Divided French hope Evra can restore unity to beleaguered squad
Friday 11 June 2010
It did not quite match Eric Cantona's line about journalists being like seagulls following a trawler but it summed up Raymond Domenech's reign. The France manager was reminded by a Chinese reporter of his saying that if you dropped a frog in boiling water it would jump out; but if you placed it in cold water and gradually turned up the heat, it would boil to death. "How warm is the water for you?" came the question.
Should France lose to Uruguay tonight, it will be scalding. There is a France team in Cape Town that looks organised, motivated and efficient but it is heading to Newlands to take on the Springboks at rugby. The ones with the round ball who will be running out at Green Point this evening are another matter. Franck Ribéry is not speaking to Nicolas Anelka, William Gallas is not talking to the press and while Domenech has talked to his senior players, he has not acceded to their demand to restore Thierry Henry to the starting line-up.
Such has been the derision heaped on a man whose last tournament press conference ended with him proposing to his girlfriend after being knocked out of Euro 2008, that it is easy to forget that four years ago in Berlin he took France to within a penalty shootout of the World Cup. "I may appear calm but inwardly there is a storm going on," he said when describing a warm-up campaign that culminated in a stammering 1-1 draw to Tunisia and a 1-0 defeat to China. "I don't think we are calm but I hope we are determined and ready."
France, fresh from their £450-a-night rooms by the Indian Ocean, did not train at Green Point, a move that smacked to some of arrogance. But when asked to explain why, Domenech retreated into the language of the great German manager Sepp Herberger, who remarked: "The ball is round, a game lasts 90 minutes; everything else is theory."
"I have taken a look at the pitch," Domenech said. "And everything appears in order. The lines are in the right place and the field of play is still a rectangle that can accommodate 11 players."
Whether in politics or sport, it is a given that the more disunited an organisation, the greater the public appeals for unity and there were plenty as they prepared for Uruguay, mostly surrounding Patrice Evra, who will captain France tonight. "Pat is a natural leader," said Bacary Sagna. "I have seen him gee up his players at Manchester United. He has been exactly the same here. He is desperate to set an example. If you are not playing well, he is straight with you; he tells you to your face." A quality Domenech appears sometimes to have lacked, particularly when failing to inform Patrick Vieira he was no longer part of his plans.
However, Uruguay are a team who since reaching the semi-finals in 1970 have managed one win in 14 fixtures at World Cup tournaments. In contrast to France, their preparations have been smooth but this is the first World Cup where Twitter is a tool and no organisational inefficiency can be disguised.
As they were told that the plane that was to carry the Uruguay squad from its base at Kimberley to the Cape had been delayed with mechanical trouble, Diego Forlan reached for his Blackberry. "It's incredible that that this is happening on the eve of the World Cup and they can't offer us a replacement aircraft," he tweeted. "Would France be treated like this?"
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