Fans in raptures at prospect of Nasri and Gourcuff in midfield
Playmaking duo rekindle memories of Platini and Giresse but Blanc tries to calm nation's expectations
If there was any doubt about the French media's hunger for football success, it could be seen this week in their reaction to the suggestion that Laurent Blanc, the national coach, might pair two creative midfielders, Arsenal's Samir Nasri and Lyons' Yoann Gourcuff, for tonight's European Championship qualifier in Paris against Romania.
Nasri and Gourcuff played together for just nine minutes under the previous coach, Raymond Domenech, yet the pair were soon being compared with other great French midfield combinations of the past, such as Michel Platini and Alain Giresse in the early 1980s and Zinedine Zidane and Youri Djorkaeff at the turn of the century.
Blanc insisted that the press were jumping the gun and even yesterday he said that he had still to decide on a long-term system of play, let alone the personnel for his team's third match in their European Championship qualifying campaign. Having started off with a defeat at home to Belarus, the next four days offer a chance to build on last month's 2-0 victory away to Bosnia. France play Luxembourg in Metz on Tuesday.
Nevertheless, the selection of Nasri and Gourcuff would be a logical choice for a coach committed to maintaining France's tradition of good football. Gourcuff, who flourished under Blanc at Bordeaux, and Nasri, an attacking midfielder with an eye for goal, are the sort of players who can win the approval of a coach who admires Barcelona and Arsenal. "A ball in the air is a ball lost," Blanc tells his players in training.
"I like to see my teams play good football," the coach said yesterday. "And if we have a team that plays that way then I think we have a good chance of being successful."
Gourcuff, who said he had a similar vision of football to Nasri and could envisage them playing together, was asked to describe Blanc's brand of football. "To play with the ball, starting from defence," Gourcuff said. "It's based on a lot of movement, on players making themselves available, playing one-twos, playing it wide."
A key will be how much Blanc can get out of Karim Benzema, who has been an enigma ever since his big-money move from Lyons to Real Madrid. The 22-year-old striker's club form has been indifferent and he admitted last year that he did not always try his best for France.
Jose Mourinho, his coach at Real, says Benzema needs to show more character, while Blanc said earlier this year that he should watch his diet. Mourinho said recently: "I talk a lot to Laurent about Karim. Both of us think he has great qualities. But he perhaps needs to play with a bit more ambition."
Nevertheless, with nine goals in 29 appearances, including a fine strike in the win over Bosnia, Benzema has scored more goals at his age for France than any other post-war player with the exception of David Trezeguet. The coach is optimistic that he can deliver. "He is very fired up," Blanc said. "He's showing great commitment."
Blanc has not decided on his captain in the long term and has yet to name one for tonight's match. Florent Malouda, Philippe Mexès and Alou Diarra have filled the role so far.
The coach wants leaders throughout his team and is still assessing his players. With that in mind he has brought in a psychologist to assess their personalities.
"In individual sports, you get a lot of top sportsmen who have a mental coach or a profiler, whatever you want to call it," Blanc said. "There have been some good results in golf and tennis. It's a bit harder in a team sport. You have people with different characters. Some people are more introverted and some more extroverted."
Had Domenech brought in a psychologist it might have been derided as another wacky idea, but the players seem happy to give Blanc the benefit of the doubt.
"The players got involved without having any second thoughts and I did the same work on myself 15 days ago," Blanc said. "Some people still don't know who they are at 80 years old and never know who they are throughout their lives. So if we can help people know themselves better, then there's no danger. Don't think we went into a dark room with someone and lay down on a yellow couch. It's just someone who came here with some methods of his own to help us create an individual profile for each player."
Three games, three captains - who will Blanc pick next?
The Roma defender captained Les Bleus against Norway in August on his 16th appearance, where a depleted French side lost 2-1.
The Chelsea winger led France out at home to Belarus last month. However, he could do little to prevent France suffering another embarrassing defeat.
The Bordeaux midfielder became Blanc's third captain in as many games, as France recorded their first win of the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign, beating Bosnia-Herzegovina 2-0.
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