World Cups always throw up images that get ingrained into the history of football. Whether it be Pele and Bobby Moore swapping shirts, Marco Tardelli’s manic celebration, or Paul Gascogine blubbering, each edition of the tournament provides iconic moments that will be forever remembered and for the most part cherished. So far in South Africa 2010, we are yet to witness anything quite as stirring as the three aforementioned examples. On the pitch at least. But the image of the French fitness coach, Robert Duverne, hurling his stopwatch across an empty training ground is a snapshot of the biggest non-vuvuzela related controversy of this World Cup. A controversy than has finally given the Irish something to smile about.
It is a rather damning indicment of our culture that begrugdery is still so rampant. Wednesday morning saw every front page with a picture of a crest-fallen Thierry Henry with an opponent’s jersey tossed over his shoulder. His French team-mates disgraced themselves both on and off the field, but here in Ireland, there was more mileage to be gotten by merely pointing and laughing at Les Bleus exit from the competition. But we missed the point completely. We were simply jeering at the fact the that the French had been knocked out. The unsavoury manner of their elimination passed us by completely.
Had the French lost the final following a last-minute Emile Heskey goal, which he handled into the net from an offside position, following an attempted decapation of Hugo Lloris with his elbows, from a David Beckham cross (in his M&S suit), after a throw-in that should have been returned to France, when they sportingly kicked the ball out for John Terry to recieve treatment, I fear the reaction would have been the same. However “unlucky” the French would have been, the same stuff would have been written.”What goes around, comes around”, “Reap what you sow” etc.
Karma is not the reason Raymond Domenach and his “loyal” troops are on the way home. They are an unorganised, unmotivated and most importantly unhappy group of players, who do not believe in or respect their manager. Irrespective of the individual talents of the rooster, the collective, as we have witnessed over the past month, is a side lacking in belief and discipline. From their three group games, their solidtary point was all they deserved. Cautious and cagey against Uruguay, rash and naive versus Mexico and outbattled and outfought by hosts South Africa.
The squad itself was as diverse group of players that were at the finals, but not in a way that would encourage a unified front. It was a potent mix of egotistical and confrontational players, with a manager that did not seem too bothered about estabhlishing any sembeance of order within the camp. Rumours of cliques forming, bullying, the older players forcing the younger ones to conform, people crying to Domenach, Thierry Henry claiming the younger player weren’t carrying the balls at training, that it was beneath them. The sight on the French bench of Patrice Evra, Eric Abidal and Henry having a open discussion during the defeat to South Africa gave an indication where the power lay.
If only they put so much energy into their performances. Evra was a shadow of his Manchester United self, Abidal yet again showed himself to be a poor centre-back, and as for Henry, he is nothing like the Henry of old. As three senior members of the squad, they weren’t exactly setting the correct example for their younger peers to follow. Domenach seemed to have an unique ability to over-estimate certain players, whilst others struggle to get any recognition. Franck Ribery was given the role as playmaker, in which he struggled. There was no lack of effort on the 27-year olds part, but he is not suited to such a pivtol role in the team. His name is constantly mentioned with rumours of £60million moves to Real Madrid or Chelsea, but there has been little evidence to support the enormous price-tag and hype. On the other hand, Florent Maluoda was arguably one of Europe’s top performers last season, but he only started one of the three games.
It is the same side that last November were allowed to strutt into Croke Park and bully Ireland into conceding a late Nicolas Anelka goal. Far too much repect was afforded to France that night. Attempts to overturn the deficit in Paris ended in unfortunate circumstances, but the Irish had enough chances to have avoided extra-time and put the French out of the World Cup. Over the two games, they were much better than their illustrious opponents, but the inferiority complex Ireland created for themselves was as damaging to their chances as any member of the opposition. Player for player, there was no comparison in the the line-ups for both games. But can anyone really say for certain that any of France’s opponents in South Africa would give Giovanni Trappatoni sleepless nights?
It should be a source of huge regret amongst the Irish football family that they are not at this World Cup. We have been sidetracked by the soap-opera of the French farce, without really analysing why Ireland are not there. They would have accquitted themselves alot more gracefully. Obviously, we have previous in terms of our own World Cup disputes, but valuable lessons were learned, lessons that someday are hopefully put into practise. Whilst I have no problem with sneering at Henry and Co.’s expense, the meagre exit of a side that were afforded too much respect has brought the disappointment of November 18th 2009 back to the fore of my mind. On the pitch, Ireland were the better team. Off it, there is no comparison.