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Football : French Revolution 0 - English Conservatism 4

By Matthieu Boisseau

The Euro 2012 qualifiers began on Friday with very different results for France and England: two footballing nations currently in psychological convalescence following their disastrous World Cup performances. On the English side, Fabio Capello's gang seems to have overcome their South-African trauma, easily beating Bulgaria 4-0. On the French side, the qualifying campaign has not got off to quite such a good start, with Laurent Blanc’s squad losing 1-0 at home to Belarus. The Road to redemption and victory will undoubtedly be long and torturous for the "Président"'s team. So, after this first game week, it is already time to make a temporary assessment.


Two opposite reactions to the South African debacles

'To turn over a new leaf', 'To rebuild a team', 'To start from scratch', those were the words rapped out by each French player before the match against Belarus. The disastrous image given by the Knysna strike has actually provoked a storm of resignations from member of the French Football Federation, among them the now former President Jean-Pierre Escalettes. The FFF has been harshly criticised for its passiveness throughout the situation, The reality is that it has been seeking to turn the page as quickly as possibly on the many troubles it has inherited from Raymond Domenech, the eccentric coach who will be fired in the next few days.


Laurent Blanc still looking for a win as the head coach of the French National Team

In contrast, the FA did not relieve Fabio Capello from his duties; in spite of the media savaging he received following England’s 4-1 humiliation against Germany in the 16th round. That said, unlike his counterpart, Capello was lucky enough to escape unscathed by team mutinies or prostitution scandals, which undoubtedly helped in keeping the hype around the whole debacle to a minimum. Nevertheless, the days when Fabio Capello was praised for having founded a team with an unstructured juxtaposition of Premier League stars are over. According to the venerable José Mourinho, 'Capello will not work for England'. In addition, the Sun mocked the transalpine coach's authoritarianism by branding him, rather unceremoniously, a 'Jackass'. This unpopularity has even reached higher levels after he inappropriately declared that 'David Beckham knows that he has no future with the national team because we have to change', an unacceptable attack on the idolized 'Spice Boy'. The situation has since returned to normal after the coach performed an unexpected U-turn and allowed the former England captain to resume his international career.

Both teams need to rebuild their relationship with their fans and journalists

After the Bloemfontein defeat, English fans condemned their national team for failing to play to standard for such an important event. This time, faced with the boos of their nation, the players chose to accept the blame for their poor performance, with Captain Steven Gerrard offering a sincere apology. Having admitted that he himself would have booed had he been in the crowd at Wembley, he went on to promise that actions spoke louder than words, and that the players would show how sorry they were by playing for all they were worth in the next match. This message must have been well received and obviously appreciated by the fans, as they were massively present at Wembley this time round to support their team and celebrate each of its four goals.


Hat-Trick hero Defoe congratulated by his teammates Walcott and Gerrard

In France, Domenech’s replacement by Laurent Blanc gave desperate French fans a much-needed glimmer of hope that the team might once again experience some of the glorious victories of the late 90s. The squad was given a massive makeover, promoting a new generation which was supposed to honour the blue shirt that had begun to attract more loathing than love during the 2010 World Cup. New mottos were brandished such as 'values', 'motivation' and 'pride', a frame of mind embodied by the national hero, Zinédine Zidane, who returned to Clairefontaine in order to boost the team’s confidence. The game plan, inspired by the tiki-taka of Guardiola's FC Barcelona, seemed promising, with a style of play characterised by short passing, movement and maintained ball possession. The main goal was to give a fresh start to a French football team which had ignored both the media and the fans during this time of sportive and moral debacle. The FFF also had to protect its financial interest, by reassuring all of the team’s sponsors, not to mention that some of them pay 3,34 millions of pounds a year, in order to protect the golden eggs of this goose that is the rooster on the blue shirt. The unacceptable behaviour of the French team shocked all the partners, who have since demanded a renegotiation of their contract with the FFF. This could lead to a bonus-malus sponsorship, which will be dependant on the results of 'Les Bleus'. As a consequence, Laurent Blanc and his crew have had to get closer to the media and the fans, an effort which has been highly appreciated by all journalists and supporters. The new coach even made sure all his players would be singing the national anthem before matches, to show they really care about playing for their country. 60 million supporters were buoyed by renewed feelings of hope and naivety, convinced that their team was on the road to victory and dignity. Even their losing performance against Norway was, in this novel state of optimism, said to be 'encouraging' and 'positive'. Friday would be the start of a new chapter in French footballing history. The only hurdle left was that little issue of actually winning…

