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Who will make the grade in Laurent Blanc’s new-look France side?
As punishments go, footballers being forced to miss a faraway international friendly may be right up there in the severity stakes with schoolboys being ordered not do any homework. But the 23 French militants who have been banned by the new manager Laurent Blanc for tonight’s tryst in Norway may find that their one-match omission turns into a much longer sentence. It depends on how their replacements do. This, then, is a friendly that is anything but meaningless.
Curiously, there has been no rash of international retirements following France’s World Cup debacle and most of the players involved have declared their desire to resume playing for their country, even William Gallas, who currently has no club, and Nicolas Anelka, who has launched legal proceedings against L’Equipe over that paper’s reporting of the dressing-room discussion with Raymond Domenech that led to the Chelsea striker being banished from the World Cup and his team-mates going off their rockers in solidarity.
Of course, quite apart from their sensational antics in South Africa, France’s so-called top players have been performing like pillocks on the pitch for the best part of four years, which is why, going purely on football merits, Blanc has said that the only one of the ancien rgime who is sure to be restored after the suspensions is the goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. So what is the new guard like?
Les Bleus selected by Blanc Authentic Prada Bag For Sale Philippines for his first match are decidedly green. The squad, normally dominated by seasoned stars from Europe’s biggest leagues and clubs, features 16 players from Authentic Prada Shoes Outlet Authentic Prada Clutch Ligue 1 and 15 who are under 25. Eight of the players have never before been called up to the senior team. Between them the entire squad boasts 99 caps (Blanc earned 97 all by himself).
Perhaps the most intriguing and ironic aspect of the rejuvenation is that it offers an opportunity to the class of 2004 to show they are finally ready for the big stage. When France won the U-17 European Championship in 2004, beating a Spain team featuring Cesc Fbregas and Gerard Piqu in the final, four of their players, in particular, were tipped for greatness. Everyone who fancied they knew something about football foresaw Samir Nasri, Karim Benzema, Hatem Ben Arfa and Jrmy Menez graduating to the senior team within a couple of years and becoming mainstays of it for a decade or more. Nasri and Benzema suggested that prophecy would come true when, for their first appearance together, in March 2007, they dazzled in a friendly victory over Austria. But as it turned out none of the quartet has truly realised his potential yet and none were selected for South Africa (partially, amusingly enough, because Domenech had concerns about their attitude). Tonight the quartet are expected to start in the same team together for the first time since conquering Europe as teenagers.
Menez is perhaps the most interesting of the four. Technically, he has always been considered the best of that excellent bunch and seemed to Best Prada Outlet Italy be well on course to fulfilling his destiny when, in January 2005 replica prada cosmetic bags, he became the youngster player to score a hat-trick in Ligue 1, hitting three goals in just seven minutes as Sochaux beat Bordeaux 4-0. He turned down a move to Manchester United that year, reasoning that his development would be better served by remaining in France, and a short time later was bought by Monaco, where he has sparkled inconsistently. He has been at Roma since 2008 but has still not become a fixture in the side and, indeed, says he still does not know his best position: forward, winger, in the hole, deep-lying playmaker?
He does, however, say that he has worked hard to improve both his physical and mental strength, both of which Domenech, and many others, suspected of being flimsy. Tonight, at last, he will probably earn his first senior cap. In which position remains to be seen. The likelihood is that, ultimately, he is competing with Nasri for a regular place, since unless that duo immediately rekindle their teenage relationship and dovetail magically Black Prada Bag With Gold Hardware in Norway, then Yoann Gourcuff, who was the centrepiece of Blanc’s successful Bordeaux side, is almost certain to return to the side for the opening Euro 2012 qualifier against Belarus next month.
