Blanc's France looks beyond Euro 2012

BY foxsports • November 8, 2011

Laurent Blanc insists the goals for his rebuilding project with France must look beyond the upcoming Euro 2012. (Photo Credit: Franck Fife/AFP/Getty Images)

With qualification to Euro 2012 safely in the bag, France’s road to Brazil 2014 starts with the forthcoming friendlies against the United States and Belgium at the Stade de France – or at least it should. Coach Laurent Blanc admits he has been frustrated by injuries as he attempts to pull together the strands of a long-term strategy, but it is clear he is already looking beyond next summer’s tournament in Poland and Ukraine.

“We’re not going to the Euro expecting anything,” Blanc told L’Equipe in a candid interview earlier this month. “We started a long, long way back. After June 2010, we said that we had to find a bit of humility again.”

France’s implosion at the World Cup in South Africa was so epochal – Blanc recently observed that “the scar will always be there" - that there is an acquiesce between players and public that they will progress gently, one step at a time.

So while he’s not quite writing the Euro off, the coach is wise to view it as a stage en route to building a national team to be proud of, rather than the be-all and end-all in itself. France is likely to be in the fourth pot of seeds, so depending on the vagaries of the draw in Kiev on December 5, “getting past the first round could be considered as an achievement,” as Blanc points out.

Blanc’s is a devoutly long-term outlook, and after the unholy mess of the 2010 World Cup, it needed to be. With the 23 members of the squad that went to South Africa banned by the French Football Federation (FFF) for the first match of Blanc’s regime (against Norway, last August), he was forced to set off from a new year zero. Some of the changes have worked out well – particularly the installation of defensive midfield rock Yann M’Vila at the heart of the team - but there is acknowledgement that France is a work in progress.

For much of the decisive final qualifier at home to Bosnia, there was some doubt as to how much headway had been made. Samir Nasri’s late penalty may have secured qualification, but the mettle was tested and, at least initially, France froze in a pressure situation. It was all eerily reminiscent of the World Cup qualifying play-off against Ireland. Robbie Keane let Raymond Domenech’s men off the hook in Paris in November 2009. This time, Edin Dzeko was somewhat less clinical than he might have been, excepting his excellent opener. How much had really changed in the last two years?

The obvious answer is that France prevailed by fair means rather than foul this time, but there was hope to be gleaned by a still green side digging in and getting its hands dirty. “Against Bosnia, there were three experienced players,” Blanc told L’Equipe. “(Eric) Abidal, (Patrice) Evra and (Florent) Malouda. After, the rest….even (Anthony) Réveillère, for the national team, doesn’t have much experience. (Karim) Benzema and Nasri neither. Lloris has a bit. (Adil) Rami, M’Vila, (Loïc) Rémy and (Yohan) Cabaye don’t have much.”

Nevertheless, the side was rewarded for its courage – as was Blanc, who resisted a quick fix and left one of his talismans, his erstwhile Bordeaux captain Alou Diarra, on the bench until shortly before the end. Instead, he was happy to put his faith in the likes of Sochaux midfield creator Marvin Martin and Paris Saint-Germain’s prolific Kevin Gameiro as he sought to wrest the game back in France’s favor, and it worked.

Everything Blanc has done in his near-18 months in charge has eschewed short-termism, including his recent refusal to call back another touchstone from his time at Bordeaux, Yoann Gourcuff, preferring to allow the resurgent Lyon playmaker more time to “find his best level” again. “You can’t put together a national team based solely on experience,” he said after the match. “And I lack experience as a national team coach.” Blanc and his team will grow together.

He has at least found the spine of his team in goalkeeper Lloris, Milan center-back Philippe Mexès, M’Vila and center-forward Benzema. This has always been the plan from the get-go. Benzema told So Foot this month: “Before naming the (first) squad, Laurent Blanc called my agent, and told him: 'Tell your boy to get himself ready. I’m counting on him.'”

Many of the other places are up for grabs, and the prospect of seeing the side that will – qualification permitting – take France to Brazil in 2014 is an interesting one. The ‘1987 Generation,’ including Benzema, Nasri, Hatem Ben Arfa and Jeremy Ménez, should be at its peak by then, but Blanc is not one to pander to reputations or egos, and he has openly expressed his disappointment in the overall level of Nasri’s displays for his country.

Meanwhile Ménez did himself the power of good against Bosnia, attacking down both flanks and drawing plenty of fouls with his pace and trickery. The PSG player may struggle to hold off the challenge of Franck Ribéry (injured for the Bosnia game) for Euro 2012, but he is ready to pounce should injury strike again, and he is not short of confidence. Recently asked about David Beckham’s prospective arrival at the Parc des Princes, Ménez said it “would be an honor to play with him. But he won’t be taking my place in the team.”

With PSG’s 21-year-old captain Mamadou Sakho and stars of France’s under-20 World Cup campaign, including the Lyon duo Alexandre Lacazette and Gueïda Fofana, bubbling beneath the surface, Blanc’s squad promises to be even stronger come 2014. He is happy to play the waiting game. “People want us to put together a team full of great players, as good as the Netherlands, Germany and Spain, in 15 months,” he said. “It’s impossible! We’ve said and we’ve repeated – it’s going to take time. Good football and a team ethic isn’t something you can buy at the supermarket. We can be better. But the team can improve, and it will. I’m certain of that.”

A man who knows his way around winning a World Cup, Blanc would rather do it right than do it quickly. “Everything can be in doubt, even just before the Euro,” he said. “But you know all that; in May 1998, France (‘s national team) was average, wasn’t it?”

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