The current slump in performance by France’s national football team, ‘les bleus’, can be traced back to the end of the last World Cup. The beginning of their woes, like an omen, was signalled by the departure of one of the country’s greatest ever sporting heroes: Zinedine Zidane. It wasn’t just the fact of his departure from the spotlight that signalled the end of the good times, rather, it was the way that he did it. His now famous ‘coup de tete’ into the chest of Italy’s provocative Materazzi signalled the end of his career, the end of the World Cup 2006 and the end of the glory days of French football in one fail swoop. An event that has left many a Frenchman beating their own chest in despair ever since.
No-one would have predicted then that two years down the line France would be bundled out of Euro 2008 with a goal difference of minus five at the pool stages, nor that in qualifying for the World Cup Finals 2010, they would struggle to find form against the likes of the Faroe Islands and Lithuania.
It is hard to explain this dreadful turn of events for my adoptive home nation. After all there is no lack of talent in the line-up with stars like Anelka, Henry and Ribery still putting in top performances for their respective clubs. Some feel that the blame for the current debacle lies at the feet of manager Raymond Domenech, dubbed by some as ‘the worst manager in Europe’, others would suggest that selection is being based too much on reputation, favouring the ‘old men of football’ ahead of younger in-form players.
From my sofa, it does appear that both of these hypotheses are valid, but Monsieur Domenech is contracted until the end of the Finals in 2010, so things are unlikely to change in time to save the nation’s prospects in South Africa. Unfortunately for the players the French public are unforgiving, and have been quite happy to make their displeasure known at the Stade de France, booing the home team for the last quarter of the match on numerous occasions.
French fans are now being forced to digest the prospect of facing one of two stomach churning events: either watching their team failing to qualify for the World Cup Finals or watching their team put in a performance in South Africa no more worthy than their showing in Germany 2008.
It all comes to a head in the next few weeks as France battle the Republic of Ireland for a place in the finals. Ladbrokes have France at 1 to 3 on to qualify … I’m not so confident.