Coach Domenech’s job is safe ... for time being
AMID the outcry over France’s qualification for next year’s World Cup, the team is pondering how far it can go in South Africa under the leadership of deeply unpopular national coach Raymond Domenech.
France’s playoff win over Ireland – achieved with the aid of a clear handball by Thierry Henry in extra time that was unseen by the referee – meant Domenech survived getting fired by the skin of his teeth.
His rough ride as France manager will last until at least the opening match of the World Cup next year, yet his popularity in France remains somewhere between rock bottom and non-existent.
Domenech has never won a major title in his career as coach of leading club team Lyon, France’s under-21s or the national team – and his presence continues to grate.
“The team can’t carry on like this,” former France midfielder Emmanuel Petit once said during France’s fraught qualifying campaign. “The players have no understanding with each other, the defence is permanently being rebuilt. All the players play with a blade hanging over them, not knowing if they’ll play the next match.”
France edged past Ireland as Henry guided the ball with his hand and onto his right foot, crossing for William Gallas to head home in extra time, making it 2-1 on aggregate and sending France to South Africa.
“All those who love French football are happy,” Domenech said after. “My prediction before the match was 1-1. I was sure we would qualify. Let me enjoy it, let those who backed me make the most of it.”
Domenech’s reference to “all those who love French football” reads as a challenge to his detractors – including former players like Didier Deschamps, Christophe Dugarry, Petit, Bixente Lizarazu, Robert Pires and most fans.
Domenech refused to comment on the handball, saying he had not seen it. But he claimed to see a penalty on Nicolas Anelka even though the incident was further away.
“I thank all those who have supported us in the last few months,” Domenech added.
These are few and far between, but include French football federation president Jean-Pierre Escalettes, who backed Domenech despite deafening clamours for him to be fired after a poor showing at Euro 2008.
France played poorly at that tour nament, and Domenech drew attention to himself by proposing live on French television to girlfriend Estelle Denis seconds after the 2-0 defeat to Italy knocked his team out.
Domenech was kept on by the FFF, winning a vote 18-0 with one abstention. Requests for a secret ballot were denied, meaning Domenech would know the identity of any FFF member who voted against him.
The likes of Dugarry, Deschamps, Petit and Pires formed part of France’s glory era, winning both the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000, but are regarded as a threat by the FFF.
If, as Escalettes called them, the ‘France 98 gang’ managed to oust Domenech it would cast doubt on the future of some at the federation, whose stewardship is linked to the coach’s unpopular reign.
For all his perceived eccentricity, showmanship, reality TV-style marriage proposals and love of astrology – Domenech once said he didn’t trust Leos in defence and disliked Scorpios – Domenech remains entrenched despite a testy relationship with the players.
Florent Malouda, Nicolas Anelka and David Trezeguet have all been critical of him over the past three years. Henry also twice had to deny reports that he had heated arguments with Domenech, while Karim Benzema has also crossed swords.
“I told the players that even though we scraped through, we are on the plane to South Africa,” Domenech said.
Domenech’s contract expires next year, and if France fares badly at the 2010 World Cup, his charmed run may be over. – Sapa-AP
FINGER POINTER: Controversial France coach Raymond Domenech is frustrating his team with erratic decision-making.