Eurozone: What Does the Future Hold for France?
So France’s Euro 2012 journey was indeed ended by tournament favourites Spain, who predictably passed the French to death. Some have criticised Blanc’s side for being eliminated so meekly, as they failed to really test the Spanish in their quarter-final. Portugal showed in the semis that perhaps the tiki-taka merchants are vulnerable and Blanc’s defensive side failed to either contain or cause any problems up the other end. However, there are many reasons for French fans to remain cautiously optimistic going forward.
Euro 2012 – What went well?
First of all, some of France’s less illustrious names stepped up and proved that they can more than handle themselves at this level. My own personal man-crush Yohan Cabaye showed that he belongs on the world stage, and the French press all agree that he is now a mainstay of the team. His close friend, full-back Mathieu Debuchy, was perhaps only starting thanks to an injury to Bakary Sagna, but the Lille man has now established himself as first-choice and his marauding runs down the right are likely to be a feature for a while. While the defence of Mexes and Rami was roundly highlighted as a weak point, Laurent Koscielny was called to replace the former in the quarters and looked far more comfortable than his ponytailed compatriot. A Rami-Koscielny combination looks much sturdier. The likes of Clichy, Rami and M’Vila gained international tournament experience and will be better for it.
Much like England, the tournament was an opportunity for a nation to reassess it’s standing on the international level. After the 2010 debacle, Anelka-gate et al, the French team weren’t expected to go too far. As it turns out, Les Bleus did what they were expected – qualified from the group and were roundly beaten by a far superior team in the later stages. To this extent, Euro 2012 was a success for France – they achieved what they set out to do, even if they may have had the weapons to go further.
Euro 2012 – What went wrong?
Though the English love to exaggerate the French stereotype of the selfish, stroppy primadonna, it is undeniable that attitude problems still remain. Blanc has, to his credit, reduced the tension by removing some of the more ‘fiery’ characters but the behaviour shown by Nasri in particular sums up why the French national team is not always the most popular. Personally though, swearing at a journalist and ranting at your team-mates after they got a Swedish pumelling don’t seem the worst crimes in the world. However, the problem still remains that the squad is tarnished with a reputation for in-fighting and the next manager will need to finish the job Blanc started.
Though Cabaye and co. perhaps overperformed, it is certainly true that some of the bigger names failed to take their club form into Euro 2012. Benzema arrived on the back of his best season yet at Real Madrid, finally fulfilling the promise he showed in his early days at Lyon. Franck Ribery, often derided by English press for failing to perform on the international stage, showed his undoubted ability but only in flashes. For France to return to the big-time, they need their big game players to perform. Pirlo and Balotelli for Italy, Xavi and Iniesta for Spain, Ozil for Germany – they all did so but France had no equivalent.
Where to go now?
With Blanc gone, it seems almost certain that Didier Deschamps will be the man to take over. The former Juventus midfield general is currently at Marseille but looks set to leave after finishing tenth in Ligue 1 last season. Captain of the 98 World Cup-winning team, he seems the only obvious candidate.
Of course, the whole Samir Nasri issue needs to be dealt with. It may be that the FFF follow the prescedent they set in 2010 and give the City man a ban, though this would be a mistake. He has let his team down – as a Premier League winner and one of the most gifted players, he should be one of the most important men in the squad – but is the most creative player France have. His temperment and attitude mean that he is often more problematic, so is he the right man for some of the younger generation to look up to? The new manager must decide (if he is allowed to by the FFF) whether his undoubted ability is worth the hassle he brings.
The future is bright though for the new-look French team. With Cabaye the first example, the best way forward is to put faith in those who perform rather than the bigger names. Had Blanc stuck with Menez (who had looked dangerous in earlier games) against Spain, France may have caused more problems. Instead, Malouda was restored and he was at fault for the opening goal.
Blanc did well to remove some of the ‘old guard,’ yet remnants still remain. Malouda, Evra and Alou Diarra have had their chance and need to be phased out, completing the overhaul required after two disastrous tournaments in 2008 and 2010. The good news is that there are plenty of talented players waiting to push through and the removal of the older egos will leave room for them to grow. Brilliantly named Mapou Yanga-M’Biwa only narrowly missed out on the squad and will provide competition for Rami and Koscielny, bringing both a physical presence and the ability to bring the ball out and play from the back. Loic Remy missed the Euros through injury but will be a good addition as a wide-man or striker.
With Giroud and Martin already completing summer moves, and Yanga-M’Biwa, Debuchy and M’Vila tipped to do the same, this second-tier of French player will be playing at a higher domestic level week-in, week-out and this will aid their development. The Champions League now beckons for Martin at Lille, Giroud at Arsenal and Yanga-M’Biwa at Montpellier (if he doesn’t move on that is). Giroud could thrive on the responsibility of being the main man, playing as a number 9 and leaving Benzema a more free role in behind him.
For all the negativity which seems to encircle the French team, fans must keep these positives in mind. Certainly when compared with the England team, France’s prospects seem much brighter given the standard of player waiting to emerge. The World Cup in Brazil will be the next test, though France must use that tournament like they did this summer. The real aim should be 2016, when France plays host to the Euros.
Potential 2016 team: Lloris; Clichy, Koscielny, Yanga-M’Biwa, Debuchy; Cabaye, M’Vila; Menez, Benzema, Ribery; Giroud.