The die is cast. Raymond Domenach has selected his 23 men tasked to lead France to glory once again. But his whirlwind decisions left a lot of fans in its wake grieving at his list, which was bizzare to say the least. My heartfelt condolences goes out to Ludovic Giuly, and to lesser extent, Pires and Coupet, whose place in the France setup was revealed to him in one ego-crumbling "Barthez shall (forever) be my No 1" phrase.
What? Barthez the Botak? Bathez the spitter? Barthez the clown? Whatever incarnation this Barthez fella comes in, he does not inspire fear or command respect. The highlight of his Manchester career was marked not by goalkeeping heroics but by one particular incident where he valiantly tried to con di Canio to stop playing football just as he was about to score, hoping that the wily Italian would take to his tricks. Well, as the story goes, Manchester went out 1-0 to West Ham, and his place in the goalkeeping gaffes is assured.
>Bartez Hailing Taxi
What irks me though, is that Barthez was banned for 6 months this season for spitting at a referee whose decisions he did not take particularly well to. So, 6 months of idly his time away as Marseille struggled, while Coupet toiled hard in a Lyon team which was going places both domestically and European wide. Coupet deservedly picked up the French goalkeeper of the year award, but that, somehow, wasn't good enough. Domenach insists that he prizes experience over competency, but how does he explain away his decision to pick Chimbonda and Franck Ribery, 2 uncapped French players? He didn't. He muttered something about the planets and stars on the day the names were released and strutted off-stage, without fielding a single question from the reporters. Glenn Hoddle would have been proud.
And what about Giuly, Pires, Mexes, Anelka, Dacourt, Zebina, Malbranque and half dozen other French names plying their silky trades across Europe? Instead, we have Jean-Alain Boumsong, someone whose Mum would be proud of if he can find his way home everyday, and Alou Diarra, a Liverpool and Bayern reject. How many more rejects do you need to claim to earn the enthusiastic approval of Domenach?
Only recently, Coupet, unable to tolerate the clowning Barthez and the delightfully unreasonable Domenach any longer, almost walked out of a team-building session up in the Alps. Suddenly, the Les Bleus are living up to their names too literally.
It would be good if these woes consigned themselves off-field. Unfortunately, France have never acquired the art of free scoring. When they had the likes of Dugarry and Guivar'ch, strikers who can't score in a Thai massage parlour ( phrase coined specially for Crouch though) it was understandable, but the problem becomes more perplex with the likes of Henry and Trezeguet leading the front line.
People have questioned just how someone can dazzle like only true-blue legends do on a Saturday, then play like Boumsong WITH Boumsong on a midweek, then turn on his va-va-vroom again on a Saturday. With his usual nonchalance, Henry waves that away with his usual sage-like demeanour, "I'm not a machine, you know." Fair enough. His achievements at Arsenal have rendered him virtually untouchable. Referees think twice before yellow-carding him, and mere mortals struggle to breathe in his divine presence.
(For Thierry's sake, Henry's French, not English, despite his blessings to England, and his name is pronounced ON-RI, not HON-RI, or HEN-RI, or ON-NE-RI or any other permutations you can come up with. I will not hesitate to stop you in your tracks and correct you on the spot.)
Lastly, woe betide Zizou the saviour designate, who, at the ripe old age of 34, besides worrying about receding hairlines and impudent kids, has to somehow find a way to inspire his jaded bunch to the Jules Rimet. Things do not bode well when a nation places so much expectation on the square shoulders of any being, man or god. Just yesterday, France managed to overcome Mexico at their favourite stadium 1-0, courtesy of Florent Malouda. But there was another compelling statistic which releases a sense of foreboding to any France fan out there: Zidane gave the ball away 7 times, and was so awful he had to be substituted by Vikash Dhorasoo after half-time.
Facing a tigerish South Korea, a youthful Swiss and an athletic Togo team, is another first-round exit on the cards for the moribund French?