Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Domenech comdemns Benzema?

So the Benzema vs Domenech drama continues, in an article from the Telegramme de Brest, the France manager calls out his young striker: stating that it is inadmissible to not give 100% whether you play 90 minutes or 5 minutes. Based on Domenech's track record, we should not expect to see the Real striker getting more time with Les Bleus. While the France manager has a point, I still cannot side with him, maybe Benzema would not make these statements if Domenech were a better communicator and manager to start with. I do not mean that Domenech needs to coddle his players, but he, and I have stated this before, needs to do a much better job explaining to his team what he expects of them as a group and as individuals. In his mind he might feel he does a good job, but based on the constant reaction from players I would question that.

The current situation with Benzema and what he stated, taken in isolation, makes the Real Madrid striker look like a selfish and sensitive professional football player, taken in context of the clouds that seem to constantly be hovering over Domenech and Les Bleus and one has to continue to wonder how Domenech has remained where he is, clearly it appears he has lost his team...probably since the Euros....yet he continues to have the reigns of the national team. The only person that does not seem to think there to be any problems is Escalettes, and clearly that is all Domenech needs to remain where he is.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Mexico - US, switching national teams might be risky!

Interesting article about players that might play for the US National team who have strong ties to Mexico and El Tri. Following up to the post I had a few days ago about which nation could you qualify for, but this type of national team switching is very intriguing based on the heated rivalry between the two nations. Most of the players came from South America or Africa and were playing nations in different continents than where they currently reside in. When it comes to the US and Mexico, not only are they neighboring nations and heated rivals but are, obviously, in the same qualification region. Could make for very interesting situations.

Benzema does not feel right with Les Bleus...hmmmmmm

So the latest from Madrid is that French star, Karim Benzema, does not feel at ease with Les Bleus. Shocking! Well really not. When you have a manager such as Domenech who is quirky and changes ideas as often as he changes his briefs, it is difficult for players to gain confidence and more importantly understand where they fit in overall system. Let us look at the Domenech and his actions of the past:

  • Takes Trezeguet to Germany for the World Cup. But seems to favor Saha as the first striker off the bench. Has to use Trezegol in the finals since Saha was suspended (I believe that the yellow card against Portugal in the semi finals was one of the underlying reasons Les Bleus did not win the WC. Saha would have come in for Les Bleus rather than Trezegeut and I believe that Petit Louis' game would have lent itself to a goal in extra time for France...). We all know that Trez missed his PK, and somehow Domenech appears to have punished him for that post WC. Trezegol then goes into international exile...but gets called up for a match...he did not even have his boots with him since he never expected the call up, and then he is never to be seen from again.
  • What about Malouda? He inexplicably fell off Domenech's radar and now is back on. Was it due to Malouda's lack of first team play with Chelsea? Maybe but when he was first ignored he was still getting in some good run with the London Blues.
  • How about the keeper situation? I have ranted about this many times but the handling of the keeper situation from day 1 has been HORRENDOUS!!!! Goalkeeper is the one position in footie that needs special attention, they are creatures of habit, need to know the heirarchy and at times need coddling (this is coming from someone who wears the reusch gloves for his club on sundays!). From Barthez to Coupet to Mananda to Frey, Domenech has shown a complete lack of managerial skills when it comes to his keepers.
  • Then there is Mexes, who is an absolute star in Italy, but for France looks like a second division hack.
  • The "old guard" now I am firm believer that a footie manager, whether for the national team or club, needs to be firm when it comes to turning over his club. There needs to be a balance of experience and youth, and the hardest decision at times is when to replace the experience with youth. However a manager needs to do this while still allowing the old guard to save face and to have the recognition it deserves...neither of which Domenech was able to do with the likes of Pires and Giuly.
  • Finally the way he handled Makelele, not allowing the veteran to retire from the international game as he had wanted. Rather threatening to fine him and his club if did not accept the France call ups...of course this had the "special one" saying that Domenech was treating Makelele as a "Slave." While Makelele did return to play for Les Bleus, and clearly gave all he had for France. In the end it was all for naught. Maybe Domenech should have looked for a younger player to fill in that spot rather than force an aging star to continue to battle for club and country.
So what to make of Benzema's comments? While I agree that sometimes these players whine and seem too shy away from responsibilty when they are not performing, I also think one only needs to look at the track record of Domenech to see a manager that instead of getting the most out of his talent, appears to some how take talented players and reduce them to average footballers. I have no problem with managers that are not loved by their players, as long as that manager also puts those footballers in a position to be successful. I have yet to see Domenech being able to do that with what is a very talent pool of players, and I fear that he will have wasted the likes of Ribery, Evra, Diarra, Benzema, Nasri, Mandanda, Lloris, Sagna, Clichy, Gallas, etc. Too bad the French FA does not have the brains to do what is right.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

OM drops first match

OM drops 3 points at Valenciennes losing 3-2 on a nice set piece goal late in the game. Marseilles seemed to have many offensive options but were weak at the back, the entry of Ben Arfa late in the contest did nothing to change the result, the young French international once again playing a very unimpressive match for Marseilles. The dropped points will allow Bordeaux and Lyon to put some distance between themselves and OM. Clearly OM is still trying to find their legs and more importantly get a comfort zone in the way Deschamps wants them to play.

