Zinedine Zidane made an appearance at France’s training camp on Wednesday to help coach Laurent Blanc restore the beleaguered national team’s confidence following its poor performance at the World Cup.
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Zidane lunched with the players at the Clairefontaine camp and watched videos of his France team winning the 1998 World Cup and 2000 European Championship. He also signed autographs and briefly showed off his ball skills.
France hosts Belarus on Friday before traveling to Bosnia on Tuesday in qualifying for Euro 2012.
"I wished them good luck for what’s fast approaching," said Zidane, who last visited Clairefontaine when preparing for his final tournament, the 2006 World Cup. "They’re a new generation and they have important things ahead of them. The France team is the ultimate level you can reach."
Blanc wanted the presence of Zidane and former France goalkeeper Fabien Barthez to help boost the team’s low morale and instill some core values that were lost in South Africa.
France’s entire squad went on strike during a practice at the World Cup in protest after Nicolas Anelka was sent home for swearing at then-coach Raymond Domenech.
France left the World Cup in South Africa without winning a single game – the second straight first-round exit for Domenech after the poor Euro 2008 campaign.
A gifted playmaker, Zidane played 108 times for France and was the undisputed star of a teams that also included Barthez and Blanc, a stylish defender who played for Inter Milan and Manchester United.
Things have gone badly wrong for France in the decade since Zidane, Barthez and Blanc won the Euro 2000 trophy.
"I explained to them that the most important thing is to start winning again," Zidane said. "Because a team is judged solely on its results."
Poor performances on the field under former coach Raymond Domenech paled into comparison compared to the scenes during the training ground boycott. Patrice Evra led the players onto the team bus and drew the curtains, moments after he had a heated argument with the team’s fitness coach. One furious French football official then resigned on the spot.
As punishment for being the perceived ringleaders of the training strike, Evra, Franck Ribery and Jeremy Toulalan were all suspended by the French Football Federation. Anelka was given a massive 18-game ban.
Toulalan received only a one-game ban, ruling him out of the Belarus game, but Blanc did not pick him anyway.
Evra was banned for five games and Ribery, a former vice captain, was suspended for three matches. Both players have been ruled out the opening two qualifiers.
Zidane predicts Blanc will turn France into a successful team again.
"Laurent is the right man for the job because of his experience and the player he was," Zidane said. "Because the team is starting from scratch, they can do some extraordinary things together."