Almost two years ago to the day, the 'Knysna' scandal rocked the France national football team. Strikes, insults, altercations: the actions of the Tricolour players in South Africa in the 2010 World Cup humiliated an entire country, shocked the whole world and covered the controversy's protagonists in shame.
On Tuesday evening, in the France dressing room after the 2-0 defeat to Sweden, another incident among the players exploded into view. It didn't even last 10 minutes, but it was violent. Alou Diarra was seemingly the most vocal. He took to the floor to air his discontent and disgust, crying out angrily having taken issue with several team-mates for their lack of motivation and team spirit.
The old criticisms and insults resurface. Certain players were close to fighting each other. Across the dressing room, words were flying in all directions. It heated up between Hatem Ben Arfa and Samir Nasri and then Diarra and the Manchester City star.
Laurent Blanc had harsh words for Philippe Mexes because of the yellow card that will deprive the coach of his services for the quarter-final against Spain on Saturday. Franck Ribery tried to calm everyone down, but it was as if the whole dressing room was possessed.
Florent Malouda also raised his voce. The Guianan offered this more than muscular explanation: "What I've seen has awoken some demons in me," he stated. "I will not speak about the match, but about attitude, and what emerges. We can do a lot of harm by swinging punches. If we had the spirit the Swedes had, we could have lost, but we wouldn't have woken up with a hangover. Normally, in a locker room, it's sometimes necessary have these outbursts."
Even if the comparison is tempting, there are no similarities to see between 2010 and 2012. What happened in Kiev on Saturday is not Knysna, far from it. Knysna was a result of a flaw with the system - Raymond Domenech's system. It was a fracture amongst a group of players with a coach they didn't support. This is different.
Of course, there are problems with relationships within the squad. Nasri attracts a lot of criticism and resentment from his team-mates for his character and attitutde on the pitch. There are some big egos present in this generation of France players.
|"If we had the spirit the Swedes had, we could have lost, but we wouldn't have woken up with a hangover."
- Florent Malouda
Too many egos, perhaps, but moreover too many players who don't accept criticism and who are more interested in themselves than the team. "By trying to be heroes, we move away from the group," commented Malouda. "If we say that the European Championship is an opportunity to shine, that can be contagious, and derails the machine. If we don't correct it, what will happen will be very, very bitter."
However, we should not stigmatise this behaviour. Altercations in dressing rooms where insults burst back and forth happen all the time, everywhere, even after a Sunday morning kick-about with friends. The Germans are accustomed to this, and they rarely underachieve at major tournaments. This also shows that the current crop of Bleus have heart and that they're desperate to succeed.
In history, notably in the 2006 World Cup, we've seen these altercations, including, famously, the one between Zinedine Zidane and William Gallas on the pitch against Switzerland. And that team finished as runners-up at the World Cup.That demonstrates that these problems can be turned into a force for good.
"This can only be positive," commented Alain Boghossian on Thursday morning. Blanc's deputy is right. This could provide a boost for the meeting with Spain. Blanc will surely use it to motivate his troops for this generation of players and their coach's most important match.