A seagull following French football's sardine trawler
This blog doesn’t recall a contestant on Dale Winton’s daytime TV classic Supermarket Sweep ever putting a 23-man World Cup squad in their trolley. But that’s allegedly what happened in France yesterday.
At around noon the blogosphere, twittersphere and every Pierre, Paul ou Jacques as the saying goes in France were claiming that Carrefour, the French supermarket chain and principal sponsor of les Bleus, had unveiled Raymond Domenech’s squad prematurely.
Carrefour’s selection was wrong and by some distance too. As when Ray finally addressed the nation on TF 1 at 7:30pm, he not only announced a different squad from that supposedly leaked earlier in the day, he named seven more players than he originally said he would, including nine strikers, but not Karim Benzema.
Madness? Yes. Unexpected? No. After all, this is the man who famously consults horoscopes when making team selections, asks his partner to marry him following defeat to Italy at Euro 2008 and rebuts claims that he is the most unpopular manager in France by revealing that a driver on the Paris metro recently invited him to come and sit up front.
Yesterday’s antics weren’t a surprise. Sadly, they were all too reminiscent of a comedian telling the same old joke over and over again clearly unaware that it’s no longer funny. When Domenech leaves his post later this summer, his biggest achievement will be that of making an entire country fall out love with its national team, which not so long ago was a symbol of unity and pride
"How can people not love me? I'm on the bloomin' telly!"
His favourite trick, lest we forget, is called ‘doing a Chimbonda’
In 2006 he shocked everyone by taking the then Wigan full-back to Germany and he has repeated it ever since, taking Bafétimbi Gomis to Euro 2008 and now Mathieu Valbuena.
However, the French Connection would hasten to add that, while undoubtedly a risk, the pint-sized winger who inspired Marseille to their first league title in 18 years does deserve to go to South Africa on merit.
Valbuena’s reaction said it all. “It was so emotional that I cried when I saw my name on the TV screen,” he wrote on his official website. “In that moment, a multitude of images came to me. I thought about my parents who have always been close to me in the good and bad times of my life.”
Arsenal playmaker Samir Nasri is perhaps the victim of Valbuena’s inclusion. When Domenech told L’Équipe last month that “players must forget their ego and realise that the only thing that matters is the team, not them,” he had Nasri among others in his sights.
Ray clearly hasn’t forgotten that the 22-year-old was one of the protagonists of an old and young divide at Euro 2008, even allegedly creating a fuss about where he sat on the bus.
NEWS: Vieira & Benzema ditched by France
Rennes striker Jimmy Briand and his team-mate, the 19-year-old midfielder, Yann M’Vila were the two other wildcards, the latter especially.
Briand’s versatility, but above all his aptitude for playing on the right and setting up his team-mates as well as scoring goals is perhaps why his name and not Benzema’s was on the list. In all, Domenech called up four players who have never played for France before.
But ultimately it was the absentees who stole the show. Patrick Vieira moved from Inter Milan to Manchester City in January to show that he was serious about playing himself into consideration for the World Cup.
Domenech didn’t even have the decency to call the 33-year-old to let him know that he wouldn’t be in the squad. Vieira found out on TV sitting just 200m away from Domenech.
Speaking to Canal + Sport, Vieira said: “I don’t question the list. I respect his decision. The only problem I have with him is on a relationship level. I expected more openness, more contact. I would have readily accepted it if he had called me [on Monday] rather than learning it here watching TV. That’s what hurts.”
After 107 caps, the most recent coming against Scotland in September 2007, the French Connection believes that that’s the last we’ll see of Vieira playing for Les Bleus.
"Oh, Patrick - fancy seeing you here. Well this is awkward..."
One person who apparently did receive a phone call from Domenech over the weekend was PSG’s 37-year-old captain Claude Makélélé. Having missed out on France’s victories at World Cup ‘98 and Euro 2000, L’Équipe claimed that Ray was doing his best to tempt the retiring Makélélé out of international retirement.
But Keke wouldn’t budge. “It’s been a long time since I quit. I have confidence in the youngsters,” he said on Sunday. “If I had been younger, yes, but the youngsters have talent.”
When pressed about the matter last night, Domenech tried to play down the whole affair. “It was a game,” he explained. “The people around us managed to believe it.” The French Connection is sorry to have to break this to you Ray, but the people around you don’t even know what to believe anymore.
As for Benzema, Carrefour permitting, it was widely expected that he would miss out after a woeful first season in Madrid. Speaking yesterday morning, he said: “If I weren’t picked by the coach, it’s evident that I would be disappointed. It’s normal; playing at the World Cup is something incredible. The entire world dreams about it. But I wouldn’t be destroyed. A footballer’s life is made up of good and bad moments.”
Domenech didn’t rule out including Benzema in his final cut. “After June 1, you can call up anyone, even someone who was not even in the 30. So you never know.” And while Benzema’s inclusion appears unlikely, it would be foolish to put it past Ray? His next move comes on Sunday when a 24 or 23-man squad must be named ahead of France’s training camp at Tignes.
More from The French Connection
Great piece. I too am excited by the inclusion of Valbuena. His goal against Liverpool a few years ago was worth a spot on the plane to SA
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