By Joe Meloni
It’s odd, at the moment, to think Raymond Domenech was a Zinedine Zidane temper tantrum away from perhaps leading France to a World Cup championship four years ago.
Since the latest installment of the World Cup began 10 days ago, absolutely nothing has gone right for France, and it’s easy to pin the lame-duck Domenech as the guilty party. Piecing together a list of his poor decisions in France’s games thus far isn’t as difficult as, say, finding any good choices he made. Not selecting Karim Benzema or Samir Nasri for a team in desperate need of creativity with the ball or choosing not to play Thierry Henry or Yoann Gourcuff in a game his team would lose, 2-0, stand as some of the most obvious complaints supporters of Les Bleus have of the flighty manager.
However, Domenech’s ineptitude as a leader of a team in transition has already been addressed by the French Football Federation. It named former Bordeaux boss Laurent Blanc as Domenech’s replacement just before the World Cup began. The issue, though, is that the French people expect to win every World Cup – and rightfully so. Not removing Domenech after a dreadful showing at the European Championship two summers ago, and an equally difficult run of World Cup qualifiers, effectively eliminated France from contention before it even boarded the plane to Johannesburg.
The Federation blew it once again on Saturday when it decided Nicolas Anelka no longer deserved to play for his country after a testy exchange with Domenech and some reports from the French press. In the following day’s training session, captain Patrice Evra handed Domenech a note, which said everything we already knew his side was thinking: “Bring on Blanc, so we can get back to being Les Bleus.”
Now that may not have been it’s exact wording, but I’m guessing I’ve got the point right.
The team refused to train on Sunday afternoon – re-boarding its bus and pulling down the shades moments after walking onto the field.
Ostensibly, the dismissal of Anelka served as the tipping point, but this has been coming for months. Domenech is every bit inept as his players and bosses think he is, but the men who hired him should have listened to a few internal cries and fired him after his dreadful showing in Switzerland and Austria two summers ago. During Euro 2008, the French played to a scoreless tie with Romania before a pair of embarrassing losses to the Netherlands and Italy sent them home.
According to ESPN Soccernet, French Football Federation vice president Christian Teinturier wanted Domenech out after the failure in Switzerland and Austria, but he remained on for some reason. His players, bosses and the French press have complained of his inadequacies since, but not until it was too late to choose a new coach for South Africa did the Federation decide it had seen enough.
Now that the worst-case scenario is a reality, the FFF’s finger points directly to Domenech, when it knew two years ago that his success in 2006 was more a product of Zidane’s world-class performances in Germany rather than any tactical brilliance from Domenech. Expecting the same results from the French side this time around led a few to think the French bosses’ heads had joined Domenech’s in the stars.
Naturally, Teinturier and other top members of French Football have used the internal chaos as a smokescreen for their own mistakes. Blaming Domenech for some issues is fine, but this disaster is their fault and no one else’s. While the French people pull for a saving grace in the side’s final group match against South Africa on Tuesday – a win and some serious help from the Mexicans can push Les Bleus to the Round of 16 – any frustration they have should not be directed at Domenech, but at the men who decided not to fire him.
Blanc is going to fix things once he assumes duty. So, whether or not anyone involved can see it now, the future is very bright for the French. But when the FFF invariably pats itself on the back for hiring him, they should remember they did it two years too late. The final meaningful matches of Henry’s international career have been a complete disgrace to the legacy of Major League Soccer’s latest reported talisman.
Domenech also managed to alienate Patrick Vieira, who captained the Euro 2008 squad, and has all but eliminated the harmony that looked like the future of this team after the 1998 World Cup, which united white, black and Arab Frenchmen for the first time in the nation’s history. Especially now, as further cultural battles continue to rock France, the country needed its soccer team to give it some light – to show the beauty of a widely varied French population.
Instead, the entire world is laughing as the French players bicker among themselves, and their bosses evade blame like Henry once did with defenders.
On Tuesday afternoon, the French will stand across from host nation South Africa as both countries look to extend their World Cup. It seems like a loss may actually be the best result for Les Bleus. After all, Domenech’s time in charge doesn’t ended until their World Cup reaches Fin.
Joe Meloni is a contributing writer and editor for The Soccer Guys. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org