Domenech ready for dramatic final scene

Coach of France confronts the ultimate test of his unusual approach to preparation
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The Independent Online

Raymond Domenech, a theatre lover and a fortune teller, seems just the right man for the drama of a World Cup final.

The 53-year-old intellectual of French football became the coach of France on 12 July 2004 - the day of his daughter Victoire's birth and the sixth anniversary of France's victory in the World Cup on home soil.

Domenech is determined to write his name in the national team's history books for more than just his methods and his mindset. "At every match I experience what you feel before every theatre play," said Dom-enech, who was once an actor both in French and English with a small company called Trimaran. "You've got nerves and at the same time you think, 'I can't wait until it starts'.

"I have also transposed theatre techniques into coaching. I write down the big lines of my training and then I improvise. I cut up the match into different scenes and then I put the actors/players in situation."

Domenech never won a trophy as the coach of France Under-21s between 1993 and 2004, and his appointment as a replacement for Jacques Santini surprised many. Not least because Domenech never denied his passion for astrology and tarot, and admitted reading the cards to get indications on the players' personalities.

He also tried to get his young players interested in culture. Jean-Pierre Escalettes, the French FA's president, recently told the story of Domenech taking the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Lilian Thuram, Christophe Dugarry and Claude Makelele, who were all playing with the Under-21 side at the time, to watch Samuel Becketts play Endgame on the eve of an important match.

His arrival in the hot seat was backed by the former coach Aimé Jacquet, the man who led France to 1998 World Cup glory despite suffering months of personal and professional criticism in the media.

"He was the ideal man at the right time," Jacquet said. "At such a position you need to have a certain spirit and independence. And Raymond clearly has those qualities."

His personality did not spare Domenech from critics, however, especially after a tough debut when, without Zidane, Thuram, Makelele, Bixente Lizarazu and Marcel Desailly, France drew 1-1 with Bosnia-Herzegovina.

"I found it incomprehensible that after my first match against Bosnia criticism started to pour down on me," Domenech said. "People wanted a change. We wanted to create a new spirit but we got violently attacked."

France then endured a difficult World Cup qualifying campaign as, although they were favourites to win their group ahead of Switzerland, Republic of Ireland, Faroe Islands, Cyprus and Israel, they were only mid-table after six matches,

But Domenech persuaded Zidane, Thuram and Makelele to come out of international retirement and the move paid off as France secured qualification in their final match with a 4-0 victory over Cyprus.

Even in the bad times, the former international defender never made any concessions on his principles, and the ultimate reward for him and France is there for the taking in Berlin this evening.

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