September 5th, 2010
11:56 PM ET

France: Identity crisis deepens?

Laurent Blanc's young France squad lacked leadership and experience in their defeat against Belarus.
Laurent Blanc's young France squad lacked leadership and experience in their defeat against Belarus.

As I learned of France’s home defeat against Belarus, I wondered if this was the lowest ever point for French football, and more importantly, how are they going to turn their fortunes around?

Friday’s loss was Les Bleus’ fourth in a row and there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel for a team that lacks confidence, personality and experience.

I was in South Africa when France’s players decided to strike in protest of the French Football Federation’s (FFF) decision to send Nicolas Anelka home following an altercation with Raymond Domenech. I couldn’t believe that professional athletes would actually refuse to work during a tournament which should represent one of the highlights of their careers. It would have to take a lot of anger and frustration for a group of players to take such a decision.

Some of those feelings are surely still present now in the French squad even if some World Cup squad members are no longer part of the national team set-up.

So how is Laurent Blanc going to heal these wounds and create the team spirit and unity necessary to get results? Well to be fair, he already tried a bold motivational approach, inviting his friend and fellow 1998 World Cup champion Zinedine Zidane to a training session in a bid to inspire the squad. He also handed out sheets of paper containing the words to La Marseillaise to players, encouraging them to sing the national anthem before the game.

I guess the Belarus result showed both of those tactics didn’t work and it will take a lot more work on the training pitch and in the dressing room to raise the morale of these players. We should also remember this is a very young team that doesn’t really have many role models on the pitch. There is not a Zidane, a (Patrick) Vieira or a (Didier) Deschamps, who can lead by example. Still, it’s my belief that this team will improve quickly under the guidance of Blanc and qualify for Euro 2012. The talent is there with young players such as Lamine Sakho, Yoann Gourcuff and Karim Benzema and the spirit will eventually return.

Of course France is not the only national team with an identity crisis. Italy is clearly in a transitional period with a new coach and new set of players. They struggled to beat Estonia and will also take a while to gel with Cesare Prandelli and without the leadership skills of the retired Fabio Cannavaro and injured Gigi Buffon.

Last but not least, I have to admit that I am very worried about my beloved Portugal. With coach Carlos Queiroz suspended for six months by the national football federation for his role in disrupting an anti-doping test, and with Cristiano Ronaldo injured, they could struggle to make the European Championship. The players looked lost, especially in defense, during a 4-4 draw with Cyprus on Friday. There was no leadership, no direction, no clear game plan. By the time Queiroz comes back, the qualifying campaign could be in tatters.

As with any identity crisis, each of the three sides need some urgent self-analysis and rehabilitation, if they are to regain the team psyche that saw each side compete for top honors in recent times.

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Filed under:  Football
soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. Obasi Ogonnaya

    Pedro, You are right my dear. I believe France, Italy & Portugal really need to do something before things gets out of hand. Thanks.

    September 6, 2010 at 5:38 pm | Reply
  2. Yasser

    This is not the lowest point in French football, we have seen worst (remember Bulgaria??).

    This team will improve but not in time to qualify for the Euro 2012 and that is normal – the objective should be long term and specifically the world cup. We have had enough with shortcuts. Laurent Blanc will succeed but we have to give him time.

    September 6, 2010 at 5:53 pm | Reply
  3. Yater

    Serves them right....they cheated to get into the Cup, only fitting they fall apart....fate certainly works in mysterious ways.

    September 6, 2010 at 6:29 pm | Reply
  4. ocuinn

    Serves 'em right after what they did to Ireland...what goes around comes around. Bye Bye France

    September 6, 2010 at 7:03 pm | Reply
  5. Frederic

    Sorry to give you some "History Lessons" but there is nothing new : despite a good track record in world cup (1 victory, 2 finals, 4 semi finals), France has been at top only 3 times : always with players of exception : Kopa, Platini and Zidane.

    Between each of them, France is a very commun socker country waiting for the "Miracle Man".

    Nothing new, all expected ! He will arrives certainly but not before 10 or 15 years.

    September 6, 2010 at 8:45 pm | Reply
  6. Stephen

    Not one mention of Hnery cheating against Ireland?Come on let's call a spade a spade here,they've no integrity now that's why they've doing as bad as they are.When they fail to qualify for this maybe they can concentrate on qualifying for 2014.

    September 6, 2010 at 8:56 pm | Reply
  7. George F Mohn

    The French must learn that It really is about:

    For when the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name,
    He writes – not that you won or lost – but how you played the Game."
    (Grantland Rice)

    In the end, all teams and all players lose, and "how you played the Game" is all that's left.

    September 6, 2010 at 10:49 pm | Reply
  8. Deocliciano Okssipin Vieira

    Big deal, it is only a game.
    Tomorrow's victories will heal.

    September 6, 2010 at 10:58 pm | Reply
  9. Oniemola

    France got what they bargained for by miserably losing 0 – 1 to Belarus last Friday. In fact, it's going to get worse as the qualifier progresses. The new coach failed to address the real problem of the national team because he's not capable of doing so – he can't sack the incompetent FA that appointed him! The FA had allowed things to deteriorate under Domenech. How do you allow a coach who can't get a team as talented as the Les Blues of these past years to play a decent game and win convicingly to remain in his post? Was his tenure cast in stone?

    It was Zidane, Makelele and co. that came out of retirement to rescue France from the jaws of elimination during the 2006 world cup qualifiers, and they went on to put on a real good show. It had nothing to do with coaching, but the sheer brilliance, experience and leadership of those senior players. Since their departure, France have struggled and everyone knew it was down to incompetent coaching, except theFA; perhaps they just pretended because they didn't care. It's a shame it has come to all this now.

    The post-world cup suspension of key players who knew the truth and were not afraid to speak out and who went further to reiterate their stand when Anelka was cowardly decamped by the FA instead taking the blame for retaining a failing coach, is one of the most audacious coverup decisions in football at that level.

    France should retrace their step by apologising to Anelka, Evra and others, and recall them and get a new coach who can earn their trust, not the already biased Blanc, to build an inspired Les Blues.

    September 6, 2010 at 11:26 pm | Reply
  10. david balamaze

    I totally disagree with Oniemola's comment. French football needed to take a step forward. There's no way i would accept Anelka back to the national team with the talent that's coming through. Look at all the top footballing countries; Menezes is quietly building a young Brazilian team, Germany doesn't want to look back on the days of Ballack, Schneider and the others, Italy's also doing the same. Whatever went wrong in SA is all in the past, we should be clearing our minds and cast out the past. This is a new french team that, maybe is still short on confidence and still yet to gel but you can't question the quality. France lost the Belarus game and am sure they won't win in Bosnia either but those are all short-term issues which won't have impact on Blanc's or say, France's long term plans for the National Team. Just look at the U-19 side that just won the European championships; Kakuta, Sunnu, Lacazatte and others are some of the players that set for a great future with the national side.
    And remember the 1998 squad, France didn't play in the 94 tournament in the US yet they had people like Papin, Cantona, Deschamps. They managed to make it to the last 4 of the '96 European Cup in England and won the big one 2 years later. Its all done to belief and I've known Blanc to have a cool head. He"ll do it.

    September 7, 2010 at 10:44 am | Reply

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