Alas, PSG drew against Lorient in a game where they were down 1-0. With the lost opportunity last week to take the full 3 points from Lyon and another draw this week, PSG are leaving points on the table that might come back to haunt them in the chase for the title. Unlike OM, they cannot blame Europe for being a little "tired."

Oh, and Lyon just go down 1-0 to TFC on a brilliant run by Sissoko.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Great commercial - Evra and Nike

Ok I will admit, I have seen this video on a few other blogs, so I am not the first to have posted it, but it is a great commercial, very old school, very cool. Love how Nike has Rooney and Ribery make "cameos" in the video. I am sure it does not hurt that Nike will be kitting out France soon as well - the last segment of the video.

My question is always, why hasn't Adidas tried to poach some of the creative talent from Nike? While I a loyal Adidas consumer - I current wear the Predator and used to be a Copa loyalist - I will admit that Nike far outclasses their German counterpart when it comes to the ad wars. Although I did like the Adidas ad form the world cup where the two kids were picking teams...including old school Platini and Beckenbauer. Best part is when Zizou and Platini are on the same team and hug.

Even Reebok has had some great ads - aka Terrible Terry Tate! And since Adidas owns them, why not tap some of that advertising talent, at least hire the agency!

One of my favorite Terry Tate videos...a direct spoof of the the "just do it" ads run by Nike. This ad came out no less than 24 hours after Nike ran their ad of the streaker out running security at a club match in England, I am sure insider knowledge was had by Reebok (how else would they know the theme of Nike's ad) but brilliant ad.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What nationality are you? Or more importantly which nation can you play for?

I read a recent article in World Soccer, one of my favorite soccer publications, that covered a recent change in the rules regarding players and national teams. In the recent past players had the ability to change national teams, up to their 21st birthday, if they had not yet started for the Senior National team in what is considered an "official" match.

The new language:

"Change of association (art. 18 of the Regulations Governing the Application of the FIFA Statutes)
58% of the Congress members approved an amendment to the current article. So far, players eligible to change associations in order to play for another national team could only do so until their 21st birthday. The Congress has now decided to lift this age limit, but has maintained all the other provisions of art. 18."

Of course this allows players much more freedom to decide later on whether they want to switch national teams. The thesis of the article, which I tend to agree with, is that it will make African national teams that much stronger. For the most part I believe that to be true. You already see players such as Meghni and Bassong who both were developed at Clairfontaine, played for the France youth national teams, in the case of Meghni, winning the 2001 U17 World Championships with France, and who have now switched their national team allegiances to nations their parents came from but where I doubt they have spent more than "tourism" time in.

Players should be allowed to switch their national team allegiance, within reason. Why? Because in the modern world we live in players, families, people are no longer anchored to one nation for their entire lives. Players themselves might move to two or three different nations during their playing careers, spend more years in country than they do their native land. FIFA should allow the players to make the choice of which nation they want to represent. However it is up to FIFA to make clear how a player can qualify for a nation. This is where FIFA must be strict and must enforce the rules. Otherwise we will start seeing national teams being "bought." To me the rules should be simple:

  • If the player's parents carry a passport or were born in a country you can play for that nation.
  • If the player was born in a nation he is eligible.
  • If a player has played or lives in a nation a specific amount of time, long enough to acquire that nation's citizenship via normal process (so no fast tracking as had happened with olympic skaters and other atheletes)
In the end, it is the player who needs to want to play for a specific nation. Freddy Adu opted for the US over his native Ghana, Pat Vieira played for France even though he was born in Dakar, Rossi was born in New Jersey (a few towns away from Sam!) but wanted to go play for his father's homeland of Italy, Neven Subotic lived and played college footie in America but wanted to play for Serbia, Deco and Eduardo are 2 more well know Brazilians who could not break into the famous national side so opted to adopt the European nation where they were plying their trade (Portugal and Croatia respectively) the list goes on. None of these players' decisions need be scrutinized (although Keano famously yelled at Vieira that he should have played for his native country...). If a player feels a draw towards another nation, and has the right according to FIFA to play for that nation than so be it.

