The 2010 South Africa World Cup is not a tournament many people will want to remember in a hurry, but this is particularly true of the French. After a, let’s say, fortunate, route to qualification, France were drawn with the hosts, as well as Uruguay and Mexico. Not the easiest group, but for a team like France – who had finished runners-up in 2006 – it should’ve been survivable.
Instead, there was a revolution to oust manager Raymond Domenech, after a row between him and Nicolas Anelka. Players went on strike and, eventually, France would get knocked out in the group phase in last place, having earned just a single point. It was a farce and a disgrace. A nadir, if you will, for French football.
An air of uncertainty
Eight years on and the French team is a far cry from that of the team who suffered such humiliation. The players get along nicely, the squad is filled with young talent, and they have safely secured passage from the group phase in a quiet and professional manner. However, while this young generation coming through is forming a positive atmosphere around French football (that simply didn’t exist 8 years ago), there is still an air of uncertainty around the current manager Didier Deschamps. Even after 6 years in charge, there are only a handful of performances that could be pointed to as a sign of progress. Despite reaching the final of Euro 2016, this was achieved in spite of Deschamps, as opposed to because of him. His side play a brand of dreary football that can only inspire a nation into a deep slumber. “Wake me up when the rugby is back.”
Yet Deschamps has been given another chance. World Cup glory would surely silence the critics who slammed his tactics throughout qualification. But with players like Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele – just to name a few – surely this France side should be playing some of the most exciting attacking football in international football.
The symbol of Deschamp’s brand of insipid football? Olivier Giroud. Now this is not to say that Giroud isn’t a good player; his moderately successful career in England is proof of that. However, is Giroud of the calibre of the other attacking options mentioned? Absolutely not.
And after a poor performance in victory against Australia in the opening match of group C, Giroud was installed back into the team for the remaining two group games. The idea behind this is that Giroud offers the team a focal point to attack from. The belief is he gives the team a focus. Yet, France were just as boring and lethargic with Giroud as without him. That leaves a common denominator of just one man: Didier Deschamps.
It would almost be a feat of incredible genius, if it wasn’t such an incredible failure in management, to turn a side that should so clearly be so fluid in attack into a side so functional that it barely even functions. France’s eight-year transformation from dysfunctional into too functional is now complete and, surely, a similar collapse to that of 2010 is inevitable.
A meek exit awaits
Now that the knockout rounds have arrived, France finally need to as well. The big personalities need to step up and recapture the tiniest bit of energy and passion of the 2010 side. Otherwise a meek exit awaits.
Their round of 16 opponents Argentina, however, have very much invoked the spirit of France 2010. Manager Jorge Sampaoli has no power in the dressing room, Lionel Messi and Javier Mascherano have reportedly wrangled control of the squad off the manager and are now deciding the team. Players haven’t quite gone on strike just yet, but there were fears in Argentina of Sampaoli actually getting sacked after the humiliating 3-0 defeat to Croatia.
But the big difference between France 2010 and Argentina 2018 is that, despite being the most dysfunctional team at the tournament, Argentina achieved qualification after a last-ditch rally saved their participation in the competition. There was no Marcos Rojo for Domenech’s side.
This will give the Messi-led Argentina the belief that destiny, God, Diego Maradona or all two are on their side. However, momentum is definitely on their side and the importance of this completely intangible asset is something that cannot be overlooked in knockout competition. While France have sleep-walked their way to the second round, Argentina have poured blood, sweat and tears into ensuring their progression.
In a match where too functional takes on dysfunctional, lethargy battles energetic and unimaginative fights creativity, it is the French side of 2010 that Deschamps should look to for the inspiration his team need if they are to live up to the potential and clinch their second World Cup.
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