Les Bleus see red in wake of defeat
SPAIN v FRANCE:Laurent Blanc seems destined to lose the dressing room unless he reasserts his authority, writes EMMET MALONE
DOUBTS ABOUT Laurent Blanc’s ability to rally his wounded French squad following Tuesday’s comprehensive defeat by Sweden and post-match dressing room row persisted yesterday.
The French media is divided on whether the country’s hopes of beating Spain tonight effectively evaporated in Kiev.
Unsurprisingly, the observation by assistant coach Alain Boghossian that the spat was “nothing like as bad as two years ago”, has done little to calm the nation’s nerves back home.
Boghossian was also part of the coaching team in South Africa when the squad mutinied so comically under then manager Raymond Domenech, but Blanc was brought in since to mend battered morale and rebuild an ageing team. Things got off to a slightly shaky start with the French losing their opening qualifier of this campaign at home to Belarus but the former international, who enjoyed considerable success in his short first spell in club management – with Bordeaux – had seemed to successfully stamp his authority on the players since then and they came through to win the group, albeit with Samir Nasri having to convert a penalty within 12 minutes of the end of their last game to ensure top spot.
Now, however, things do not appear to be running quite so smoothly. Florent Malouda, emboldened perhaps by the successful outbreak of player power at Chelsea this year, has been critical since losing his place following the draw with England. Alou Diarra is reckoned to have had a go on Tuesday night at Nasri – who many within the squad apparently feel is not a team player – and Blanc is reported to have had a row with Hatem Ben Arfa who apparently told the former centre back that if he did not have trust in him then he should send him home.
Trust, in fact, appears to be a central theme in all of this. The 46-year-old manager is sometimes criticised for not knowing his best team. He made the strange decision to acknowledge, in the wake of the defeat by Sweden, that he had probably not fielded his best side.
Blanc’s job is on the line because French federation president Noel Le Graet has consistently refused to discuss a new contract until this championship is out of the way. Blanc had railed against what he perceived to be an insult and insisted he would not stick around if a deal was not struck in advance of the tournament. However, his boss not only held his nerve but aggravated the situation by vetoing some of the manager’s proposed team preparations.
Now, some tough talking is likely to take place whenever the side goes out of the tournament, with Blanc needing a good show in order to gain the upper hand.
Although the French have never lost a competitive game to their southern neighbours, doing so now would not, in itself, constitute a failure. But if they do go out in the quarter-final against Spain when top spot in the group appeared there for the taking is likely to be brought up fairly swiftly in any post championship review.
Le Monde was certainly scathing in their report of the loss, running the story under the headline suffisant – by which, in this instance, they meant smug rather than sufficient. When he composed himself a little, Blanc obviously preferred to see things a little differently, acknowledging that the Swedes had completely outplayed his side but adding that it was a somewhat secondary matter.