If the rumors are to be believed, the announcement of his France World Cup squad will represent one of the last acts of Raymond Domenech’s time as France manager.
So perhaps in keeping with the spirit of much of his reign, Domenech’s selection should provoke some heated debate-recalling memories of his previous World Cup squad selection in 2006.
There are some notable omissions, surprise selections, and the obligatory head-scratching moment.
The biggest surprise is the omission of Karim Benzema, less than 12 months after his big money move from Real Madrid to Lyon.
Perhaps his much-publicised travails at the Bernebau, where he has failed to dislodge Gonzalo Higuain from the starting lineup, have counted against him.
His absence is followed closely by the news that Samir Nasri has also missed out on a place to South Africa.
Like Benzema, based on current form, it is hard to make a compelling case for the Frenchman who has endured a patchy season for Arsenal, but he remains a potential match-winner at the highest level.
The decision to omit these two may be motivated by Domenech’s memories of Euro 2008, where they are rumoured to have caused problems between the younger and older members of the squad.
Domenech recently told L’Equippe: “They must be clever and forget their ego to realize that the only thing that matters is the team, not them.” Following his omission of the two, clearly the memories of two years ago still linger.
Then there is the non-selection of Patrick Vieira, recently Domenech’s captain. The veteran midfielder has enjoyed plenty of support from the manager throughout his reign, but his international career appears over.
While the former France World Cup winner admitted he was disappointed with the decision, his acceptance of it suggested that he knew it was in the offing.
He told Canal+ Sport: “It’s a decision I accept, although I’m disappointed. I do not question his choice, I really respect (him).”
As France run the rule over the list of potential absentees, some of Domenech’s selection have certainly caught the eye.
The decision to include a number of uncapped players-notably Matthieu Valbuena, a midfielder for French champions Marseille and 19-year-old Rennes Yann M’Vila—dubbed the “Chimbonda selection of 2010” in reference to the Blackburn defender’s selection in 2006—may be surprising especially given that they had previously been ignored by Domenech.
So too may the decisions to opt for Hatem Ben Arfa—who remains a prodigious, if far from consistent, talent—and Abou Diaby, who will to dislodge former teammate Lassana Diarra from the starting lineup on current form.
But while these selections, and non-selections, may have surprised fans and pundits, the real causes for concern perhaps lie in Domenech's paucity of options in both defense and attack.
Up front, Domenech’s hopes will be pinned on Nicolas Anelka rediscovering his form of earlier in the season for Chelsea as the options appear severely limited.
Beyond Anelka, the likes of Thierry Henry—out of favor at Barcelona—and Andre Pierre Gignac have been off form for most of the year and may struggle to make an impact in South Africa.
In mitigation, the selections of Jimmy Briand and Djibril Cisse are real reward for their recent form over the season, but goals may be hard to come by in South Africa, despite the quality supply line that a midfield containing Ribery and Gourcuff will provide.
The non-selection of Benzema, a proven goal-scorer who on his day can be more than a match for anyone, may yet prove costly.
Meanwhile in defense despite their obvious strength at full-back, where Patrice Evra and Bakary Sagna should excel and Rod Fanni, Gael Clichy, and Eric Abidal offer stolid support, center back remains a concern.
William Gallas, who has been injured throughout the conclusion of Arsenal’s season, remains the sole recognized center back of any particular note, as experienced duo Julien Escude and Jean Alain Boumsong, Michel Ciani, and the out-of-favor Philippe Mexes have been overlooked.
Instead the job of partnering Gallas in defence, which has proved a problem position throughout qualifying, will fall on Sevilla’s Sebastien Squillaci, Lille’s Adil Rami, and Marc Planus of Bordeaux, with Abidal perhaps a makeshift replacement—a prospect that will hardly fill French fans with any sense of comfort.
But like so much of his tenure as French manager, Domenech has once again managed to cause more than his fair share of raised eyebrows.
In picking a squad which characterises France’s status as dark horses for the World Cup, perhaps it is ironic that Domenech should do it in a way that has characterized his six years as manager—full of surprises.