France Sabotaged, Again, By Its Coach

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There’s something quite obviously perverse about the French football authorities. Mindful of the fact that pretty much all of the nation’s football fans — and more importantly, pretty much all of its football players — believe (with very good reason) that coach Raymond Domenech is an incorrigible idiot, they have finally agreed to terminate Domenech’s contract: But only after first giving him the opportunity to blow France’s chances at the World Cup.

There were plenty of questions about Domenech in 2006, but the team went all the way to the final. The difference then, of course, is the senior players such as the legendary Zinedine Zidane, Patrick Vieira and Claude Makelele took charge of matters and organized the team into a unit capable of winning despite a coach who would leave out a player because he said he mistrusted players whose star sign was scorpio. They were dumped out of Euro 2004, and under Domenech’s guidance, only managed to qualify for South Africa by Thierry Henry cheating in the playoff game against Ireland.

But the French authorities failed to heed the writing on the wall, and kept Domenech in the job, announcing that a new coach — the highly rated Laurent Blanc — would take over only after the tournament.

For his swansong, a carefree last roll of the dice, he horrified many Frenchmen by excluding from his squad such prodigiously talented players as Arsenal’s Sami Nasri, Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema, and Marseille’s Hatem Ben Arfa. And this in a squad in which he picked such plodders as Sydney Govou and Djibril Cisse.

Then, in France’s opener against Uruguay, he further alarmed French fans (and players, reportedly) by leaving Chelsea’s on-fire attacking midfielder Florent Malouda on the bench, and resisting calls for Thierry Henry to start.


The result was predictably dire: Govou, a desperately limited player, missed a sitter in front of goal in the opening minutes, and his game never got any better. No matter, Domenech persisted with him until the 85th minute. France were utterly bereft of idea, cohesion, and self-belief. Failing even to take advantage of Uruguay being a man down after Nicolas Lodeiro was sent off for a vicious foul on Bacary Sagna, they scraped home to a draw that casts doubt over France’s ability to progress to the next round. In an exasperated mid-game tweet, the Guardian’s Raf Hoenigstein saw the performance as a tribute to the coach: “It takes an absolute genius to make so many talented players play this badly together.”