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Welcome back France, where have you been?

It took a while, but Blanc has France heading in the right direction

After the last match of the World Cup, which France lost to South Africa, many French supporters, including myself, took a huge sigh of relief. We knew that the nightmare that was Raymond Domenech was finally over, and that new leadership would be taking over in the form of Laurent Blanc.

But this too started to be an issue of controversy just a few weeks before the end of the Ligue 1 season. After winning the Ligue 1 title the year before, Bordeaux finished a dismal 6th place, not qualifying for any European competitions and dropping matches against teams like Valenciennes, Le Mans and Lens. Therefore, it was just a matter of time before there were questions surrounding Blanc before he even managed one match for the French National Team.

At this time, there was much talk about a number of candidates. After winning the Ligue 1 title, many were wondering if Didier Deschamps was actually the better choice to be the French manager. Unlike Blanc, Deschamps was able to capture both a Ligue 1 title and the League Cup. And with people questioning Blanc’s ability to promote an aggressive, offensive and free flowing style of play, many, including myself, were wondering if Blanc was the right man for the job.

And then came Norway.

In his first match as manager, Blanc’s “new look” French team played much like the “old look” French team, and lost to Norway by a score of 2-1. Like in previous matches the last three years, it was a situation of France controlling possession and taking shots on goal with very poor finishing. Three weeks later it was the same situation with Belarus. France had the chances, they had the ball and they had the shots, but they couldn’t put the ball in the net due to poor finishing yet again.

Of course, after two losses to teams that France should have dominated, even with their B-team (which, with the exception of a few players has now become their A-team), many were wondering if Blanc was the man for the job. Unlike his Bordeaux team, France wasn’t playing a technical style of play like most of us were expecting to see. Instead, it looked exactly the same as if Raymond Domenech was running the team.

But then there was Bosnia.

I don’t know what happened in that Bosnia match, but there seemed to be a bit of rejuvenation. Players seemed relaxed and clam. Instead of hastily pushing the ball forward and following up with a poor shot on target, France took their time to set up and create better chances. Also, Blanc still let his players play a fluid match. I was kind of surprised that Blanc didn’t revert back to his technical style of play after the previous two losses.

But while France looked good and won the match, it was the reaction of the coaches and the players after the match. Both new players and old players look as if they just took a 500 pound gorilla off of their back. They looked relieved. They also looked like they realized that this was a high quality win. And after the match, there was much praise for the new coach.

Next came Romania, the team that caused French supporters so much frustration in the UEFA World Cup Qualification in 2009. Again, France wins 2-0. Then Luxembourg. Again, a win for France.

Then came England. Big friendly. At Wembley. Could France handle the pressure?

Up to now, France really didn’t have any stiff competition. Still, they put together a number of wins. And while the wins were important, the confidence in the team was the most important factor.

France dominated the first half of play. Not only did they put pressure on England most of the half, but they didn’t give England and real opportunities on goal either. Finally, the French team that we had been missing for four years seemed to be back.

But in the second half, France started to look a little complacent. After Mathieu Valbuena’s goal, France seemed to sit back and let England attack. And while France did make a number of changes during this time, they still looked a little too ‘relaxed’ for my taste.

Still, even with a beautiful goal by Peter Crouch, which he would has scored just as easily against Brazil, Holland or Germany, as it was a beautiful setup, France were still able to hold on to the 2-1 win against England.

Even though this might not have been England’s best team, and might have just a been a friendly, France seems to finally have some confidence back. This match is exactly what France needed at this point in time. Watching the match, it seems as if there is a good connection between Blanc and his players.

While many French supporters wondered if we could continue life without Evra, Anelka, Ribery and Toulalan, it seem as if we are handling life better without those players. There is a there positive vibe in the French football world, and it all started with the introduction of Laurent Blanc. I might have taken a few months, but we seem to be seeing that light at the end of the tunnel.

Finally, we have a French National Team that I can be proud of watching. The players look happy, the coach looks happy, the team is playing “smart” football, and overall it has been a good experience.

Could this team become the next 1998 team? Right now, no. But eventually? Maybe.

Many football journalists and fanatics could debate for years whether France was the best team in the 1998 or 2006 World Cups. While France did have a good, solid collection of players those years, one could easily argue that Brazil, Germany, Argentina or even England had the best team. And player-for-player wise, all four of those teams could make that argument.

But France was able to prove themselves as a good “team”, which is not only a collection of players with amazing footballing skills, but the leadership qualities, which Deschamps and Zinedine Zidane both possessed, and coaching, which came in the form of Aimé Jacquet, who took his mid-1980s coaching success and turned it into a World Cup victory ten years later.

Hillary Clinton coined the phrase “it takes a village”. In football, “it takes a team.”

France…welcome back to the footballing world.


2 Responses

  1. Great article, Dave. I was worried about France too in the initial contests after Blanc took over, but the team looks to be recovering their spirit and energy to play positive football. Hopefully the team can fully re-establlish itself in the 2012 Euros.

  2. Gourcuff showed signs last weekend that he may be recovering his old form (with that beautiful chip to make a goal,) and that’s really what France needs. They have all the tools & just need a dynamic creator in midfield. No need to mention ZZ, a good Gourcuff will do just fine. Now to get Benzema out of Madrid.

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