France lacked cohesion and identity under Domenech. Blanc will breed a way of playing that does not necessarily entail clinging to one formation. Indeed, the manager insists he has no preferred formation and will make alterations according to opponents. What is certain, if his Bordeaux days are anything to go by, is that he will always Agatha Ruiz Dela Prada Sale Uk find a place not only for Gourcuff but also for a mobile forward who is powerful in the air and adept at linking with all around him. At Bordeaux that meant Marouane Chamakh, with France it may mean Guillaume Hoarau, the 26-year-old Paris Saint-Germain striker who could also make his debut tonight. If he Authentic Prada Handbags Canada solidifies that spot, Authentic Prada Gauffre Bag that will leave Benzema, Lyon’s impish new forward Jimmy Briand and the Stoke, Liverpool, West Ham and Tottenham target Lo?c Rmy competing for the other forward role when Blanc elects to play 4-4-2. There may be no need to bring back Anelka. Nor Djibril Ciss, obviously.
The area of most concern is defence, where Blanc says “everything needs to be rebuilt”. France have not had a solid central defence since the decline of Lilian Thuram. Between the end of Euro 2008 and his last, ridiculous match at the 2010 World Cup, Domenech tried eight different partnerships in central defence. He sort of settled on Gallas and Eric Abidal, but it was clear that even he recognised that wasn’t ideal. It would be no surprise if neither played for France Authentic Prada Wallet For Sale Philippines again C similarly, we’re unlikely to see Jean-Alain Boumsong or Julien Escud again as, though they were not among the South African rebels, they were nonetheless overlooked by Blanc.
This could be the time, then, for Philippe Mexs, another hot prospect who has never caught fire C not for his country, that is: with Roma he has consistently been one of the best defenders in Serie A over the last few years. Domenech was frequently lambasted for not selecting Mexs, but nearly every time he did so (the 28-year-old has 13 caps to his name), the player goofed. It was one of those strange syndromes that helped reinforce the impression that the Domenech touch was the precise opposite of Midas’s. Blanc, by contrast, has a strong record of coaxing improvements from players. “There has been a real disconnect between his performances in Serie A and those for the national team,” said Blanc last week. “I’ve told him that he’s missed the train once and now it’s passing by again so he’d better jump aboard because it won’t come around again.”
Whoever partners Mexs tonight will also be invited to clamber aboard. It may be PSG’s 20-year-old centre-back Mamadou Sakho, but for all his undoubted promise he still suffers regular concentration lapses in Ligue 1 so does not seem ready for the step up. Twenty-four-year-old Adil Rami of Lille looks a better bet. The only one of the suspended players who seems likely to threaten the new players’ places if they perform well in Norway is Jrmy Toulalan, given that he, traditionally a midfielder, has been a surprising success at centre-back since filling in there for Lyon last season.
At full-back, Beno?t Trmoulinas, another of Blanc’s Bordeaux protgs, has what it takes to mount a decent challenge for Patrice Evra’s place in the team, especially as the Manchester United defender is one of five players who may still (but probably won’t) suffer further sanctions as a consequence of the South African shambles. Evra, Toulalan, Gallas, Abidal and Franck Ribry are all due to appear before a French Football Federation disciplinary board to account for their role in the farce.
One of the many issues that, laughably, caused resentment in the French camp even before the World Cup was Domenech’s decision to award the captain’s armband to Authentic Prada Bags Uk Evra. Apparently Gallas and Thierry Henry reckoned that they, as elders, should have been given it or at least consulted and possibly invited to appraise the team’s tracksuits, inspect its itinerary and propose amendments to the national anthem, which inexplicably does not mention them by name. Blanc has sought to avoid a situation whereby players put too much stock in the office of captain by saying he will attribute the armband on a match-by-match basis. Lassana Diarra will likely choose between heads or tails tonight.
Another of the new manager’s innovations in terms of attitude adjustment will be to bring in a former international the day before every competitive match to give a speech to the players on what it means to represent their country. “It won’t necessarily be a world champion every time, but it will certainly be someone who has actually achieved something in the game, someone who can explain how lives can be changed by what you do for your national team,” said Blanc.
The first speaker will be Zinedine Zidane. Who, obviously, would never leave a World Cup in disgrace.