Since reaching the final in Germany 2006, France have become one of European football’s also-rans when it comes to title contention on the international stage. Controversy has never been far away, les Bleus' exit in South Africa was acrimonious, and the team underperformed in the European Championships twice since Berlin.
2014 could be different though. For the first time since 2006 France look like they potentially have a team capable of going far in the competition and the talent pool that coach Didier Deschamps has to choose from is wide and plentiful.
France’s European Championship and World Cup-winning captain is forming a team and overlooking certain elements of predecessor Laurent Blanc’s squad who Deschamps deems disruptive influences. Picking up the pieces in the wake of another scandalous exit, this time in Poland and Ukraine, the former Juventus, Marseille and Monaco coach is reshaping his squad’s identity.
Here is why they could be genuine contenders in Brazil next year.
Euro 2016 is on home soil
Didier Deschamps needs to form a squad capable of winning the European championships on home soil. Since the competition was awarded to France in controversial circumstances, the French Football Federation made it their goal to prepare the team for home victory.
That process began with the appointment of Laurent Blanc as national team coach and a renewed focus on the use of domestic talent as opposed to an over-reliance on France’s foreign-based talent. The process looked as though it was proving successful, until the team got to Euro 2012 in Poland Ukraine where it all fell apart once again.
Many of les Bleus’ failings there were down to Blanc’s contentious decisions that eventually undermined him and resulted in a number of lengthy player bans for poor discipline. The French Football Federation FFF, eager to avoid such embarrassment once again, opted to part with Blanc, who was reluctant to commit his future to the team.
Now with Deschamps at the helm, the 1998 winners have a coach who commands the respect of the federation, the players and the French people given his achievements on the pitch during his 11-year international career. He is the perfect man to build a squad that will attract the widespread patriotic support needed for a competition held on home soil.
France’s new boss could become the first Frenchman to win a European Championship as both player and coach. Of course, he famously led France to their 1998 World Cup triumph on home soil before captaining les Bleus to the European Championship two years later.
Deschamps is a better fit for les bleus than Blanc was because of his association with those previous successes.
While “le President” remains a very popular character for his achievements throughout an illustrious career, Deschamps was the captain of the France team that Blanc was part of for an identical period of time. Because of his association as the influence of that success because of his captaincy of the team for both triumphs, the 44-year-old commands immediate respect.
Crucially Deschamps is not afraid of making the big decisions; Blanc allowed the player’s characters to rule the dressing room while the former will not suffer fools gladly. He has opted to continue to overlook certain talented but troubled elements of the French team in an effort to build a stronger collective rather than a team reliant on individual talent and creativity. Because of that there is no longer room for the likes of Samir Nasri, Florent Malouda and Philippe Mexes.
Deschamps' “team ethic” that he champions is what France have needed for a long time to get the best out of the considerable talent produced within its borders. A heavy emphasis on domestic talent has been Blanc’s legacy as he persuaded a number of les Bleus’ best prospects to stay in France ahead of Euro 2012. Because of that, Deschamps has the tools he needs to construct a squad capable of performing well on home soil.
France’s current pool of talent
Following the recent exodus of French talent to the Premier League in particular, les Bleus’ current domestic produce is proving itself to be of a very high standard both at home and abroad. The likes of Moussa Sissoko and the Newcastle United contingent are a brilliant advert for Ligue 1’s powers of youth development and the likes of Eden Hazard prove that domestic French football can produce superstars, even if in they are not French.
A number of new stars are emerging who will be in prime condition by the time Brazil arrives, and Deschamps is carefully moulding them into a strong unit and forging a team spirit that has been missing for the best part of two decades. The coach has identified his key players and is building the squad around them as they gather more experience domestically with their club sides.
Deschamps also challenges them internationally with a series of prestigious and difficult friendlies against 2014’s likely title rivals. A 1-1 qualifying draw with Spain in October 2012 was encouraging progress for les Bleus, and the heroic effort was praised as one of France’s best in recent memory.
Deschamps’ collective ethic already starting to win domestic support. Whether that means Yann M’Vila will even be considered now that he will be available for selection three months before the tournament, only time will tell.
Motivation of past failures holds the key
Most importantly, France have a point to prove in Brazil. The 2010 World Cup group stage fiasco in South Africa severely damaged les Bleus’ reputation. The Euro 2012 quarter-final showing where they limped out to Spain, and before that left in the group stages in 2008, don’t help either.
Deschamps’ side need to prove that they have overcome their destructive inbuilt mental problems and that they are a unified outfit. If they are unable to do this, challenging for the title in Brazil will be nothing more than a pipe dream and success on home soil will be put in jeopardy.
Les Bleus have an abundance of talented players and Deschamps has the best chance of international success in the post-Zidane era if he can help the group mature as they gain more experience. What is crucial now is that they continue their encouraging early development and that Deschamps sticks to his principles and keeps his faith in the current setup.