on the pitch this squad will get run over but most sides having a bit of fight in them (I seriously could have seen sides like Denmark or the Czech Republic beating us without too much difficulty).
A final point made by the media as a criticism to most of the players: they think they had a good tournament. While this is evidently not true it isn’t necessarily the players’ fault. As soon as the teams were drawn, Blanc said that getting out of the group stages would be “un miracle”. Really? Against an England side then without a manager and two average sides in Sweden and Ukraine? Closer to the tournament, the FFF (French FA) said that players won’t be getting win bonuses unless they reach the quarter-finals. What happened? The players got their bonuses by reaching the promised land and went home. It was also noted that the quarter-finals was the ultimate aim set by the FFF to Blanc. Again, terrible PR. Very few players were concerned after the atrocious performance that saw us lose to Sweden 0-2 as to them (the players and the staff) it was mission accomplished. They had done the job. Kudos.
Communication and France really do not go hand in hand. Euro 2008 was also a PR disaster as was the World Cup. People may think it can be something to overlook but recent events have showned that this campaign could have been a whole lot different with better PR. Blanc has to shoulder some of the blame of course. A previous entry focussed on the usefulness of a quite inexperienced manager at the helm of the national team. If this campaign has proven anything it is that Blanc lacks the man-management skills that day-to-day club football provides. Ask yourself the question why are “oldies” like Joachim Low or Vicente Del Bosque the right men for the job: vastly experienced and, moreover, their leaning curve is over. Blanc has everything to learn. One French league title doesn’t make an Arsène Wenger.
Of course, unless Deschamps leaves Marseille (a boat sinking faster than France to be fair), we don’t have a better candidate to take us to Brazil in two years’ time.
For more Football Blogs and opinion from football fans around the world