x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Domestic blitz a concern for France as they take on Italy

While Deschamps and his alumni prospered in Italy, the France coach fears today's young players move too soon.

Many French players in the past have honed their skills at an Italian club, including the current coach Didier Deschamps.
Many French players in the past have honed their skills at an Italian club, including the current coach Didier Deschamps.

When he captained the most successful France team in history, Didier Deschamps could sometimes seem a little unpatriotic in his eagerness to look south across the Alps for inspiration.

On the field, he was a tireless, industrious and galvanising captain. Off it, he was articulate and analytic, if a little prickly at times.

He used to tell how important Italian football had been in making Les Bleus at the end of the last century a team capable of winning the major prizes in international football.

He explained how the individual French players Italian clubs had brought into Serie A gained a rigour and tactical nous that enabled France to make the leap from perennial tournament dark horses to world champions in 1998, and two years later to win the European Championship, at the expense of Italy.

That France was indeed built around pillars of the Italian league when Serie A was in a boom: AC Milan's Marcel Desailly, Parma's Lilian Thuram and the former Inter Milan centre-half Laurent Blanc across the defence; it had Deschamps and Zinedine Zidane from Juventus and Youri Djorkaeff from Inter.

Italian clubs would likewise feature in the careers of younger champion Bleus, such as Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet.

So it was a peculiar feeling for Deschamps, 44, when, naming his France squad to take on Italy in Parma tonight, he found none of his chosen 23 belonged to an Italian club.

Paul Pogba, the uncapped 20-year-old midfielder at Juventus, had been a possible candidate, but Deschamps deemed him not yet ready for the step up to the senior France squad, despite some encouraging showings at Juve lately.

Nor is it that Deschamps, who has named 15 men who play in France's Ligue 1, now loudly praises the strength of French domestic football. Quite the contrary.

He talks of a debilitating tendency of French players aiming to leave young for leagues abroad, unless they are enjoying the lavish salaries at Paris Saint-Germain, who work under very distinct financial parameters to most French clubs since they came under the patronage of Qatari owners.

The sort of professional emigration Deschamps saw as a boon for the national team when he played in it is now a mixed blessing, he reckons.

"When the Bosman law [in 1995, enabling greater freedom of movement] came in, football changed," Deschamps said.

"Anybody can play wherever they want, but that has done great, great damage to French football. The survival of French football is now a question of nurturing talent and selling it."

Deschamps told the Italian paper Tuttosport this week that, although the buyers for the best French players are now more often in England or Spain than in Italy, there are still aspects of the Italian game he envies: "French players do not have the same discipline as clubs like Juventus and Milan impose," he said.

As a former head coach at Juventus, as well as at Ligue 1's Marseille, he is aptly qualified to make that judgement.

What Deschamps, who guided Juventus to the Serie B title in the season after their punitive relegation in 2006 and won the French league with Marseille in 2010, will also be aware of is that Italy now envies France. Or at least one of its clubs.

PSG have constructed their current squad around expensive talent recruited in a large part from Serie A.

AC Milan, a club who used to bow to no one in the transfer market, sold Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva to PSG in the summer and are much weaker as a result. Two members of the Italy squad preparing for tonight are based in Paris: the goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu and the midfielder Marco Verratti.

Which at least means Italy's head coach Cesare Prandelli should be able to watch some of his players in Champions League action in the new year.

PSG are on course for the knockout stages of Europe's principle club competition; Juventus and AC Milan, meanwhile, have a fight to maintain any sort of Serie A presence there.

As for the other French clubs involved, Lille and Montpellier are already eliminated from the Champions League.

Italy versus France, a rerun of the 2006 World Cup final, and the 2000 European final, remains a prestigious international fixture, but both countries' domestic competitions have causes for concern.

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