Can Menez make the grade with France?

BY foxsports • October 6, 2011

Will wild card Menez make it to Brazil?

There comes a time when the golden egg has to hatch and make no mistake, France's feted '1987 Generation' will be definitively judged on the 2014 World Cup.

Jeremy Menez playing for France against Croatia in an international friendly in March. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

The crop of outstanding players born in 1987, including Karim Benzema, Samir Nasri, Hatem Ben Arfa and Jeremy Menez should be at its peak and form the bedrock of the French side come the tournament in Brazil, which will be the stage on which these individuals’ reputations as world-class performers will either fly or die.

There are of course two caveats to this. Firstly, France has to qualify first.

Secondly, the players themselves have to be fit and in-form to be selected.

While it’s impossible to second-guess prospective injuries, we are familiar enough with these talents to fairly assess where they might be in just short of three years’ time, and Menez looks like the odd one out. Despite the Paris Saint-Germain midfielder’s undoubted pedigree, you wouldn't bet your house on him being in the France squad that hopes to take part in Brazil – which would be a huge shame.

1987’s raft of talent has been heading to its 2014 date with destiny ever since Philippe Bergeroo’s under-17 side won the 2004 European Championship with Benzema, Nasri, Ben Arfa and Menez at its hub.

The generation’s early maturity is indicated by the fact that they virtually skipped the under-21 stage in their prodigiousness. The above quartet has an average of a mere four caps at under-21 level. If the first three had progressed healthily by the time of their 21st birthdays; Nasri had nailed a first-team spot at Marseille and performed well in the Champions League, while Benzema and Ben Arfa had done the same and in addition helped Lyon to a league and cup double – then Menez is the runt of the litter.

His trajectory has been like that of many a shooting star; an explosive start, followed by a spluttering fall into subordinate constellations. Menez announced himself in incomparably spectacular style in January 2005, when he became the youngest scorer of a hat-trick in Ligue 1 history, rattling in all three through a stunning six-minute burst for Sochaux against Bordeaux at the Stade Auguste Bonal.

Starting out as a forward, his remarkable acceleration and quality on the ball marked him out as a player who could move back into midfield. The possibilities seemed endless.

Menez later admitted that this astonishing entrance into the national consciousness had gone to his head.

The French magazine So Foot spoke for many when it described him in the fairly self-explanatory terms of “authentique white trash à la française”, in an October 2007 piece which was part of a wider feature on the 1987 generation, tut-tutting at his taste for distressed denim and Playstation marathons with his omnipresent younger brother Kevin.

While some of the column inches generated by Menez spoke more for writers’ snobbery towards the player who grew up in a housing project on the south-western outskirts of Paris than anything else, his own decision-making poured fuel on the fire. He was married and divorced by the time he was 20, and then chose Monaco for his first big move in 2006, when the time came to leave Sochaux.

Jeremy Menez in action for Paris St Germain in a pre-season friendly against New York Red Bulls. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

With the principality club having atrophied since Didier Deschamps’ 2005 departure, the implication that young Menez had voted for bling ahead of backbreaking was clear.

His contemporary Ben Arfa had piled up an even more impressive stock of lurid tales himself, including a bust-up with fellow Lyon player Benzema, training ground fights with team-mates and regular back-chat to senior colleagues, but there was a key difference – Ben Arfa won trophies.

Even after his acrimonious departure from Lyon, he was part of Marseille’s first league title in 18 years in 2010. If anybody needed a move abroad to help mature, it was Menez, and he took the plunge to sign for Roma in 2008.

The feeling is that the experience was overwhelmingly positive, even if the jury is out on how fully it can be described as a success. “I’ve grown up,” claimed Menez shortly after his arrival at PSG this summer, pointing out personal growth inspired by learning a new language and culture.

Vincenzo Montella might beg to differ, following reports of the erstwhile Roma boss having grabbed Menez by the collar after becoming infuriated with the Frenchman during a training ground exchange back in April – an incident later denied by Menez and his entourage.

Menez also regularly antagonized Claudio Ranieri during the Roman's spell in charge at the Stadio Olimpico. Ranieri chided Menez more than once for his attitude and alleged laziness, which also made the Frenchman a divisive figure in the Roma locker room.

Conversely, Menez was superb in the 2009/10 run-in which saw Roma push Inter all the way for the Serie A title, and he was again excellent in the subsequent Italian Super Cup match, against Inter.

The latter performance paved the way for his long-awaited ascension to the full national side but Menez has, unfortunately, continually flattered to deceive when given a chance. He started in Laurent Blanc’s competitive debut as coach, in September 2010 at home to Belarus, but was anonymous as France suffered a shock defeat at the Stade de France.

Moreover, Menez looks likely to be marginalized in the short to medium-term due to Franck Ribery, who insists on the left-wing spot – also Menez’s preferred position, from where he can speed past opponents and cut inside to great effect.

This need not be a deal-breaker for Menez’s hopes of reaching Brazil. Ribery will be 31 by the time the 2014 World Cup begins, and not many would commit to guessing his physical state then, given that it often seems his fragile body would be stronger if his ankles were made of porcelain and his hamstrings of rubber bands. If Ribery's ability is incandescent, his fitness is a lottery.

Playing in a system at PSG that aligns him with other attacking players of compatible technical gifts, such as Javier Pastore and Nene, should give him the platform to push on – or it could remove the demand for him to truly take responsibility. The alarming assumption in some quarters in France that Serie A has made Menez the finished article is a dangerous one. He has ability to burn, but has never truly found consistency.

Whether Menez will make it to the World Cup is still a true unknown. If he can complete his education right next to where it all began for him, then 2014 could yet see the completion of the perfect circle begun by a band of teenagers ten years before.

share story