19 June, 2008

La Haine et L'Amour

The French are an odd bunch. They make cracking cheeses, hams and breads, but often choose instead to eat common garden pests such as snails and frogs. When it comes to football then, they yo-yo between the sublime and the miserable, with the last ten years offering a perfect microcosm of this frustrating fact. In 1998 they won the World Cup; in 2000 they won the Euro; in 2002 they failed to even score a goal in defending their World Cup; in 2004, they lost humiliatingly to Greece in the first knockout round; in 2006, they nearly won the World Cup again; and then of course this year they’ve limped out of another competition with just one goal and one point to their name. So instead of holding his hands up and falling on his sword for what the French press have called a “shipwreck” of a tournament, gaffer Raymond Domenech launched into a bizarre declaration of love on national television for his girlfriend Estelle Denis: “I have only one project- to marry Estelle, which is what I'm asking her today. I know it's difficult, but it's at moments like this that you need everyone and I need her,” he rambled to French TV with tears in his eyes. See it for yourself here: (about 1min 45secs in)

It’s simply incredible, just imagine if Steve Maclaren had responded in this way after we confirmed our non-attendance in the on-going Euro; he would’ve taken such a hammering that genuinely he’d probably have to leave the country. French press haven’t been too kind either though: Le Parisien described the outburst as “unreal;” sports daily l'Equipe was furious at Domenech's “error of taste;” and France Soir's front page screamed “Resign! There is only one exit: the door.” The Paul O’Grady look-a-like continued to dig himself into the ground in a later an attempt to try to justify the somewhat misguided timing of his marriage proposal: “Everything was so sad, I thought life has some beautiful moments and you should tell people you love them. I wanted to show some emotion. I'm not going to repeat it.”

French fans are not just gunning for Domenech over his romantic outburst; it’s just the straw that broke the camel’s back after a campaign full of abysmal tactical judgement. He has taken a lot of stick in France by clinging to an older generation of players such as Henry, Thuram and Makalele, ahead of promising talent such as Benzema, Ben Arfa, Lassana Diarra and Flamini, only one of which actually featured. Furthermore, the suggestion has been that he’s hamstringed the side into playing a narrow and unenterprising style, and that certainly seemed apparent against Italy this week where Henry was stranded up-front by himself with four defenders for company most of the game. The French football federation will decide Domenech’s fate on July 3, so expect his contract (currently due to expire in 2010 after the World Cup in South Africa) to be unceremoniously canceled.

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