Trial and trauma for Gallas and the new generation

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The Independent Football

Tattooed on William Gallas's right arm, in French, is the inscription: "Only God and my family can judge me". In the madness of football it amounts to his own private moment of sanity.

Except that Gallas, along with his French international team-mates, is facing a judgement day this Saturday. France play the Republic of Ireland in a World Cup qualifying game in Paris. Defeat may not only cause the new coach, Raymond Domenech - just four games into his tenure - to lose his job but may finally end the public's love affair with the French football team. Stripped of their World Cup and European titlesLes Bleus are suddenly touched by mortality - and international retirements.

"It was very difficult for us when Domenech called [in] the new players," Gallas, one of the few survivors, admits. "Because all the international teams are no longer afraid of France when they play against us. They say 'Oh, [Lilian] Thuram is not there any more, [Zinedine] Zidane is not there, so we can beat them'." Also gone are Bixente Lizarazu, Marcel Desailly and Gallas's Chelsea team-mate Claude Makelele. Indeed, Jose Mourinho, the Chelsea coach, intimated on Friday that Makelele had decided to retire because "he was not very happy that all the big guys were leaving".

No one is. Domenech - belatedly - last week tried to persuade Zidane and Thuram to return. The feeling is that he didn't try enough first time round and has no chance of succeeding now. Furthermore, he has deeply alienated others - especially France's Arsenal contingent, with Robert Pires's career hanging by a thread. Pires will play against the Irish, in the position he wants to, but if he fails then Domenech will dump him.

Also there will be Gallas who, despite the turmoil, compounded by Patrick Vieira's suspension, is more sure of a start with his country than his club. "That's normal," he says of the French upheaval. "Because it's a new generation [for us] and we must have time to be strong again." However, after the disappointments of Portugal, followed by a lacklustre friendly with Bosnia-Herzegovina, the World Cup draw with Israel and a woeful - if victorious - meeting with the Faroe Islands, time is something the French do not have. "Yes, we do not have it," Gallas agrees. "We have to win the games against Ireland and Cyprus [a week on Wednesday], and that will be difficult."

The "new generation" Gallas speaks of is his generation. He is 27, with 21 caps and along with the other members of the exciting French team who won the European Under-18s Championship and later entered the World Youth Cup in 1997 - Thierry Henry, David Trezeguet, Mikaël Silvestre and Willy Sagnol - the senior international stage is now theirs. But not theirs alone. There are a few other survivors from that Kuala Lumpur tournament, and they will not only be wearing Irish green, but finished ahead of France in that competition. Chelsea's Damien Duff scored the goal that placed the Irish third, while France exited in a fiery meeting with Uruguay in which Gallas was dismissed. Duff's team included Robbie Keane and Richard Dunne. But it was Duff who starred. Gallas knows the threat. "I could speak with Domenech about Damien because I know his qualities," he says. "He's very quick, he has good, good skill. We must be very clever against him."

First, the two will hope to start together in the Premiership today for Chelsea against Liverpool. "Nobody knows the team at the moment," says Gallas ruefully, and although he maintains he prefers central defence there is a realisation "that the most important thing is to play". Last season he was more vocal in his complaints as Claudio Ranieri shifted him across the back line. And though Mourinho has also used him as a left-back, Gallas is happier because "now I feel this is a good season for us and that we can win the Champions' League or the championship. Now I don't think, I just play."

His determination hardened over the summer, not just with the disappointments in Portugal but with the realisation that in the three years since he left Marseille and joined Chelsea for £6.2m he has won nothing. Indeed, the only trophy in his career is the inconsequential Confederations Cup, won with France, last year. It is a bald fact that hurts.

"I want to feel something," Gallas says. "When you have the cup in your hand - I want to feel that. This season is our season. I think all the players think the same, we know it will be very difficult for us because Arsenal are very strong, Man-chester United will come back, with [Rio] Ferdinand, but it depends on us to win the games."

A comment from his new Champions' League-winning, Uefa Cup-winning, title-winning coach struck home. "You know, Mourinho said one thing at the beginning of the season," Gallas relates. "He said, 'You have a lot of good players in this team, in this club, a lot of international players. But you did not win anything. This team must do it'. And that's true."

It has certainly galvanised Chelsea. "The difference is when you feel good in the team, and the team is doing well, you can do anything," Gallas says. It is why he is less likely to complain if he is moved to accommodate Ricardo Carvalho. After all, it was only four months ago that the Portuguese lifted the European Cup.

That determination has led to a more ruthless approach on the pitch. "We don't concede a lot of goals," says Gallas. "I think it's not only the defenders, it's all the team who defend very well. Everybody fights on the pitch for each other and that I think is more important - when you are playing with the heart. We won some games 1-0, 2-1. That doesn't matter, it's more important to win. If we can win every game 1-0, then why not?"

Such a scoreline would do today and, for Gallas, when he swaps Chelsea blue for Les Bleus, next weekend as well.

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