Four years ago, a group of 23 soccer players from a proud nation full of World Cup history boarded a plane and headed home, having been labeled an international disgrace.
When France finally landed back in Paris after crashing out in spectacular fashion in South Africa, the questions and inquiries had already started. The head of the French Football Federation, Laurent Blanc, issued a statement expressing both embarrassment and contrition in the behavior of his sporting countrymen.
As days droned on and inquisitions became more and more intense, even the office of President Nicolas Sarkozy was forced to make statements regarding the unfolding situation.
France’s embarrassment had nothing to do with on-field performance on that occasion, even though Les Bleus’ showing left plenty to be desired. In this case, French shame was wrapped around an epic meltdown that would have made a sandbox full of two year olds blush.
Before a seemingly innocent training session was set to begin, coach Raymond Domenech, captain Patrice Evra and strength and conditioning coach Robert Duverne pitched the public tantrum to end all tantrums, resulting in Evra and Luverne needing to be physically separated before Duverne angrily stalked off while tossing his team credentials to the ground.
In a mere 60 seconds of video, France’s World Cup had been utterly and totally derailed. The situation went from bad to worse when it was revealed that the impetus for the blowup had been the French players’ refusal to practice as long as Domenech was still in charge. Further investigation revealed rampant dissension within the French squad, largely over the treatment of forward Nicolas Anelka, as a primary motivating factor.
Domenech, the famously eccentric coach known for his bizarre methods, was soon relieved of his duties, with Blanc angrily vowing to never allow such a spectacle to occur again.
Fast forward four years and it seems new coach Didier Dechamps didn’t receive the memo. Just hours ahead of their opener against Honduras, Deschamps has compelled FIFA to investigate a new French claim of drones spying on his team during its practices.
Dissension? Eccentric coaches? And now spying drones? The French are at it again.
For the sake of Frenchmen all over the globe, one can only hope that this latest crazy turn amounts to nothing. On paper, France again boasts a squad fit to compete against the world’s very best in Brazil. It would be disheartening if their attempts to attain more glory were again sabotaged by similar confounding circumstances.
In recent weeks, French players have spoken of moving beyond the past and forging a new identity for future national sides. Currently, the task is looking tougher than ever with Deschamps, a former World Cup Champion in his own right, first engaging in a public spat with Samir Nasri’s girlfriend over his omission from the squad, and now looking to the sky for computerized spies.
Hopefully, the players will stay the course and make amends for 2010. Any team that has the likes of Karim Benzema and Olivier Giroud at forward, Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi at midfield, and Evra along with Bacary Sagna in defense have a chance to do special things. But if there’s one thing that Deschamps may have already proven, it’s that France’s biggest foe may again be itself.