With France's qualification for the quarter-finals of Euro 2004 still in the balance Jacques Santini yesterday tried to impose his will on an increasingly restless squad.
The manager of the reigning European champions was criticised by Bixente Lizarazu after he was dropped for the game against Croatia last Thursday. Santini also left out Robert Pires for the match that ended 2-2 and afterwards Lizarazu said: "The manager should pick players in positions that they are best suited to."
But while Santini, who is leaving France after this tournament to take over at Spurs, said he felt players could express their opinions he also reminded them who the manager is. Santini said ahead of today's decisive game with Switzerland: "I don't question my players even if they react badly to being dropped. The players had a meeting because they thought it was important. I listen to what they have to say but I take the decisions. But also I'm not surprised because the same thing happens at every club, no matter how big or small."
In an unsubtle attack on Lizarazu, the left-back who was an integral part of France's 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 winning teams, he added: "The players are professionals, they have their responsibilities and feelings. Some players just see their own situation and not that of the group. I don't have to understand their reaction. Also anyone who complains puts himself under pressure if he then plays."
Santini chose the Manchester United defender Mikaël Silvestre instead of Lizarazu, whom he felt had under-performed in the last-gasp 2-1 win over England eight days ago, and is likely to do the same again today.
Marcel Desailly, whose own place is up for discussion in his last international tournament, is part of the group of senior French players who had a discussion after the Croatia game, which they led 1-0 before having to come back from 2-1 down.
The Chelsea centre-half, as team captain, then relayed those opinions to Santini and last night the 35-year-old defended his manager. He said: "Santini is very receptive. He keeps the door open but has his own ideas too." Desailly also defended himself against claims he is past his best at this level of competition.
Many people consider Lilian Thuram and William Gallas as France's ideal pairing in the centre of defence but he said: "I can play one match after another with three or four days' rest even if I do get a bit tired. I made a mistake against Croatia but I can still play."
France will not qualify for the knock-out stages if they lose to the Swiss and England beat Croatia. However a draw will see them through to the last eight although Santini was not contemplating anything other than going for a win against a team they beat last August in a friendly.
"I won't be playing for a draw," the manager said. "That is not possible and I won't change my system. I won't play with six attackers and I won't play with six defenders and three defensive midfielders either." Santini hopes to welcome back central midfielder Claude Makelele, who missed the Croatia game with injury, which means he will drop the former Leeds player Olivier Dacourt. Pires is also likely to start on the right side of midfield in place of Sylvain Wiltord.
The Swiss, who drew their opening game with Croatia and have to win tonight to stand any chance of staying in Portugal, welcome back Johann Vogel after suspension. Alexander Frei is also available, after being cleared by Uefa of an alleged spitting offence against England's Steven Gerrard last Thursday, but Bernt Haas, who was sent off in that game, is suspended.Reuse content