Least we forget that in early times players would switch senior sides, usually due to political upheaval in their original nation - the Italian team that won their first world cup received much help from Argentines (players such as Guaita and Orsi had already played a number of games for their native Argentina before headlining Italy's world cup title), Puskas who lead the famous Flying Magyars (I would argue that Hungarian team might be the best team never to win a World Cup...hmmm I smell a blog post subject for later) played for Spain (granted only 4 times) after he escaped communist Hungary. Obviously as the game grew as well as the money, FIFA and other governing bodies recognized that they needed to put in place rules to avoid having players end up showcasing for two different nations in World Cups or other tournaments.

The game has come a long way from the 1930s with regards to determining which nation a player can represent. Removing the time limits on when a player needs to decide is a good move. However FIFA and the governing bodies must continue to monitor and enforce the rules. As nations such as Qatar and Equatorial Guinea cannot be allowed to simply buy players from other nations to give themselves a leg up against their opponents. FIFA cannot allow nations to go out and spend money to blatantly purchase talented players...countries such as Qatar should spend their sport's money on developing youth programs for players and coaches, upgrading facilities, and putting resources into the programs to develop and nurture home grown talent.

The world we live is grows more culturally diverse every day, the modern world allows greater freedom of travel, work and living. Nations such as France, England, Germany, the United States, to name a few, have had tremendous influxes of immigrants from a variety of nations. If talented players emerge from these groups the player needs to be able to decide what nation they want to represent and not be forced to make a decision by 21.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

PSG v Lyon

Big first match for PSG facing OL at the Parc Des Princes. This should prove to be a good match with Lyon, quietly playing very well, and PSG showing lots of potential (they really should have done better last week after dominating Monaco).

The story line will be how much will PSG miss Sessegnon who took a silly red card last week. Without the creative play maker, where will PSG's game take shape? Guily has found a home ont he right side and with Sessegnon running the left the team had some great balance. The middle being controlled by the likes of Makelele and Clement. PSG could turn to the youngster Makonda to play on the left or even Luyindula, however the former is young and would be under tremendous pressure and the latter is really more suited higher up the pitch or on the right. More will fall on Guily's shoulders to provide some of the creative spark and play that will be lost with Sessegnon sitting this game out.

Without their powerful creative midfielder will PSG be able to break Lyon? I think PSG will look to play solid in the back and try to take advantage of their height with Hourau up front (without Boumsong Lyon might have trouble controlling the tall PSG striker).

Being at home will help PSG, but only to the draw.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Hmmmm the solution to France's central defense?

Anyone who watched the Lyon game yesterday in the Champions League noticed something was slightly out of place - Jeremy Toulalan playing central defense with Cris. This was a last minute change when Bodmer had to withdraw at the last minute forcing the holding midfielder to slot back in central defense. Could this be an option for Les Bleus??? It is not out of the realm of possibility, let us not over look the fact Domenech slotted Lassana Diarra at right back for a few matches during Euro qualifying, including a tough match at the San Siro against Italy. Or even, not directly related, but how Wenger used Flamini on the defensive wing at Arsenal. If go further back...Marcel Desailly started as the holding midfielder for Marseilles and Milan, but as his career matured he slotted back to central defense and with Laurent Blanc, created the central defensive pairing that guided Les Bleus to the World Cup and European Cup glory. Could this be the direction for Toulalan??? Why not? Here is why -

  • High work rate - one of Toulalan's great strengths is his high engine. His work rate is phenomenal. He would be able to pinch up the field when need be but his energy would never be placed in doubt late in the match if he needed to track down a striker or break down an offensive attack.
  • Strong defensive positioning - Toulalan has very good instincts at destroying offensive plays and threats. Being a solid central defender requires a great anticipation and vision of the team in front of you. His experience at midfield would translate well into a position where he would be set back further on the pitch so see more of the field.
  • Tackling ability -Toulalan is a strong tackler of the ball, granted sometimes this gets him in trouble, however he does not shy away from physical contact. Les Bleus do not have that style of play on defense currently.
  • Lack of offense - Much like a Makelele, Jeremy is very limited in his ability to add much to the offensive end of the pitch. At times this becomes a negative for the team when opponents do not need to fear any offensive threats coming from his position. Being back in the central defense this need would become inconsequential.
Another reason why this might work for Les Bleus, assuming he can make the switch, is that there is strong depth in the holding/defensive - LDiarra, ADiarra, Flamini, MSissoko, Matuidi, to name a few. Slotting back at central defense (again I am assuming Toulalan can do this at a high level on the international and club levels) would strength a current weakness on Les Bleus - central defense while allowing more of France's talented midfielders to get on the pitch.

Why not try it, or at least explore moving Toulalan back one level.

About time! UEFA to try more refs on the pitch

I guess Platini read my blog...or maybe not. It is good to see that the UEFA is looking to experiment with adding more officials to the pitch. While there will still only be 1 referee with the authority to make the calls during the match, this ref will have the added advantage of 2 more sets of eyes to see the play. With more players being accused of diving, hand balls being missed in the box, phantom off sides, and other situations, it can only help to have an increased number of officials on the pitch. This is not the end all solution, I would still vote for having 2 officials on the pitch that can make calls, but I like the direction UEFA is heading in. Maybe with more eyes, we can avoid the nasty situation that happened in London last season after the Barca - Chelsea Champions League match!

I also think UEFA should experiment allowing on a designated player to speak with the referee (since some teams have their keeper as captain). Rugby has instituted this rule and I think it makes the game smoother and eliminates the foolishness and silliness that permeates games when players feel it their right to berate referees after every call.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Adebayor in hot water with the FA

The Togolese striker may have to face some serious charges from both the FA and the local Manchester authorities for his antics this past weekend. So is he to blame for all this? Or do the fans need to shoulder some of the burden? I would argue both sides need to be more responsible. Fans have a right to voice their opinion about the players, within reason. At the same time players should be used to the verbal abuse and must realize that they need to control their emotions...if it were just between the player and the fans, then have at it. However you have others who are their to maintain security who are their to ensure the logistics of the games are smooth. They are the ones that get caught in these we saw last weekend. So shame on Adebayor and shame on the Arsenal traveling fans.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Arsenal's city of horror - Manchester

Ugh, Arsenal leaves the city of Manchester with another defeat this time to the Citizens: 4-2 and of course one of the goals came from former Gunner - Adebayor. It was a typical goal from the Togolese, left alone in the box he slotted home a simple header:

The score was a bit severe for how the game really unfolded. Had Arsenal been better with their finishing, they might have killed off the game in the second half before the Manchester City deluge took over. Or if Almunia had been stronger on the first goal. He seemed to take a lackadaisical approach to the shot and then tried to parry the shot with his bottom hand rather than use his top hand (as you are taught)

What I take away from the game is that Manchester City may have what it takes to make a challenge to be in the top 4...talented player depth. They scored 4 goals and did not have the services of Robinho nor Tevez. They will not have the Brazilian for a few more weeks and next week's fixture against cross city rivals United will be a large test for the Citizens. The other aspect of the game was the chippiness that ensued in the second half, primarily related to former Arsenal and Monaco striker - Adebayor.

He supposedly stamped on Van Persie, on the replay it looks somewhat intentional. He clearly got under his former teammates' skin, at one point barely avoiding a wild and violent tackle from Bendtner (who was surprisingly back tracking to his end line). Could that tackle have been attempted pay back from the on field fight that broke out between the two men 2 seasons ago? Give Adebayor credit, he demonstrated his motivation to beat his old team and played like a man possessed. This should make for a very interesting return leg at the Emirates.

Hopefully next time Arsenal has better luck finishing, what I fear is that they are still trying to walk the ball into the goal. Maybe they should follow the example of their Belgian central defender Vermaelen who tested Givens from distance and forced a tough save from the Irish international.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Don't Cry for me Argentina....well maybe some tears

Anyone notice that Argentina lost today to Paraguay. Wow. Paraguay are now thru with Brazil to South Africa. However Argentina have much work to do. I felt that the Albiceleste are now in real trouble...not how I felt this past weekend. I did not see 2 losses in a row for Messi, Tevez, Heinze, et al. They now face the last two fixtures which become must wins if they do not want to have to count on other nations for their ticket to South Africa. The latest standings:


What should be very interesting is that teams involved in the last 2 spots are facing one another:
  • Argentina faces Peru and Uruguay
  • Uruguay faces Ecuador and Argentina
  • Venezuela faces Paraguay and Brazil
  • Ecuador faces Uruguay and Chile
Chile, Brazil and Uruguay are heading to South Africa (ok Chile could still be outdistanced, but they should be fine). Argentina should beat last place Peru and will head into the last game, at Uruguay at 25 points. Regardless of how Ecuador vs Uruguay ends, Argentina would need the full 3 points to get through. Uruguay would also be battling for a spot in the World Cup, so no quarter will be given. What if Venezuela snuck in? There are too many situations to figure out, needless to say the last two days will prove very interesting in South America qualifications.

France 1 - Serbia 1....mixed emotions in Belgrade

France's best game under the Domenech era? Might be a bit of a stretch since France beat Spain, Brazil and Portugal to get to the World Cup finals in Germany. However it might come close based on all that has happened over the past 72 hours with Les Bleus. France had chances to snatch the full 3 points, but so did the home team. End of the day France will have to qualify via the 2nd place play off, something we all knew was highly likely after drawing with Romania. So let us jump into the game:

The Good:
  • The French team will to fight, I was pleasantly surprised that Les Bleus weathered the storm and showed a lot of backbone and resolve after being down 1-0 and down to 10 players. The penalty was questionable...more on this later, but Les Bleus could have easily rolled over and allowed the Serbian crowd and team to complete squash any hope. Rather Les Bleus showed heart and kept attacking, after equalizing they keep attacking looking the more dangerous of the two nations. Les Bleus obviously took chances and realized that 1 point or 0 points were not very different, but getting the fill 3 would have changed the situation. Chapeau au Bleus for this effort.
  • France's two veteran strikers - Henry and Anelka - both strikers expended bags of energy and at times tried to take on the entire Serbian defense to try and get the vital goal for the draw and the victory. It was an Anelka long distance shot that led to France's tying goal from ... Henry who pounced on a bobbled handling by the Serbian keeper to gift the Frenchman his 50th goal in Blue. The attacking duo continued their personal assaults against the Serbian goal for the remainder of the match. Anelka in particular was not afraid to try and dribble the defense, in an other game this might be seen as selfish, however under the circumstances the veteran French striker knew he needed to hold the ball, try to make something happen, and not be afraid to attempt long distance attempts at the Serbian goal. Henry did the same from his left side, at the end of the match even slotting deeper to provide some cover for the French defense.
  • Speak of which, the French defense needs to be commended. While they appeared a little overwhelmed to start the game, and had to make some desperation defensive plays. Gallas and Abidal worked well together, Abidal making a solid cover late in the first half when Serbia seemed to have sliced through the French defense. Evra and Sagna once again showed their worth on the wings, defending well and adding some punch on offense. Evra in particular was very active on the offensive end. Finally, Mandanda was thrust into a difficult situation and shown a glimpse of what has pundits raving about his ability. The penalty was, clearly, not on him and a well struck kick. After that he settled down nicely, played the ball well with his feet, made a courageous challenge on a through ball into the box towards the end of the 1st half, was more decisive in the air than in previous occasions, and did the necessary on a laser from Branislav Invanovic to keep it from finding the back of the net.
  • As much as I criticised his regular appearance on the starting sheet, I will have to save Toulalan was good during this game. As Petit said during the commentary of the match, the game actually became perfect for his style of play. Being down a player his responsibility shifted to purely destroying any semblance of offense from the Serbs. Something he is very capable of doing. His work rate is to be applauded. He ran out of steam late in the game when he attempted to dribble out of difficulty being trapped by 3 Serbians. But overall his work rate and defensive ability were vital for France holding on to the draw. Granted, not sure what the French were doing on a late corner passing it to the Lyon player at the top of the 18 yard box where he promptly ballooned a shot over the goal.
  • The atmosphere in the 'Marakana' was electric, granted it was slightly ugly the whistling of the Marseillaise, but that is another story. Clearly from the start the Serbian team was feeding off this energy. The camera pans of the crowd was fantastic, the communist built stadium gave the feel of a massive crowd, cheering in unison for a common cause....very socialist! It must something special playing in such a stadium with that type of crowd.
The Bad:
  • French finishing...yes they go the vital equalizer but they had other chances to actually go up by a goal or even 2! Anelka, always the stiker, had a few chances, especially in the second half to give a simple lay off pass to a wide open Gourcuff in the penalty box, but instead tried for goal. Granted he also put the Serbian keeper in difficulty with his long range shooting but sometimes the pass is more important. Henry had the ball for a 2-1 lead and a brace but smashed it harmlessly into an on rushing keeper. Gourcuff tried shots from distance again, with out much success...other than a surprising direct kick from 35 meters out that forced a scrambling save from Vladimir Stojkovic to put the ball into corner.
  • Speaking of Serbian keepers, Vladimir Stojkovic needs to be called out on a shaky game. The Henry goal, falls squarely on the shoulders of the former Nantes keeper. Anelka's shot was powerful, not a screamer, but had some venom. It skipped in front of the keeper, but hit him right in the chest/hands. It was a ball any high level amateur, let alone professional keeper handles with ease (granted I am sure I have mishandled my fair share of similar shots, but I meet neither of the above criteria). There was no screen, no deflection, a clear view of the shot that came from at least 20 meters out. He should have know Henry was pressing on him and if he really had fear of handling the shot, could have easily boxed if to safety. The direct kick from Gourcuff forced a scrambling and desperate save on a ball that should have been a simple catch or deflection. He made a meal of another scramble in the second half, and thankfully 9 of the Serbian players were in the box otherwise France might have added a second.
The Ugly:
  • The referee's decision on the penalty and red card against Lloris was TERRIBLE. An absolute awful and ugly call, completely changed the game. Even at game speed it seems that Lloris gets a finger on the ball and the Zigic let his right leg lag behind and then completely flopped. At first I thought the card might go against him for diving! I realize that the referee was enacting the rules of the game as they are written, as the last defender with a clear scoring chance, Lloris' foul was justified for a red card and penalty. It did remind me of the red card Lehman took against Barcelona in the Champions League finals, although that one was CLEAR!! See below.

  • Late game substitutions from Domenech...once again. I understand that Domenech was looking to protect the draw and point when he brought in Diarra for Gourcuff. However I must agree with Petit, why not insert another offensive option? The Serbians were also clearly happy with the 1 point, and as was stated even had France lost it would not change much - they still need results from the last 2 games to secure the 2nd place and get into the 2nd place playoff. So why not go for the second goal the last 15 minutes of the game? I understand the Ribery for Henry substitution, Titi was cooked and you are bringing in another offense player. However why not Benzema for Gourcuff...or even Malouda?? At least Malouda has played as a fullback so you are adding a player with some defensive instincts, but much offensive ability than Diarra. With 9 players, Les Bleus were "setting fire" to the Serbian penalty box, what if they had added a fresh offensive player to the mix late in the game?? Once again I am not sure how Domenech manages late in the game.
The result gave me mixed emotions, I was very proud and happy to see Les Bleus fight back in a hostile environment, down a goal and a man early on in the match. I was frustrated that they did not score the 2nd goal that was well within their reach. I was also frustrated that this gave Domenech a life line that he did not deserve. It appears we are headed to the playoffs. It appears that we must live with Domenech for at least another 2 if not 4 games....and if France make it to South Africa, deal with him through next summer. Sigh.

France v Serbia...the last hurrah for Domenech. Lets hope

The past few days have been full of talk about the division that appears to have occurred in the French camp between Domenech and his players. No need to rehash the discussion. Instead let us look ahead to the game...the only changed announced is that Abidal will be starting along side Gallas as the back central pairing.

I have strange feelings about this game. With all the pregame chatter about Domenech and the apparent mutiny at Clairefontaine I see the team going 2 directions:

  • They come up highly motivated - the team is united in wanting to show that they are high level professionals and damn the coach. They come out flying and win 3-0.
  • Or they come out flat, completely unmotivated by their managers statements about this game not counting and fall 3-0.
Unfortunately I see the later happening. This team is so disjointed right now, does not have a purpose or a direction. The nice result might be a new manager who might save us yet.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

How playstation gave me the idea for Les Bleus

Ok I will admit that I have been playing Fifa 07 on my PS2 to feed my footie fix (my team had an off day on Sunday due to Labor Day) and as I was playing I came to realization that Domenech or hopefully the new manager...wink Belgrade should learning something from one of the formation that I like to use in Fifa - the 4-1-2-1-2, basically the 1-2-1 plays in a diamond formation in the midfield, see the figure below:

Here is why the new manager...wink wink....should think about this formation:

  • Do we really need 2 holding midfielders? Diarra and Toulalan seem to be overkill. I realize that some would argue, well Zidane played with THREE holding midfielders - Petit, Deschamps, Karembeu - however I would state that first Zidane was a special talent (understatement alert) and was able to function with this time of freedom and space. Additionally, Petit and Karembeu were, what I would consider, hybrid holding midfielders. Both had a high work rate, both were not afraid to push up and help offensively, while both were not goal scorers (7 total goals between the two under the France jersey) they had the ability to pressure the opponent's penalty box. Petit of the two, had a decent shot from distance. Toulalan is much more in the Makelele role - work hard, tackle, and win the ball -but offensively lacking. This worked well when Makelele was shouldering Vieira, a player that can score and does score. I think that Diarra has the chance to be more like Vieira than Makelele - more offensive than the tackling machine that is Makelele. However in the current form, I do not see why Les Bleus need the additional holding midfielder.
  • This formation calls upon your right and left fullback to make deep runs offensively to bring width to your formation...Evra/Clichy/Sagna/Fanni/Abidal all the options at full back have the ability to bring width to the offense. One thing I noticed during the Romania game was the ability for Sagna and Evra to jump into the play offensively offering crosses and offensive pressure when need be. With the diamond formation, there should be more space on the wide channels for Evra and Sagna to push up the field.
  • The top of the formation, top of the midfield diamond and the 2 strikers, gives Les Bleus greater flexibility to have more of their talent on the pitch - Gourcuff sitting behind Henry/Anelka? Or Henry/Benzema...or Gignac/Henry....the ability to have a striker tandem up front allows for more offensive talent on the pitch.
  • Allowing to have Henry slot higher, but still on the left, allows Les Bleus to slot a Ribery back on the left side of the midfield, or have Malouda on the left and Ribery on the right, but with more room to work with. With a player like Malouda, who came up as a full back, you have a player that understands the importance of defending and back tracking. There are also options to have Ribery on the left and a Remy or Luyindula on the right side of the diamond.
Granted, this formation takes some muscle out of the midfield, but with more offensive talent on the pitch it should pressure opponents and score more goals than in this current formation. Players like Lass will have increased responsibilities defensively, however also more freedom to push up the pitch, similar to what he did with Portsmouth and now with Real Madrid. Ribery and Malouda would have more room to be creative in the midfield, and Gourcuff would be pushed higher with 2 offensive options at his disposal.

Just an idea for France's new manager....

Monday, September 07, 2009

The heat is turned up on Domenech!

After the dreaded "vote of confidence" the latest pressure coming on Raymond is from his own captain and team. Read the comments made by Henry after a practice, from a story in the Parisien. For those whose French is not that good, Henry basically stated, that speaking for the team he was frustrated at the manager (who had started by stating he was frustrated with his team for leaving something to be desired in practice). Henry goes on to say no one knows where they are suppose to go, what formation they are running, what to do, and that they are also "annoyed" with the practices. Henry also states that in the 12 years he has played with Les Bleus he has never felt this way...ouch. After the FFF, the last area of support, albeit mild, that Domenech has to count on were his players. Post Euro, players came out to support maintaining Domenech as the manager - including Henry!

The fact that it was Henry that was vocal in his criticism of the coach is telling. Of course Henry has since backed down from his statements, no surprise there! However if what he said was true, and why believe it was not, it is telling that the team is finally feeling what many of us fans have felt since Domenech has taken over the side, as well as many former players such as Pires.

Domenech lacks any vision. Has terrible skills dealing with the personal side (another example of this is what happened on Saturday with Malouda who found out he was not needed on the substitutes' bench because there was no kit set up in his locker, not that the coach had told him prior, according to Yahoo Sport). Does not appear to understand how to manage during the match. Finally Domenech appears lost with this team. At times he resembles a 16 year old with the keys to his parent's Porsche - not sure if he can handle the power and handling, unease with the gear shifts, nervous about being caught by the cops, and overall over matched by what he has to work with.

Does this place added pressure heading into the match in Belgrade, absolutely. Win, lose or draw the French Federation may have to bow to the pressure and sack the manager. Regardless of what happens in Serbia (a loss would surely see Domenech gone), France have two more games to get results to secure the final spot in the group. Realistically they will need 4 points from the Serbia - Austria games to ensure a top 8 second place finish. Assuming that is feasible, they face the tricky 2nd place playoff matches, where they could (if FIFA reseeds the teams) face, potentially an Ireland or Greece, neither team will be easy to defeat in the home-away format. There remains time for France to find a new manager to take them through these final 4 games, and potentially through to South Africa. However that window is closing, the French FA needs to either sh*t or get off the pot after the Serbia match with regards to Domenech. If they sack him quickly, a new manager will have the time to pull something together.

Here is hoping the opt for the former and flushes Raymond down the toilet.

Here is a name that might be a dark horse, a solid care taker if not longer term manager - Guy Roux. He would bring instant credibility with regards to talent evaluation and knowing the team (I am sure he would figure out how to get the most out of his former player Mexes to name one). During his time at Auxerre he was always known for incredible talent evaluation - Cantona, Cisse, Blanc, Mexes, and Boli to name a few of the gems he discovered. Granted he would not be asked to develop new talent, but his understanding of player personnel would be vital for lining up the right team on the pitch. Additionally, he brings a no nonsense way to management, unlike Domenech the players would know exactly what would be expected of them and what formation and style they would be expected to execute. A long shot...but why not...rumor is he almost took over the side after the 1998 World Cup so why not revisit the option?

Maradona continues to struggle

Another interesting result from the weekends' WC qualifiers is the fact that Argentina lost 3-1 to hated rivals Argentina non the less, the first time Argentina have lost a WC qualifier in close to 2 decades. Does this put the South American giants in danger of missing the WC? I think not, they remain 2 points clear of the next two teams seeking the last automatic spot and I cannot see them dropping to 6th, so out of the 5th place play in position.

