The French national team and its players tend go about their business in rock and roll fashion. When things go right, the players often bring a cup home as they did in 1998, 2000 and most recently in 2018. However, when it goes wrong, there is often a huge implosion.
The 2006 World Cup marked the beginning of a period of controversy for French football. While he had left his mark on the game in what was to be his final tournament, Zinedine Zidane bowed out by also leaving his mark on Marco Materazzi in the final- a game in which France would go on to lose on penalties.
Led by Raymond Domenech, France were a shambles in 2008 both on and off the pitch. During qualifiers, he called up Claude Makelele, despite the midfielder having retired from international duty in 2006. Mourinho was understandably unhappy with his player’s treatment, accusing Domenech of treating him like a slave, to which he responded: “As long as he can walk, he will play. I have the right to pick him.”
The petulant arguments carried on into the tournament when Nasri had taken Thierry Henry’s seat on multiple occasions. On the pitch Domenech got his tactics all wrong, lining his team up in a way which went against the strengths of his team. In a group featuring the Netherlands and Italy, France finished bottom having drawn one and lost two. In a farcical attempt to deflect from his team’s poor performance, Domenech proposed to his girlfriend and presenter Estelle Denis live on air after the game. Refusing to apologise for France’s performances in the group stage Domenech said: “I have only one project, which is to marry Estelle. I told myself there are beautiful things in life. It's good to tell someone that you love her.” It was this comical lack of self awareness that would come back to haunt him in 2010.
France were not going into South Africa 2010 in any sort of form. They had scraped through to the group stages via the playoffs thanks to some dark arts performed by Thierry Henry and his iteration of the Hand of God. Before the tournament Domenech opted for a tough guy approach with players, imploring them to climb mountains and complete biathlons during their preparation camp in the ski resort of Tignes. This approach contributed to a fractious relationship that would fall apart completely during the group stages.
After a drab 0-0 draw with Uruguay in the opening game, Domenech decided to drop Anelka with the striker verbally abusing the manager in response. After crisis talks, Anelka was kicked out and told to go home. The players, led by captain Patrice Evra, revolted and went on strike. Domenech’s reign would end with a training pitch bust up between Evra and the fitness coach in front of fans and TV cameras. France ended their campaign with a 2-1 loss to South Africa, after which Domenech refused to shake hands with opposition manager, Carlos Parreira. Domenech was dismissed from his role for serious misconduct during the World Cup. Seeking €2.9 million in damages, he eventually settled for €975,000.
2015 saw French football rocked by a sex scandal that is yet to reach its conclusion. Karim Benzema was alleged to have been involved in an attempt at blackmailing fellow teammate Mathieu Valbuena over a sex tape. In response to the allegations, the French Football Federation banned the Real Madrid striker from the national team; until earlier this year when he received a call up for the Euros. Despite being brought back in from the cold, Benzema will still have to stand trial on the charge of conspiracy to attempt blackmail. The trial date is set for 20th-22nd October. Interestingly, Real Madrid are set to play Shakhtar Donetsk on the 19th.
A tournament controversy involving Les Bleus is almost a given now. While the players put down their swords in 2018 to win the World Cup, normal service was resumed for Euro 2020. Rumours of divisions began early on, with Giroud unhappy at Mbappe for his selfishness in a 3-0 win against Bulgaria. Other teammates were also disappointed in the strikers body language and general demeanour.
Despite early signs of trouble, France were ‘super favourites’ according to Arsene Wenger. Placed in the group of death, the players were unhappy with the amount of travel they would have to do in between games- even complaining that accommodation was not luxurious enough. France made it out the group in unconvincing fashion and faced Switzerland in the last 16. Having thrown away a 3-1 lead to lose on penalties, the game is mired in controversy both on and off the pitch.
During the game, Pavard and Rabiot were unhappy with Pogba’s lack of defending which left the midfield to be run by Granit Xhaka. Up in the stands, something akin to a Sunday league scene was developing. Rabiot’s mother launched a tirade at Mbappe’s father in the aftermath of the loss, accusing his son of arrogance as well as taking aim at Pogba’s family for his loss of control in midfield.
France will be going into Qatar 2022 as defending champions. The last time they were in this position (2002), the team failed to get out the group, losing to Senegal in the process. After two 1-1 draws against Bosnia and Ukraine in qualifying, it seems as if the players have been unable to shake off the troubles from the summer. Going into next year, fans and analysts will be keen to see whether the rock and roll tendencies continue.