French Revolution 0 – English Conservatism 4

Unfortunately, results speak for themselves, and the 1-0 loss against Belarus quickly dashed any hopes of redemption. Sergei Kislyak's 86th-minute winning goal has underlined the cruel fact that, whether under Laurent Blanc or Raymond Domenech, France still loses. Friday’s match is now the fourth consecutive defeat for the national team, a run of bad-luck not seen since 1937. This is undoubtedly due to the inexperience of Laurent Blanc's young team: youth is certainly a good thing to kick-start a new era, but not necessarily right when competitive at the highest level. The Byelorussian defence was like an insurmountable obstacle due to the French forwards’ lack of creativity and game mastery. Moreover, whereas at the beginning of the qualifiers for Euro 2008, each players had, on average, 49 caps, the starting line-up on Friday only counted 14 caps per player. The causes are multiple: Thierry Henry has retired from international football, and others major and experienced players are still suspended because of the strike, like Jérémy Toulalan (one match), Patrice Evra (five), Franck Ribéry (three) and Nicolas Anelka (an international career-ending 18). This is also a proof that the World Cup debacle will not easily be forgotten. The new generation supposedly taking control of the French team is currently set to fail, especially if it must play without the suspended playmaker Yoann Gourcuff, Arsenal's injured Samir Nasri, and the brilliant but unmanageable Hatem Ben Arfa. But doubts run even deeper, with some asking whether France is even still capable of competing against the best international teams. Specialists like Arsène Wenger are sceptical about the squad’s ability climb back up to the top of the Football World, an opinion reinforced by an embarrassing Fifa World ranking of 21.


Valbuena's despair contrasts with Belarus players' joy.

At the opposite side of the spectrum, England's win over Bulgaria has reassured the fans and given Fabio Capello the benefit of the doubt. Above all, it has revealed that the coach will now be able to rely on the highly efficient front duo composed of Rooney and Defoe, a combination which will surely frighten a fair few defences in the future… Other grounds for satisfaction rest on Hart, Dawson and Jagielka's good performances. These inexperienced players have shown that they are now contenders for a permanent place in the starting line-up, particularly Joe Hart, who has shown that his claim for No 1 shirt is the real deal.

In conclusion, it seems that, unlike his French counterpart, Capello can take it easy for the time being, and enjoy a little serenity. Laurent Blanc, on the other hand, though currently still well supported, is in dire need of a win if he is to boost morale, and avoid the criticisms which further losses will undoubtedly bring on. Obviously patience is required when rebuilding a team with young players- the problem is that time is not a luxury they have during these Group D Euro 2012 qualifiers. It’s fair to say that, as he travels to Bosnia for Tuesday’s match, Laurent Blanc is most definitely feeling the pressure.


10/09/2010 - c.poline said :

Franky serait si fier de toi...
En tout cas moi je le suis!

10/09/2010 - pchretien said :

beau boulot mon grand , j'attends le prochain avec impatience , maintenant que nous avons enfin ....gagné un match !! ressurection ? bout du tunnel ?
le titre sera important pour l'article, mais pour l'équipe de France ce qu'il nous faut avant tout ce sont DES titres .
pascal C

07/09/2010 - deanejennings said :

As an anglosaxon I still cannot understand why Dominiche wasn;t sacked after the Euro disaster. It was obvious to me that Dominiche had nothing to do with the World Cup success in 2006, and that it was Zidane himself who had got the team to playing together as a unit. He never had a useful analysis to give afterwards or presented a plan for rectifying things. He just shrugged his shoulders every time. No wonder they went on strike.

06/09/2010 - estelle.chretien said :

Pas mal pour l'inénarrable Monsieur B...
Toutes nos félicitations !
Tes plus fervents supporters...


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