Coach Domenech’s job is safe ... for time be­ing

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - JEROME PUGMIRE

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.

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