By Nick Craddock
The French football team has found itself in what is becoming a familiar predicament: In shambles following a major tournament.
Enter former national team hero, Didier Deschamps, introduced as the manager of France over the weekend to salvage the national side from the guillotine of the soccer world’s critics and naysayers. The only man capable of doing so.
Deschamps, captain of France’s 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 championship-winning teams, was the natural choice — the only choice — to lead France back to respectability following another disappointing major tournament, this time at Euro 2012. As a result, Deschamps’ former national teammate Laurent Blanc took the fall for the team’s poor performance and stepped down as the France manager.
But perhaps more damaging than France’s poor results on the field in the past decade, is the French players’ antics off the field.
Two years ago at the 2010 World Cup, a casual Raymond Domenech had absolutely zero managerial authority over the French squad, which spent zero time winning games, opting instead to mount a mutiny against Domenech and the French Football Federation by boycotting training.
Accordingly, the 2010 World Cup debacle meant the French were heading home disgraced losers to the eyes of the world; the French would later drop to an all-time low of #27 in the FIFA World Rankings that fall.
Blanc was hired to take over for Domenech and Blanc tried to restore authority in the French team by suspending the entire 23-man team at the World Cup. Nevertheless, Blanc’s reign as manager included a mixture of positives and negatives. Although Blanc managed France to a 23-game unbeaten streak during his tenure, the team fizzled when it mattered most, as France lost its final two games at Euro 2012, sent home after the quarterfinals — only a slight improvement on the first-round exits at Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010.
The more disturbing development from Euro 2012 is that Samir Nasri, Hatem Ben Arfa, Yann M’Vila, and Jeremy Menez all face disciplinary hearings with the French Football Federation after tumultuous off-the-field behavior yet again.
Putting on the French national team jersey, (really, any national team jersey), but in particular the French national team jersey, which carries with it a strong sense of football history, should be a source of great pride and respect for the responsibility that comes with the honor.
But now? Now, adorning the jersey for Les Bleus is comical and has been reduced to a means of promoting self-serving egos. Thus, Deschamps’ most difficult task will be restoring the injured image of French football.
Liken the hiring of Deschamps to Argentina’s hiring of national hero Diego Maradona in 2008. Maradona didn’t have quite as an impressive resume as one might expect from candidates vying for a post as important as manager of Argentina, but he was a larger-than-life character who could not only inspire a squad in need of a fire lit beneath them, but shoulder the pressure swelling on his players to allow them to focus on the game alone.
Maradona carried Argentina to a 14-0-5 record, including a quarterfinals appearance at the 2010 World Cup. Yes, Maradona’s hiring ended up being a short-term fix, yet in his time he restored the aura of intimidation naturally associated with Argentine football.
Even if, much like Maradona, Deschamps’ tenure flames out abruptly, there is no denying that Deschamps not only deserves respect from his countrymen, he demands it. And the French Football Federation will be pleased to know that Deschamps’ track record exemplifies that he has been a master of rebuilding projects.
Deschamps took Monaco, a team that has since been relegated to Ligue 2, to its first Champions League final during his first head coaching gig, navigated Juventus at its lowest point in the club’s history back to Serie A following the 2006 Italian gambling scandal, and guided Marseille, a historic Ligue 1 powerhouse, to its first league title in 18 years.
France is likewise a rebuilding project at the moment. The team needs to be revitalized and retooled to compete on the world stage and return the team to the caliber capable of producing more World Cup and European titles, but success won’t come easily.
The French are not assured of a spot at the next World Cup in Brazil because of a tough draw in a qualifying group that includes juggernaut Spain. Assuming the French are second to the Spanish, this means that France’s only route to Brazil will be via a two-match playoff — the same route which almost cost France a spot in South Africa but for a fortuitous call from the referee, or lack thereof, resulting in a Thierry Henry handball being counted as a goal.
And if that wasn’t enough, Euro 2016 will be hosted by France, where the home fans will no doubt expect nothing short of a title…
Zut alors, Didier!
Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze.