Unfortunately I was not able to watch the match...work sometimes gets in the way of Les Bleus. I was able to "watch" it via the feed on the web, unfortunately ESPN3 did not carry the game nor FoxSoccer.tv!! Ugh. So I cannot comment too much on the match in Wembley, although I have pieced together an image of what happened from what has been written, video highlights and my imagination. Rather than give some thoughts on the match...which would not be complete, I want to turn to the whole body of work for 2010 and specifically the Herculean job Blanc has done in 5 games to right the ship that was fast sinking after the South Africa debacle.
First the statistics for Les Blues in 2010:
- 13 games played
- 5 victories (4 of which were under Blanc...nice job Domenech)
- 2 draws
- 6 defeats
- 13 goals scored and 13 conceded
Recap of the games:
3 mars (Saint-Denis, A) : France-Espagne 0-2
26 mai (Lens, A) : France-Costa-Rica 2-1 (Sequeira csc, Valbuena)
30 mai (Rades, A) : Tunisie-France 1-1 (Gallas)
4 juin (Saint-Pierre de la Réunion, A) : France-Chine 0-1
11 juin (Le Cap, CM) : Uruguay-France 0-0
17 juin (Polokwane, CM) : Mexique-France 2-0
22 juin (Bloemfontein, CM) : Afrique du Sud-France 2-1 (Malouda)
11 août (Oslo, A) : Norvège-France 2-1 (Ben Arfa)
3 septembre (Saint-Denis, CE) : France-Biélorussie 0-1
7 septembre (Sarajevo, CE) : Bosnie-France 0-2 (Benzema, Malouda)
9 octobre (Saint-Denis, CE) : France-Roumanie 2-0 (Rémy, Gourcuff)
12 octobre (Metz, CE) : France-Luxembourg 2-0 (Benzema, Gourcuff)
17 novembre (Wembley, A) : Angleterre-France 1-2 (Benzema, Valbuena)
Clearly Les Bleus have ended the season better than they started, much of this is the responsibility of Laurent Blanc and his staff. They have taken over a sinking ship a team in complete turmoil and in a few months put it back on track to where it once was. Granted there remains much work to be done, and the next match in February against Brazil will go a long way to demonstrate how far Blanc has come and how much further he needs to go. So let us look back at the past year, which is much easier to do after that game at Wembley!
- Laurent Blanc - his arrival at the head of the team could not have come at a better time, actually if he had been put in place after the other Domenech debacle - Euro 2008 - France might have done something in South Africa, then again the 2 years Blanc spent at the head of Bordeaux cannot be underestimated. Le President has brought with him a degree of professionalism, pride and an intellectual capability long missing from the national team. His first moves were the signs of a true boss - not selecting any of the World Cup players, clearly sending a signal that he was in charge but also a symbolic sign to those on the squad in South Africa. He clearly has a plan and appears to be following through with his strategy - building from the back forward, developing his core
Blanc's greatest goal for Les Bleus
- The win against England aside, the most important results currently is France sitting atop their group for the European Championship. After a poor start to the campaign - a 1:0 loss in Paris to Belarus - Les Bleus have run off a string of 3 straight victories, including a tough 3 points gained away to Bosnia. Friendlies are nice, except to some like the Gooner, but they do not mean you are getting closer to participating to the real tournaments. While there remains much work to do for France, getting the full 3 points away to Bosnia as well as maximizing the results at home versus Luxembourg and Romania, the will have a string of winnable matches to restart the qualifiers - Luxembourg, Belarus and Albania being the first 3 matches. Not a walk in the park since all the games will be on the road, however the fact they will not face Bosnia until the last day is an advantage since they still pose the greatest threat to Les Bleus.
- The emergence of non World Cup players has given Les Bleus a new breadth of fresh air and been a catalyst to the success. Benzema, Nasri, Mexes, Rami, M'Vila and Remy have all played important roles in France's run of success. Blanc's willingness and ability to integrate these players and to use them in specific roles and functions is world's apart from the lack of direction and strategy that was the norm under Domenech. With a crop of young players at the U20 level who are apparently ready to make a jump it will be interesting to see how Blanc will start integrating these players into his plans.
- The integration between the above players and important elements that were in South Africa - with the likes of Gourcuff, ADiarra, Lloris, Sagna, Clichy, Malouda, Diaby and Valbuena, Blanc has been able to integrate the South African players with the new crop of French players. Blanc has always maintained from day 1 that he would take the best players for the team, regardless of their involvement in the South Africa mutiny - see his comments on Anelka. What will be interesting is what happens with Evra and Ribery, the last two from the South African mutiny that will be eligible for a call up in 2011, more on these two later.
- The wasted tournament that was the World Cup - I have ranted and raved enough about the ineptitude that Domenech and Escalettes both exhibited over the past few seasons culminating in an embarrassing and disastrous showing at the World Cup, while I do not want to harp on these bad times they definitely fall into that category (you can read all my rantings from the World Cup in the archive - like this posting after France's last match). I can only imagine what might have been had France been managed by a real manager during the past 2 years. No nation with the stature of France should "waste" a tournament, too bad the FFF allowed France to waste away for 2 years under Domenech - he should have been sacked after that putrid showing at the 2008 European Championships...inexcusable.
- The image that the French national team has developed during the first half of this year has been awful. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, France had established itself as one of the elite international sides in the world. It did not hurt that they had one of footballs all time greatest players in their ranks - Zidane as well as players such as Vieira, Henry, Trezeguet, Blanc, Desailly and Deschamps to name a few. Oh and wining a World Cup and European Cup was helpful...but since then France has been treading water, yes they have qualified for both the World Cups and European Cups, yes they did make an improbably run in 2006 to the World Cup finals. However they never were able to rebuild a team, rather continue to rely on individuals - Zidane the primary individual. I realize it is easier said than done to rebuild a squad and not lean on such a player as Zizou, however this reliance and subsequent inability to develop and execute a Plan B became apparent after the 2006 finals and came to a head in 2010. That was very ugly. Unfortunately the cupboard was never bare, it was just that the head chef was completely inept and unqualified to make a grilled cheese sandwich let alone mix these ingredients for something more gourmet. Les Bleus' image has taken a major hit under the Domenech era to the point it became ugly...nothing was more representative of this than the outrage that descended on Les Bleus after the "Hand of Gaul." I have a feeling had France been a more "likable" side the outrage would have remained but not to the degree it was heaped upon the team - especially from its own such as Dugarry and Lizarazu. I have never been shy about who was guilty of allowing this to happen - Domenech and by extension Escalettes for not firing Domenech when he should have - 2008. Sometimes teams need to hit the bottom before they can make their way back to the promise land, I hope that this is the case, because I certainly do not want to think about it being any worse than it was under Domenech!
- The players comportment during the World Cup - the strike was absolutely ugly and inexcusable. Evra, Gallas, Abidal, Ribery and Anelka all showed themselves as ugly, over paid prima donnas...granted I understand where the frustration came from....see bullet above, but their behavior remains inexcusable and very ugly.
Amazing what a few wins and time will do for a psyche, this time in July we had seen what we hoped was the bottom of the barrel, in hindsight that is what it was. Today, while there remains much work, it feel as if Les Bleus are back on the upswing. See you in February when we face Brazil in Paris in what should be another stern test for Blanc and Les Bleus.
Final note, this was the last game where France wore the Adidas kit, a kit they have worn since 1972...a great year! When Les Bleus come out of the tunnel to face Brazil on February 9th in the Stade de France they will be kitted out with a new strip from Nike. I am eagerly awaiting what the American sports giant will unveil. I will miss Adidas, but I also recognize the marketing and branding power that is Nike. Let the new adventure start with Nike!
Allez Les Bleus!