For most international coaches, this time of year is one spent praying that your players get a decent rest before the start of a World Cup year, hoping that the conditions in the Premier League will not cause any serious injuries and putting the final touches to training arrangements for South Africa in the summer.
Then again, Raymond Domenech is not most international coaches and he would have been concerned when the French FA’s federal council met to discuss his future just before Christmas.
Despite council member Guy Chambily backing Domenech’s removal as coach, the council voted to keep him in charge – although there is still a chance that a general manager, possibly Lens president Gervais Martel, and team manager, current technical director Gerard Houllier, will be appointed to ‘assist’ Domenech in the new year. One can only imagine Domenech’s reaction to this.
There is always controversy surrounding Domenech. His oft-repeated love of amateur dramatics and astrology has not done him any favours, nor did his proposal to girlfriend Estelle Denis after France’s woeful Euro 2008 exit. Such is his status as a national laughing-stock that he has even had to go to French games in disguise to prevent abuse. “Sometimes I would go to watch a match with a woolly hat and scarf on so I don’t get recognized,” he once said. “The insults tend to be from people who are in a group and on the other side of the road.”
More recently, he claimed that reports he received a bonus of over Ã¢â€šÂ¬850,000 for qualifying France for the World Cup were off the mark (although France Football magazine insisted their documentary evidence showed otherwise) and his standing was so low after the play-off win against Ireland that fans pelted the French FA HQ entrance with eggs. Yet once the World Cup begins, no-one remembers the qualifying campaign: just look at Brazil in 2002, when then-coach Luiz Felipe Scolari was almost sacked before reaching Japan/S Korea and winning the tournament.
France are 2.16 to win a comfortable-looking Group A which contains Mexico, Uruguay, and hosts South Africa, and a very long 17.5 for the trophy. The reason for that big price has to be down to their qualifying woes, as well as the Domenech factor.
There is also one very clear difference between this side and the vintage of 1998 that won their first World Cup on home soil. As a recent phone-in on a French radio station put it: who will emerge as the new leader of this France team?
In 1998 the clear-cut leaders were Didier Deschamps and Laurent Blanc (now both successful coaches) while more recently, Zinedine Zidane, Claude Makelele and Patrick Vieira donned the mantle. Vieira is now the nominal captain and Henry his less-than-popular understudy: but there are few other options for Domenech, as his most experienced players, William Gallas and Nicolas Anelka, are not cut out for the skipper’s job.
There is no obvious leader and one of the biggest problems Domenech has had is the historically hierarchical system of the French camp. During the glory years, young players were not encouraged to speak up but rather to wait their turn. Domenech tried to change this at Euro 2008, and encouraged the younger players to have more of a say.
This led to Samir Nasri and Karim Benzema upsetting older players with comments that showed a lack of respect, and a generation clash that dogged them during the tournament. Domenech is torn on this issue, sometimes saying he needs old-timers like Vieira and other times egging on the youngsters to show leadership. If he can sort out this dilemma, it could solve the all-important issue of morale in the camp.
Other problems for Domenech to concern himself with in the new year include finding a regular partner for Gallas at centre-back, and improving France’s penalty shoot-out record.
But neither of those issues should stop France topping Group A and getting past one of Nigeria/Greece/South Korea assuming Argentina can top Group B.
Reproduced with permission from betting.betfair.com. Ã‚Â© The Sporting Exchange Limited
MORE: Man United latest news
MORE: Arsenal latest news
MORE: Chelsea latest news
MORE: Liverpool latest news