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Sports

Why did France get the World Cup blues?

media Raymond Domenech's reign as French manager came to a sorry end with a 2-1 … Reuters

France's fortunes on and off the pitch in South Africa made them the laughing stock of this World Cup. So where did it all go wrong for a country that - on paper - had one of the best squads in the competition?

When one of the French team’s sponsors offered a money-back deal on new TVs should Les Bleus win the World Cup, it’s likely the company was pretty confident it wouldn’t have to hand back any cash.

When politics and sport mix

One of the most remarkable aspects of France’s World Cup campaign has been the extent to which politicians have become involved.

On Wednesday French President Nicolas Sarkozy held a cabinet meeting to discuss Les Bleus’ disastrous displays in South Africa with Prime Minister Francois Fillon, Sports Minister Roselyne Bachelot and junior sports minister Rama Yade.

On Thursday Sarkozy is due to meet veteran striker Thierry Henry in Paris.

After the French players boycotted training on Sunday, Bachelot met the players to take them to task for their conduct.

Yade had angered the team before the tournament got underway after criticising the decision to have them stay in a luxury hotel for the duration of the competition.

The trouble is that not many people will have bought a television on the basis of that offer. Make no mistake, France’s World Cup campaign was a disaster waiting to happen.

The truth is that the French national side rarely flourished during Raymond Domenech’s six years in charge, although the outgoing manager led them to three major tournaments and reached the 2006 World Cup final.

With the unwavering support of the French Football Federation (FFF), the former French under-21 manager took charge of the senior team a record 79 times. But in that time his team managed a pitiful average of 1.37 goals per game and only won one of the nine group games they played in major competitions.

More than anything else though, it’s the legacy Domenech leaves behind that gives the most damning verdict on his reign.

France’s most famous former player Zinedine Zidane was correct when he said that the 2010 World Cup will be remembered for two things: the name of the winner and the fact the French team refused to train before their match against South Africa.

The players must take their share of the blame for the incredible decision to boycott training after Nicolas Anelka was sent home for insulting Domenech. But so, too, must the French manager. Not for the first time, he proved incapable of healing the divisions in the squad that led to the more egotistical players wielding far too much influence.

The talented Yoann Gourcuff was apparently bullied and ostracised by senior members, while the experienced William Gallas sulked because he wasn’t named captain before the World Cup got underway. Patrice Evra did get the captaincy but was stripped of it before the tournament ended and – in a final insult to the French public – Eric Abidal asked not to play in their last group game.

Seemingly never wanting to be upstaged, Domenech failed to shake the hand of South African boss Carlos Alberto Parreira after France’s 2-1 defeat. It was one of his final acts as French manager.

In truth, the current malaise dates back to France’s exit at the group stage of Euro 2008. Their performances had been dismal and, when Domenech chose a TV interview directly after their exit as the time to propose to his partner, the FFF had the perfect excuse to dismiss the hugely unpopular manager.

Instead, they gave their under-fire coach another chance - a decision which many pundits say they are now paying for.

Judging by the initial reaction, the inquest into the most recent debacle will be ill-tempered and have long-lasting repercussions for French football. Ex-players have been unanimous in condemning France’s showing at the World Cup and most have called for heads to roll within the FFF.

The head of the FFF, Jean-Pierre Escalettes, has promised that a comprehensive inquiry will take place to find out what went wrong in South Africa. But Franck Leboeuf, who won the World Cup with France in 1998, said he was “stunned” at Escalettes’ reaction.

“There’s a lot of work to be done to rebuild everything. There has to be a big clean up in the offices of the federation and people who know about football have to be put in place.”

Aimé Jacquet, the manager who led France to World Cup success on home soil twelve years ago, was also quick to put on record his profound disappointment.

“What happened outside the pitch is inconceivable and inexplicable,” he said. “This fiasco will forever be engraved in our memory. We have to do everything to change the image of the French team.”

Evra said after the defeat to South Africa that he’ll clarify what went on later this week. Both he and the rest of the squad certainly have a lot of explaining to do to the French public.

Whatever the outcome of the inquiry, Laurent Blanc will have plenty of work on his hands if he is confirmed as the new French manager. But his job may have become a lot easier following France’s disastrous displays in South Africa.

As Leboeuf – Blanc’s former international teammate – pointed out, expectations will be at an all-time low.

“We’ve hit rock bottom,” he told French TV. “We have to restart from zero.”

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