Amongst those cast to one side were captain Patrice Evra and star player Franck Ribery, internally disciplined after their part in the team’s strike during the summer. To expel such key figures was a great statement of intent.
But the FFF had already made a vital pre-emptive blow in what was to become a messy clean-up job; they appointed Laurent Blanc to the head coaching role before the summer's tournament even started.
As his nickname would suggest, ‘Le President’ commands unrivalled respect in the French media, who listen intently in press conferences to the coach, who conducts his ceremonies with a serious yet at the same time friendly atmosphere. Crucially, however, the 1998 World Cup winner dominates his dressing room as he does the press room.
There was little doubting the abilities of the individual members of the French squad last summer, but as a team they were simply hopeless. As South Africa showed when they embarrassed les Bleus 2-1 in what proved to be their tournament swansong, strength as a unit is better than strength as 11 individuals.
Fissures in the France group last summer were irreparable. During the 2006 World Cup, France reached the final by using Zinedine Zidane as a focal point to rally around, largely ignorant of Raymond Domenech’s impotent presence. Les Bleus came within a whisker of winning the tournament, losing the final on penalties to Italy.
Such togetherness in the squad was wholly lacking in South Africa, with playmaker Yoann Gourcuff ostracised by the senior members of the team, most notably Ribery.
|Ribery has apologised this week for
his conduct during 2010
Captain Alou Diarra believes that any problems can be overcome, impressed by the Boulogne-born player’s decision to take the initiative in repairing the damage in their relationship.
“For the good of the France team, the two must come together and resolve their concerns,” the Bordeaux player told the media. “It is a very good initiative on the part of Franck [to initiate discussions] as the two players will have to have a relationship on and off the field.”
Having forged a strong team spirit under Blanc, France would now appear to be in a position from which they can absorb any ripple effect the return of the ‘troublemakers’ may have. Additionally, the Euro 2012 qualifying fixture against Luxembourg should be readily winnable even if there is some ill-feeling still in the camp, while the friendly against Croatia will ultimately count for little. Now would appear to be the perfect time to see if reintegration is possible.
The newly reintegrated players, however, will have a big burden to carry. Widespread public opinion of the pair is not high, and a frosty welcome from some members of the crowd would not be a surprise. Evra, for example, was booed heavily when he returned to France for Manchester United’s Champions League meeting with Marseille.
Even if the squad can forgive the pair, it’s doubtful the fans can. Ultimately, it’s the collective that counts, and as Blanc showed during his tenure in charge of Girondins de Bordeaux, he is a master at extracting every ounce of potential from his players by moulding them into a well-functioning whole.
Don’t expect this to be a move that fails on the part of ‘Le President’.