5 Players France Should Axe Following 2014 World Cup Campaign
Following France’s FIFA World Cup quarter-final exit to Germany, coach Didier Deschamps will now be turning his attention toward the 2016 UEFA European Championship on home soil. Although the 45-year-old’s 23-man squad for Les Bleus’ Brazilian sojourn was relatively young, there were still a number of ageing and ultimately expendable players included.
Overall, few players—if any—are truly worthy of being axed from the squad because of under-performing in South America. Instead, the key problem is age, but a lack of collective experience creates an interesting dilemma for Deschamps ahead of Euro 2016.
The former World Cup and European Championship-winning captain needs to build on an encouraging performance at this summer’s tournament. However, in order to bring in the multiple young talents breaking through at present, he needs to dispose of some of the older members of the group.
It is those older members of the squad that boast the precious little experience this group carries collectively at present, meaning that Deschamps could end up with a young and talented—albeit vastly inexperienced—host squad in 2016.
Here are five players the France coach should consider wielding the axe to.
There are two players who should not necessarily be axed, but instead need to be listed as maybes. Karim Benzema and Mathieu Valbuena fall into this category, but for very different reasons.
Firstly, Benzema went missing in both of France’s latter-stage fixtures. Against Honduras and Switzerland, he was immense, scoring three goals and assisting three more. However, his performances against Ecuador, Nigeria and Germany fell way below that same standard.
Deschamps can justifiably feel let down by the man he has put so much faith in.
Will this summer’s tournament prove to be the last straw? A lack of alternative attacking options and a dearth of young talent in that position suggests not, but Deschamps might consider radically changing France’s formation. Therefore, it is possible that Benzema becomes dispensable before Euro 2016.
Regarding Valbuena, there is no doubt that the Olympique de Marseille man was France’s star performer in Brazil. However, the problem is his age. At 29, he will be 31 in two years' time, and the pint-sized creator is expected to leave OM this summer.
His future inclusion in Deschamps’ plans will depend on how he fares for his potential new team and how many of the young wide-based talents—of which there are a few—mature quickly enough to be considered for inclusion.
5. Rio Mavuba
Although Rio Mavuba barely saw the pitch in Brazil—only featuring as a substitute in the opening 3-0 win over Honduras—the 30-year-old played an important role behind-the-scenes as one of the most experienced members of the squad.
FRA 2-0 HON - Rio Mavuba becomes the first player born in international waters to play in a World Cup— MisterChip (English) (@MisterChiping) June 15, 2014
However, he realistically has little or no chance of breaking into the starting XI ahead of Euro 2016, and with so much young talent coming through in most—if not all—positions, the Lille man is a player without whom Deschamps can cope.
4. Laurent Koscielny
When called upon in Brazil, Laurent Koscielny fared well and arguably should have started the quarterfinal against Germany when it became obvious that Mamadou Sakho was not fit enough to face Joachim Low’s side.
However, the Liverpool man is clearly Deschamps’ preferred option alongside Raphael Varane, and Koscielny will be approaching 31 years of age by the time Euro 2016 is upon us. The problem with the Arsenal star is that, for a 28-year-old at present, he does not possess more experience at international level than Sakho, who is four years his junior.
48 - The centre-back partnership of Koscielny & Varane has conceded 3 goals in 143 minutes for France, that's 1 every 48 mins. Duo.— OptaJean (@OptaJean) June 30, 2014
With the latter firmly installed as Deschamps’ preferred option, Koscielny looks likely to fall further behind Sakho—in terms of experience—and Varane will also probably usurp him. If Koscielny cannot offer superior experience ahead of Euro 2016, he will have little value as one of the more seasoned elements of Deschamps’ squad.
Considering that the likes of Kurt Zouma and Aymeric Laporte—to name just two bright upcoming talents—will be knocking on the door of the senior side soon, and with Eliaquim Mangala already in Deschamps' plans, Koscielny could be living on borrowed time.
3. Patrice Evra
At 33 years old, left-back Patrice Evra would be 35 by the time Euro 2016 rolls around. Already a weak spot in the French back line—along with the attack-minded Mathieu Debuchy at right-back—the Manchester United man will be too old to feature in another major international tournament for the French.
Deschamps has unshakable faith in Evra, as evidenced by the coach sticking by his No. 3 when most in France were calling for his head for the second time in his career. The first time was the scandalous 2010 World Cup debacle for which Evra was heavily criticised.
With his performances in Brazil—where he was actually one of Les Bleus’ most consistent performers—Evra has arguably earned the right to exit the international scene with some positive recognition.
However, even that will not be enough for the French to ever forgive—much less forget—the events of Knysna.
2. Bacary Sagna
On the opposite side, Bacary Sagna is no spring chicken either. The Manchester City man is 31 and would be 33 by the time Euro 2016 arrives.
Although his experience could prove useful for France in the same way that Evra’s did in Brazil, Sagna is not Deschamps’ first choice at right-back and probably will not usurp the Newcastle United man over the next two years.
The lack of viable alternatives at right-back are limited at present, with Lille OSC’s Sebastien Corchia arguably the most realistic young prospect that could come through to replace either Sagna or Debuchy before 2016.
However, with the likes of Eliaquim Mangala capable of playing at right-back and considering the strength in depth in central defence, it is realistic that Deschamps could end up playing a predominantly central-based player on the right.
Because of that, Sagna could be one of the axed players.
1. Franck Ribery
One of the main takeaways from this World Cup campaign for France is the reality that Deschamps’ team can cope without the previously talismanic Franck Ribery. In fact, based on the evidence from Brazil, they might actually go on to thrive without him.
At 31, Ribery is France’s most experienced currently active player. However, he will be 33 in 2016 and will not feature at a World Cup again per FIFA.com. Does Deschamps still see him as a key player after this summer’s tournament?
Key to #FRA improvement for L'Equipe? 'No one slows down attacks anymore. Nasri wasnt only culprit. The ball travels quicker without Ribéry'— Matt Spiro (@mattspiro) June 23, 2014
So much depends on whether or not he rediscovers his pre-2014 form and overcomes the injury problems that forced him to miss the trip to Brazil. However, Ribery’s forced omission from the group could be made permanent if Deschamps decides that Les Bleus will be more effective without him when they host the Euros.
Not the least controversial of characters either, Ribery’s absence actually might have had a positive effect on the squad atmosphere in South America. If Deschamps feels that this was the case, Ribery might be another player that France will do without for Euro 2016.