Domenech in a realm all his own at news conference

Domenech in a realm all his own at news conference

Published Jun. 10, 2010 6:11 p.m. ET

France coach Raymond Domenech has already had his first vintage performance at the World Cup in South Africa - if only in a news conference at the Green Point Stadium.

Discussing a range of issues from frogs in hot water to the color of the pitch, Domenech once more confounded, and dumbfounded, about 100 journalists on the eve of France's World Cup match against Uruguay.

``Hello everyone, we're ready to listen because we're hungry ... you too, I hope,'' he said in the opening salvo to his first World Cup news conference, hoping to hit his Gallic critics where it hurts most - right in their gourmand stomachs.

He caught the assembled media cold, quickly adding: ``No questions? Well, this is perfect.''


Not quite. The show went on.

He then checked his cell phone for the first few minutes, looking up from time to time to answer questions as if they were an amusing distraction. His critics were already less than impressed about having so few opportunities to question him on his tactics and team preparations.

And when a serious question was posed about a decision not to train at the Green Point stadium on the eve of the big game, a prerogative few coaches would want to give up, he was clear.

``It is pitch measuring, about 105 meters on 68 meters, the grass is green. The lines are all in the same place,'' he said. ``For me a football pitch is a green rectangle where you have 11 players against 11 players, whether in Hong Kong or any other place.''

Tough to argue with that one. Though the swirling winds coming off the nearby Atlantic that the stadium is bordering could indicate that some practice on long-range passing would help.

Amazingly, after all these years of sparring with the media, there still was one question that caught Domenech off guard.

``I read one interview about you that said that if you put one frog into warm water, you can stand a long time. I am wondering how about temperature now? Are you ready for the coming pressure,'' one journalist, unbound by French convention, asked.

Stunned silence followed before Domenech asked for a repeat of the question. Then he picked up on the line of questioning.

``Ah, that's true. I did say such garbage ... but in a particular context,'' he explained, prompting laughter.

How long could he take the heat from the media? ``Little by little, pressure can rise and there is a limit to the pressure. I checked my pressure threshold and it lasts till July 12.'' That's the morning after the World Cup final, when Domenech's reign as French coach ends.

His coaching career has been littered with oddities.

He shocked and upset French fans when he asked his girlfriend to marry him live on television moments after the final Euro 2008 group game ended in a defeat to Italy. He apologized the next day for what he called an error of communication.

``I only have one plan, that is to marry Estelle (Denis),'' Domenech said live on television after the 2-0 loss to Italy. ``So I'm asking her for real today.''

The wave of criticism that statement provoked forced Domenech to issue an apology.

``Forgive me for having a trace of humanity at a time when I should have stayed cold, professional. Behind my coach's shell I had a hope, I wanted to tell the people I love that I love them,'' Domenech said the next day. ``For a moment I wasn't a robot, sorry about that.''

Four years ago, when he led the French from seemingly nowhere to the World Cup final, he was ridiculed for his aversion to players born under the Scorpio star sign, including such experienced players as Arsenal midfielder Robert Pires.

Esoteric maybe, but smart for sure. His management of stars like Zinedine Zidane has proven as much.

And cunning too. When he faced an Irish question whether France deserved to be in the World Cup after Thierry Henry's famous handball against Ireland got them through in qualifying, he looked dumbfounded.

``Sometimes, I don't understand English,'' he replied, underscoring his talent as an amateur theater actor.

In the end, it all comes down to the same truth. ``It's better to win than to lose.''


AP Sports Writer Jerome Pugmire contributed to this story