FIFA World Cup
From Rebellion to Renaissance: French football's roller-coaster comes full circle
Written by: Rohan Philip
20 years on from that historic day Les Bleus and Didier Deschamps attempt to relive the magic of 1998.
The 13th of July 1998 is a day fondly remembered by fans of the French national team all over the world. The images of Emmanuel Petit sliding the ball past Claudio Taffarel in the Brazilian net, resound with even greater intensity as the fans find their team in their first World Cup final since 2006.
Ever since their dramatic victory on home soil in 1998, Les Bleus have existed in a state of constant entropy, with everything from inflated egos to sex scandals holding them back from reaching their full potential.
The following World Cup in 2002 saw a French side brimming with talent begin the trend of the defending champions crashing out in the early stages of the competition. France came into the World Cup holding every single title that was on offer and looked arguably, even stronger than their victorious side from four years ago.
In the Round of 16 fixture against Argentina, Kylian Mbappe scored two goals in a 4-3 victory
However, injuries to key players saw them lose to Denmark and Senegal before enduring an early exit, not having scored a single goal in the competition, despite being able to boast of the likes of Thierry Henry, Zinedine Zidane and several others in their squad. This performance signaled the start of a difficult four years for the French side.
They would crash out of the 2004 Euros to eventual champions Greece, which was followed by the retirement of three of their legends in Claude Makelele, Lilian Thuram, and Zidane. However, the trio was coaxed back into the national team fold for the 2006 World Cup and they approached it with the conviction of men with a point to prove.
France made it to the final, before losing out to Italy on penalties. Zidane bid au revoir to the World Cup by burying his head in Marco Materazzi’s sternum and France needed a new hero.
The squad saw a massive upheaval in the coming years with the likes of Henry and Vieira also stepping down, to allow for a new crop to take center stage. Raymond Domenech who was the manager of the French side in the build-up to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, saw his side undergo a tumultuous qualifying campaign which drove him to announce that he would step down from his post after the tournament.
Talisman Luis Suarez was kept largely silent during France's quarterfinal victory over Uruguay
This announcement set off a chain reaction in the French dressing room that saw Nicolas Anelka insult his manager in the interval of a game against Mexico, which France went on to lose. The very next day, then captain Patrice Evra found himself in a training ground row with one of the French coaches, following which the entire team refused to train.
France crashed out of the tournament without a single win and were sent home in shame. Laurent Blanc took over from Domenech, but soon stepped down after Euro 2012, where they were knocked out by eventual champions, Spain. However, the Euros proved to be a turning point in the modern era of French football, as a lot of the egos that plagued the side had been replaced by fresh young talent.
The captain of the 1998 team, Deschamps took the reigns from Blanc and proceeded to mould the side according to his vision. The likes of Hugo Lloris, Karim Benzema, and Franck Ribery, saw their roles grow as they quickly became mainstays of the side.
The 2014 World Cup came a little too early for the French as they were knocked out in the quarterfinals. However, all the signs pointed to a brighter future for the national team. The tournament saw the rise of Paul Pogba on the international stage, as he won the award for the Young Player of the Tournament. The midfielder would go on to become an indispensable part of the side, taking his place in midfield alongside the genius that is N’Golo Kante, in the years that followed.
The next knock to the side came straight out of left field, when Benzema, Ribery and Mathieu Valbuena, found themselves immersed in a sex scandal that pitted Benzema against Valbuena. The scandal ensured that the pair would never play for the national team again.
Didier Deschamps's side put in a tactical masterclass to go past a thus far dominant Belgium side in the semi-finals
This forced Deschamps to revamp his side yet again, just before the 2016 Euros. Luckily for him, France were about to be flooded with a crop of extraordinarily talented youngsters, who look like they can carry their side for years to come. Antoine Griezmann found his goalscoring touch as he finished the tournament as top scorer.
Deschamps has been met with a lot of criticism over his playing style and the way he has handled some of the squad’s senior players. However, his success can hardly be argued with. The French side is brimming with talent and Deschamps has done an admirable job in moulding it into something greater than the sum of its parts.
France made it to the final of the Euros and endured a heartbreaking late defeat to Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal. However, this was just an experience for the young side. They grew, they evolved and now the youngest side in the tournament, who epitomize what modern football has become, find themselves on the biggest stage of them all, the FIFA World Cup final. Only time will tell if the French can go all the way, but for now, Allez Les Bleus.
Published: Sun Jul 15, 2018 12:05 PM IST