For France, There’s World Cup Hope in a Player Rebellion

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The news that France’s players had refused to train on Sunday in protest at the decision by those running the team to send home potty-mouthed striker Nicolas Anelka was widely interpreted as a sign that Les Bleus have imploded. Not so fast. I’d argue that the player rebellion is, in fact, the best thing that could have happened to this French squad.

Great clip here of training ground confrontation between players led by captain Patrice Evra, and the management staff:

Everyone familiar with French football knows that a team sent to an international tournament under the stewardship of Raymond Domenech will have to fend for itself — or Bruce put it in a previous post, tie him up and lock him in the trunk and get on with it. The French authorities’ decision to keep at the helm a man generally known to be incapable of managing his players — and this after announcing that he would be terminated, but only after the tournament — was an act of national suicide. Nobody was surprised that the team failed to perform, already weakened by Domenech’s inexplicable decision to leave behind three of the country’s most talented attacking players — Arsenal’s Sami Nasri, Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema and Bordeaux’s Hatem Ben Arfa. The man is known to have a problem with players born under the Scorpio star sign, but the names of those three — and the fact that he hasn’t included a single other player of Arab descent in the squad — suggests that it’s not only Scorpios of whom Domenech is wary. Nasty as its verbalization may have been, I’ve yet to find a French fan who disagrees with Anelka’s verdict. Or that of Zinedine Zidane, the hero of 1998 and 2006, who put it more kindly, saying simply that “Domenech is not a coach.”

At the last World Cup, France went all the way to the final, but only because the players simply ignored Domenech and took charge of themseves — it was the senior players such as Zidane, Patrick Viera, Claude Makelele and Willy Sagnol that provided the tactical direction and inspiration that would typically come from a coach capable of commanding the players’ respect. The team knitted together as a unit effectively against Domenech, going all the way to the last game despite rather than because of him. And the great fear at this World Cup is that all of those who took charge last time are gone, and that none
of the current senior players, such as Thierry Henry and William Gallas, is capable of providing that sort of leadership.

So the team has played listlessly, with no cohesion or belief — and that’s no surprise given that Domenech has been in charge. But Sunday’s training strike, at which the team decided collectively among themselves to protest against Anelka’s expulsion is a sign of unity among the players we’ve not yet seen. Sure, the management echelon is in disarray; that’s okay because this team cannot perform under this coaching staff. But they’re a talented bunch of players, and if they go the pirate route, throwing off the authority of the admiralty and going out to win things for themselves, they could yet prove a force to be reckoned with. For French fans now, their best bet may be the newfound revolutionary spirit among the players: Aux armes, citoyens!