France's star-crossed football coach counts cost of one Scorpio too many

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The decline in the France football team which bestrode the world in 1998-2000 may be all down to the stars.

The decline in the France football team which bestrode the world in 1998-2000 may be all down to the stars.

The stars above, that is - not the many "star" players lost to retirement or semi-retirement in recent years. The unorthodox coach of the France national team, Raymond Domenech, admitted several years ago, when he was a club manager at Mulhouse, that he used astrology and star signs to select his squads and teams.

It was an especially bad idea, he said in an interview six years ago, to have more than one Scorpio in any squad because "Scorpios always end up killing each other". Leos are also a problem, especially in defence, he said, because they are "going to try something daft" sooner or later.

As national coach, Domenech says that he has abandoned astrology in favour of more traditional methods of team selection, such as talent and current form. A series of poor results, and baffling selections, for "les Bleus" in recent weeks - including disappointing draws in the past eight days with Switzerland and Israel - have left Domenech's men struggling to qualify for the World Cup in Germany next year.

French sports journalists and fans on football web-sites and blogs have started to ask the obvious question: is Domenech still consulting the stars before he picks his teams? He has, for instance, dropped the Arsenal winger Robert Pires - a star of France teams for seven years - for no obvious reason. But Pires is a Scorpio. Could that explain why there is no place for him in a France squad which already has one Scorpio, Benoît Pedretti?

The excellent Manchester United defender Mikael Silvestre has also been banished from the squad by the coach. Silvestre is a Leo. "When I have a Leo in defence, I keep my rifle ready," Domenech said in an interview in 1999.

Since taking over as national coach last year, he insists that he has given up astrology. However, in a recent documentary on the TF1 television channel, he admitted that he still gives some thought to players' star signs - but only "marginally, at the end of the selection process, when it is a question of choosing between players of equal ability".

He was talking on a TV programme which examined whether astrology still plays any part in French public life. It emerged in the 1990s that the late president François Mitterrand sometimes consulted a celebrity astrologer.

Only two other public figures admitted to the programme that they take astrology seriously: Olivier Dassault, head of the aerospace company and owner of the newspaper Le Figaro, and André Santini, mayor of Issy-les-Moulineaux, in the south Paris suburbs.