Luke Harvey believes the one-match ban on French players for their playground tantrum in South Africa is both ineffectual and, by punishing the (possibly) innocent, unfair. The truth remains confused: the French sports minister spoke of the bullies and the meek but players who have spoken publicly insist everyone was up for the strike with no good guy/bad guy split. Picking his way through a murky story, Luke finds it in his heart to wish Laurent Blanc well …
Laurent Blanc’s first move as manager of the French national team was a serious statement of intent. The entire 23-man squad who represented the country so poorly in South Africa would be dropped for the next match. That’s every single player, even the ones who didn’t get a chance to set foot on the pitch during the disastrous campaign …
Now it could be said that everyone was as bad as each other, that no one disembarked the coach to train on that dark day in French football history. Yet the claim could also be made that a player such as Mathieu Valbuena, young and barely capped, is highly unlikely to go against the status quo as Messrs Evra, Ribery, Henry and Cisse sat with sullen faces and folded arms in their childish protest at Nicolas Anelka’s dismissal from the national squad.
The result was a nation’s football team being viewed as spoilt children by the watching world and, at least from me, a dash of sympathy for an admittedly inept manager. As he faced reporters to read a statement from his players saying they were too pathetic to get on with it and train, you got the feeling this was rock bottom of his career.
When the going gets tough for the French football team, they would rather absolve themselves of any blame as opposed to toughening up, uniting and taking on the challenge ahead.
The players are too wrapped up in their headphones and Polaroid sunglasses to acknowledge anyone around them, they are all too happy to ignore the media throng wanting answers for the shambles that has just occurred. In the event, the French national team managed to conduct themselves in such a manner that our nation’s own disappointments looked unremarkable by comparison.
The signs of impending French implosion have been there for many years, as far back as the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea where Les Bleus won a total of no games, and failed to find the net as well. On that occasion they would prop up a group consisting of qualifiers Denmark and Senegal, and this years semi-finalists Uruguay who were eliminated with them.
Laurent Blanc’s decision to suspend the whole team, however, seems to have its pitfalls – and isn’t the strongest move he could have made.
First of all, his punishment is horrendously transparent. The players will miss an uneventful friendly match with Norway and be all back available well in time for the European Championship qualifiers.
If Blanc thinks the supposed leader of the rebellion, Patrice Evra, will rue missing this match then I’m not too sure he’s cut from the cloth of international management. Furthermore, Evra’s permanent boss at Man Utd, Sir Alex Ferguson, will no doubt welcome the fact his player will not have to play in a match where injury could be risked unnecessarily.
Secondly, the Black may want the move to be viewed as a new, hard-line action from a no-nonsense boss, but the reality is we’ve seen it all before. There is no new style of disciplinarian action that the world hasn’t seen before and to cake this up as anything but a “look at how tough I’m being” publicity stunt would be naïve.
Blanc’s decision reminds me a lot of Steve McClaren’s first move as England boss when he banished David Beckham from the side. There was no real rhyme or reason to this move other than McClaren’s urge to wield his new found power. Even at his advanced age, Beckham still provides something different in the England squad – in a team full of very fast wingers with no final delivery, to have a player who doesn’t need to beat the man to send in a quality ball would be a great change of pace.
Instead McClaren told him his services were no longer required, coupled with the fact Beckham was out of favour at Real Madrid – coincidentally managed by Fabio Capello – and suddenly he wasn’t playing any football at all. The result was that Beckham got his head down and put in performances that caused both Capello and McClaren to eat their own words and backtrack on their decisions, recalling him to their squads.
In the end both Capello and McClaren were left with egg on their faces after their big decisions were proven to be silly mistakes.
Perhaps, too, we should wish the same to happen to Laurent Blanc. After all he has done nothing to endear himself to Sunderland fans during his time at Bordeaux and how he conducted himself in the infamous Chamakh incident, but in his role as manager of France I feel compelled to give him a clean slate.
Several of our contributors hold France close to their hearts, and for different reasons. My own are rather tenuous: a general love of the French teams, their cuisine and the Tour de France, coupled with an unhealthy interest in Montreal, Canada. But it does make liking France an obvious choice..