Jacques Santini of France: Exit the coach - but will he head for Tottenham as a champion?

In France they call it "filer a l'anglaise", while in England the phrase is "French leave". Whatever the language, the irony is palpable, as the manager of the French national team, Jacques Santini, is slipping away from his current duties after the European Championship to become head coach at Tottenham Hotspur.

In France they call it "filer a l'anglaise", while in England the phrase is "French leave". Whatever the language, the irony is palpable, as the manager of the French national team, Jacques Santini, is slipping away from his current duties after the European Championship to become head coach at Tottenham Hotspur.

The French Football Federation (FFF), who opted to wait until after Euro 2004 before deciding whether to renew Santini's contract, have lost their man. The question now on everyone's lips across the Channel is whether their hesitant stance has cost their team the title, too. So far, the reactions have been deliberately upbeat, but no one really knows how the players will perform knowing that their leader has already got one foot in, if not one eye on, the Premiership.

The real answer will start to unravel in a week's time, when the defending champions take on England. If Les Bleus then come through the group stages and go on to reach the last four, Santini will feel vindicated. "I am not jumping ship," he insists. "If I had left before the Euro and said to the players, 'Get on with it on your own', that would be different. But my decision will in no way be detrimental to the French team. On the contrary, the fact that I know I am leaving will only add to my determination to take this team as far as possible at the Euro."

Bearing in mind that France are the hot favourites for the event and that there is an exciting new generation of players coming through the ranks, one is left perplexed by the manager's bold choice. "Santini felt that if he had waited until July and not done well at the Euro," explains Vincent Duluc, of the French sports daily L'Equipe, "he might have missed out on all the jobs on offer."

Santini admits that he would have liked to continue in his current role, but felt that he was shown a lack of respect. The whole episode is reminiscent of Terry Venables' similarly poor treatment and subsequent resignation before Euro '96. Santini says he made it clear several months ago that he expected to be given a contract extension before today's friendly match against Ukraine at the Stade de France. He even dropped heavy hints that he would be prepared to walk out of the job, stating on 27 April: "If Tottenham contact me and want to discuss [contracts], then I will listen."

The FFF refused to budge and, late on Tuesday, blinked first to lose the long-running game of poker. "When Frank Arnesen [Tottenham's new sporting director] contacted me last weekend to tell me that the chairman, Mr Levy, wanted to see me immediately," Santini recalls, "everything went very quickly. I took my decision on Tuesday and told the players immediately. I felt that was necessary."

The reaction has been mixed. Some of the players he coached at Lyon or intro-duced to the national set-up have quickly come out in support. "I think he made the right decision no matter how well we do in Portugal," says Willy Sagnol, France's second-choice right-back, who could also be on his way to the Premiership this summer. "The Federation took too long to back him so he had no choice but to look after himself." Gregory Coupet, the Lyon goalkeeper, and Sidney Govou, the Lyon striker who could be following Santini to Spurs, have been quick to join in the praise of the manager.

"Those who know me well have been very kind," Santini reveals, "but even those who are less close seem OK. Certainly, no one has been negatively affected by the announcement. The mood in the camp has not changed and we are still very much a unit." Reassuring words, but significantly none of the senior players in the squad have had anything to say in public yet. Many are said to be privately disappointed with the timing of the announcement.

Santini will not much care. He has never been one to hang around and wait to be told what to do. Despite his slightly gormless appearance and sometimes David Brent-like nervous smiles, the 52-year-old captained Michel Platini's great Saint-Etienne side of the Seventies and then guided Lyon to their first league title two years ago. He left the club that summer, citing a lack of enthusiasm from certain board members to explain his surprising decision. History, it would seem, has repeated itself.

"It could have been nice to be given the opportunity to finish the job I started two years ago with France," he admits, "but I am not bitter or angry with anyone. Tottenham just came to me with a very exciting sporting challenge, where there will be a completely new type of management structure for a Premiership club, and I could not resist." Money, too, must have played a part? "It is not negligible," says Santini, who will earn £1.3m a season and has signed a three-year contract, "but when you are keen to try a new experience, other factors come into play. Whatever my critics will say, the truth is that circumstances just meant I had to take a decision."

It will be the federation's turn soon, as they search for their third manager since Aimé Jacquet retired after lifting the World Cup on home soil six years ago. The early favourite for the job, Didier Deschamps, acted swiftly to kill off any rumours by announcing his decision to stay with Monaco for two more years. Laurent Blanc, another recent international favourite, has support within the FFF but lacks experience. That leaves Raymond Domenech, who has been the Under-21 coach for 11 years, in pole position, unless the former Fulham manager Jean Tigana can be persuaded to come out of retirement in the south of France.

None of this will concern Santini. On 4 July at the latest, the date of the European Championship final, he will leave the most successful national team of the last decade to join the club who finished last season 14th in the Premiership. If nothing else, Santini is brave.

OLD SCORES TO SETTLE

England v France - Eng: P25 W16 D4 L5

The French have come a long way since the 4-1 defeat in the first official match between these rivals, in 1923. Yet England's record remains solid. France have only won once in the last five meetings - 2-0 in a 1999 friendly, Nicolas Anelka's (pictured below) goals spoiling Howard Wilkinson's sole night in charge. Their last match ended 1-1, in Paris in 2000. Only Beckham, Campbell and Scholes remain from that XI.

England v Switzerland Eng - P18 W11 D4 L3

They predicted a one-sided Euro '96 Group A opener, but Alan Shearer's first goal for England after a 14-match drought was only enough for a 1-1 draw. "We haven't played well in the second half. We were dead on our feet," said manager Terry Venables. Where else have we heard that? The last time they met, in 1998, it needed a Paul Merson (pictured) equaliser to spare England's blushes.

England v Croatia - Eng: P2 W1 D1 L0

Only two meetings, the most recent a farcical friendly last August, won 3-1 by England. Beckham, Owen and Lampard got on the scoresheet in a match remembered more for the 10 substitutions and the skipper's armband being flung to three different players. Only John Terry (pictured) saw action for the full 90 minutes, and he ended the game as captain. The victory was England's sixth in succession, helping to boost their world ranking to a current No 12. Croatia are 25th.

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