KEIR RADNEDGE in KYIV: France retreated from Donetsk with all the old scars reopening after their dressing room squabble was followed by a foul-mouthed exchange between Samir Nasri and a journalist following the quarter-final exit against Spain.
While French federation president Noel Le Graet criticised the Manchester City midfielder for yet another example of immaturity, the head of the French game was not free of responsibility himself.
Le Graet’s refusal to renew the expiring contract of Laurent Blanc before the finals had undermined, if not removed, the manager’s authority.
To all intents and purposes Blanc had succeeded remarkably in pulling the team back together after the 2010 rebellion at the World Cup in South Africa and steering them not only to the Euro 2012 finals but to the last eight.
Le Graet’s reluctance to extend Blanc’s deal to the 2014 World Cup stemmed partly from events back in 2002 when the FFF renewed Roger Lemerre’s contract before the World Cup defence in Japan and Korea. Sacking him after a first-round exit proved a costly and controversial exercise.
Blanc’s lack of control of his players was revealed during the first match when Nasri made a ‘shut your mouth’ gesture to the media after scoring in the opening draw against England.
More problems erupted immediately after the 2-0 defeat by Sweden which pushed France down to runners-up in Group D. Angry words were exchanged among a number of players in the dressing room which, by Blanc’s admission, took most of the next 24 hours to dispel.
That meant the loss of valuable preparation time ahead of the quarter-final against Spain in Donetsk.
After that defeat Nasri was involved in a heated exchange with a journalist from Agence France Presse who had asked his reaction to Les Bleus’ elimination. Le Graet condemned Nasri’s behaviour as “intolerable.”
Blanc has been linked with the managerial vacancy at Tottenham but Le Graet said he planned to meet the coach “within eight days” to discuss the next step vis-a-vis France.
He said: “As a man, Laurent is completely respectable and pleasant. We must talk about football, his desire and his career. We must see how he sees things and how I see them.”
Blanc had set up his team defensively against Spain but the plan was wrecked when the world and European champions opened the scoring after only 19 minutes. France lacked the midfield guile and attacking penetration to strike back and ultimately lost 2-0.
Le Graet added: “This has been an acceptable European Championship but no more. The performance against Sweden was a pitiful one by our national team. Spain did not create many opportunities but we did not perform very well in attack.
“We have made progress. We are 16th in the FIFA rankings and we ended up in the last eight of the European Championship. That was our goal and it was achieved. I wish to go further but we must be realistic.
“There are gaps. There have been real developments but the road is still long to become a team that others fear.”
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