Much like Domenech, Maradona is under tremendous pressure from the press and the fans to demonstrate a grasp of the national team and how to get it not only to South Africa, but to challenge for a 3rd star on the kit. Both managers have shown a similar lack of creativity, and a difficulty to get their players to carry their club success to the national team. Take for example, Messi who is such a difference maker with Barca, yet appears invisible with Argentina. Similar to players such as Benzema, Anelka, Mexes to name a few for Les Bleus. Similar to Domench, the Argentina manager does not seem to know what system to utilise, what striker to have up front, how to best leverage Messi and Tevez.....etc. Finally, similar to the Domenech lead France, neither side appear able to defend set pieces. Just watch the highlights below from the Brazil match.

The difference for Maradona, with the talent at his disposal, he is practically guaranteed a spot in South America. His side will face Paraguay, Ecuador and Peru, the last two chasing for the 4th and 5th spots. If the Albicelestes can take 7 points from the last 3 matches they should be clear to head to South Africa. Domench on the other hand is ready to walk the plank.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Domenech gets "vote of confidence"

Oh yes, the dreaded vote of confidence from the association! So it appears that Raymond will be with Les Bleus through thick and thin. Interesting. A couple of things to consider:

  • If France lose this Wednesday in Belgrade will Raymond remain with the squad? As I stated in my post yesterday, France should...hopefully...still qualify for the 2nd place play off even if they drop all 3 points against Serbia. However would the FFF reconsider their stance and think about inserting a new manager to allow them some time to get their system together for the last two group matches and then prepare for the play offs? That would seem like proper timing.
  • The television contract with the FFF is up for renewal this season....if France do not make the World Cup the potential money from that contract will take a serious hit. The powers that be must be aware of the repercussions that will be suffered if Les Bleus do not turn things around in a hurry. This might motivate the FFF to make a change if things do not go well this Wednesday.
To me this vote of confidence was a shot across the bow of Domenech, he better come back from Belgrade with 3 points or he should update his resume. The other question becomes - does the FFF have any options in mind? Deschamps or Blanc, two alumni of the 98ers, appear to be the best candidates, both men making it clear that they would be open to the position. However, the former just started at OM while the latter just secured Bordeaux's first league title and has a solid sqaud for this season. Neither might be ready to make the move. How about an outside like LeGuen? He just took over at Cameroon, so not likely to leave already! How about Houllier, he has managed France before and still works at the FFF? He has also expressed interest in managing at the international level before. What about Wenger? He clearly has the pulse on the talent being produced at the youth levels in France. Or how about this one...Mourinho...I am sure the French FA has enough cash, especially after signing a kit deal with Nike, to lure the brash Portuguese to France. Now that would be interesting!

Unfortunately I think that the FFF is stubborn, almost as much as their head coach. So short of disaster, meaning losing at Serbia, heading into the final match against Austria and losing that to fall out of 2nd place, I cannot see Domenech sacked after Belgrade. Unfortunately. France is stuck with their head coach for the play offs, and if France emerge from that to head to South Africa I cannot see the FFF sacking him prior to the tournament....sigh.

So just for fun, and because I am a footie junkie, I started playing around with the potential match ups for the 2nd place playoffs. First, I misspoke last post, France is not guaranteed a spot as one of the top 8 2nd place teams. Let us say France head into the last game against Austria on 11 points (the results against the worst team in the group do not count towards the best 2nd place teams...since Scotland's group, group 9, only has 5 teams, so take away the 6 points from the Faroe Islands) and France draws with Austria, finishing in second with the adjusted 12 points and Scotland beats Holland....they would be at 13 points.....Assuming all the other teams lose the same ratio of points France is sitting in the middle of the pack as it currently stands:

Group 1

Group 2

Group 3

Northern IrelandNorthern Ireland842213714
Czech RepublicCzech Republic7232869
San MarinoSan Marino80081370
Group 4

Group 5

Group 6

Group 7

Faroe IslandsFaroe Islands70162111
Group 8

Republic of IrelandRepublic of Ireland844010616
Group 9

NetherlandsNetherlands *770016221
FYR MacedoniaFYR Macedonia7214497

For fun let us assume the following nations make the playoffs, based on current standings and guestimates:

Sweden, Greece, Northern Ireland, Russia, Bosnia, Croatia, France, and Ireland.

Pool 1:

Pool 2:
Northern Ireland

Short of facing Northern Ireland none of those nations are easy play off opponents. Heading to Bosnia, no thanks. Playing Ireland? France struggled last time in qualifiers with the Irish. Greece? Their style is exaclty what France cannot deal with - tough defensive block, that counters and looks to score on set pieces. Well maybe this will give Domenech 2 more games for his resume.

France have the talent, no doubt, do they have the inspiration to over come a deficient head coach?