After France’s disastrous 2008 Euro outing followed in quick succession by the 2010 World Cup debacle which saw France go through a self existential paroxysm as the country re-examined what constitutes being French (see Alain Finkelkraut), getting out of the group stage in the 2012 Euro might constitute improvement. But has it changed that much?
The 2010 World Cup French squad were a splintered group of demoralized individuals divided by dislike for Raymond Domenech and the racial tensions within the team. Moliere could not have written better farce with the French crashing out after making it to the World Cup on a grave miscarriage of justice through Thierry Henry’s sleight of hand.
The FFF hung onto Domenech like a juicy bone for years as each succeeding squad expressed their diminishing belief in him, finally showing him the door. His replacement Laurent Blanc, the successful Bordeaux coach, and a deeply admired figure survived controversy when he green lighted what appeared to be a quota system based on racial lines. He expressed his philosophy through this quote, “The Spanish, they say ‘we don’t have a problem. We have no blacks'”.
This was never a problem before; a team the French had dominated in big competitions before and whose 2006 World Cup coach, Luis Aragones was mocked as racist by Henry after he scored the equalizer in their quarter-final. As if to counter, Aragones turned to Marcos Senna, who became the fulcrum of the 2008 Euro winning team, a naturalized Brazilian, in an all white team. The larger message was Spain had successfully utilized a two holding midfielder system which was evident against France yesterday. Which proves you can’t pigeonhole performances to racism although one can’t dispute its expediency as an explanation.
Blanc got plenty of support from players like Patrick Viera and Marcel Desailly. The troublemakers were gone through retirement and non-selection. The overt racial tones were tamped down as France got back into the business of playing football for football’s sake and not as a metonymy for the country’s polarization. Except this time the “me first” culture hit them as a roadblock. Samir Nasri, showed chauvinism is not just related to sexual, national, or racial borders. The talent shown by him at Marseilles that saw comparisions to Zidane has not materialized in his further adventures at Arsenal and City, dictated it appears by base economics and a self serving attitude.
There was a flash when England met France under Blanc in a friendly last year when Nasri completely took over in the first half painfully underscoring the similar lack of talent in the opposition. But then he disappeared and England crept back in. The same was repeated in this Euro as Nasri scored the equalizer against England and then proceeded to celebrate against the real opposition, a critical French media. He didn’t show up against Ukraine and Sweden, and was brought off the bench against Spain after becoming the centre of attention as a different kind of dysfunctionality divided the team. Nasri in his remaining minutes did not do anything of note as the French increasingly played without conviction or anything approaching urgency.
Tactically too, there were shortcomings, as Blanc opted to pair Phillipe Mexes with Adil Rami, a mismatch which was exploited by England and the Swedes, with Laurent Koscielny as a second option in a frail defense. He explained bolstering the right with two full backs as his reaction to stopping Andres Iniesta and Jordi Alba’s overlapping runs which as events proved failed spectacularly while shutting down any attacking options down that flank.
France’s ouster has been criticized by the press but they have stopped short of calling for Blanc’s head. The players are also cautiously optimistic. There is none of the doomsday forebodings after the World Cup which in retrospect might be the most tangible improvement. But France’s Euro campaign can only be tarnished by this outburst between Nasri and the AFP reporter. Blanc’s toughest decision might be whether to keep Nasri on that French squad. The media may have already made up their minds and Blanc might become a target in their crosshairs depending on that decision.