Under intense pressure at every game and with every result, the French coach Raymond Domenech has been fortunate to keep his job.
Talking about a revolution
Following an opening game defeat in the 2010 World Cup qualifiers to Austria almost a year ago, Raymond Domenech said he would have been sent to the guillotine in another era. The dislike of the France coach borders on hatred and the jeers still continue to ring in his ears as an unforgiving public and media consistently make their feelings clear.
A footballing revolution is demanded and, under intense pressure at every game and with every result, Domenech has been fortunate to keep his head and his job. He somehow survived the chop after an abject Euro 2008 campaign that saw them finish last in the finals group stage. At next year's World Cup, it will be 10 years since Les Bleus' famous triumphs in Euro 2000 and previously the World Cup on home soil in 1998, when Zinedine Zidane was in his pomp. Both are now fond, but distant memories.
The harsh reality is that Domenech's side could miss out on a place in South Africa unless they get their act together. They are eight points behind the Group Seven leaders Serbia in second place and look more likely to have to qualify for South Africa via a perilous play-off against other second-placed teams. They face the Faroe Islands tomorrow with fear in the ranks. Patrice Evra, the Manchester United full-back, says the fact that Europe's biggest leagues have not started means the game in Torshavn will not be as easy as people imagine.
That is not the kind of comment the French want to hear before a game against a side ranked 163rd in the world, even lower than Eritrea and Swaziland. Calling up the flamboyant Franck Ribery, the match-winner in the last two qualifiers against Lithuania, but now struggling with a knee injury, only goes to emphasis Domenech's mindset. With so much at stake, he does not want to risk failure and needs his best players on hand.
In players like Ribery, Evra, the Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema and the stylish midfielder Yoann Gourcuff, France do have the talent to compete with the best, but the style and the swagger of old is still missing. Judging by below-par recent performances in friendlies against Nigeria and Turkey, they lack creativity and conviction. As time catches up with them, Domenech is losing his past masters. Zidane, Lilian Thuram and Claude Makelele have retired while Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry are approaching the end.
A defiant Domenech is trying to build for the future, calling up Moussa Sissoko for the trip to the Faroes. The rangy Toulouse midfielder is only 19, but is already tracked by major clubs and touted as a long-term successor to Vieira. At this crucial period and with testing qualifiers to come against Romania, Serbia and Austria, it could be seen as another gamble by his critics. Then again, the infusion of a fresh face could prove most welcome.
Domenech has his supporters within the football federation, but does not do himself any favours. His marriage proposal on live television following France's Euro 2008 exit was as embarrassing as his side's performances. But if Domenech can get them united and into next year's World Cup finals, there may be more love in the air. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org