After beating Holland 4-0 last week everyone was saying France may be favourites for the World Cup, but we’re not there yet. Individually they have the talent but collectively France are still missing something.
On a good day they can beat anyone but on an off-day, like we saw against Luxembourg, they’re lacking consistency and it is due to the fact France don’t have a straight philosophy.
They have the talent and the potential but on those off days, when you need to rely on certainty in your game, there are question marks. You could see on Sunday that the longer Luxembourg held it at 0-0, the faster the doubt was growing in the French team.
We are very effective in producing coaches and players but we lack the same strong identity as Germany or Spain in terms of playing style and mentality.
You have to build that identity from scratch with all coaches on all the levels across the national team, playing to the same style of football – and I’m not talking about formation, that can vary.
Okay, we always have four at the back and we always defend zonally but in terms of setting up the midfield and strikers, it’s not the same.
From one coach to another, from Under-15 to senior level, you go through different coaches and you keep changing the way you think about football. One coach could be more direct, another more possession-based; one could be wanting to use the flanks, another would play without wingers and no crosses.
That’s always been the case since I was involved with the France set-up. I went from Gerard Houllier at Under-17 through to Under-20s and then to Raymond Domenech with the Under-21s and it was a completely different approach.
As an example, when it came to tactical work, Houllier would want the starting XI to work together both offensively and defensively. Domenech, though, would separate us into groups: defenders, midfielders and strikers. The coaches all have different visions and working practices and then when you reach the senior teams, it’s another philosophy altogether.
When you only have the guys for three days before a game, you need a core philosophy, because you’re bringing so many players together from different clubs with their own different approaches. You don’t have a lot of time to find a structure and provide certainty in your game, which you need to rely on.
There is another issue and it’s that in general in French football we try not to concede and stop the opposition and sometimes it can be a bit negative. It’s difficult to then switch your game to an attacking frame of mind.
From 1998 onwards we’ve had good strikers but the way we’ve set up the team has always been how to stop the opposition. It’s not making the best use of our resources.
That being said, Didier Deschamps has been criticised for being conservative but the fact we now only play with two central midfielders, having dropped Blaise Matuidi, shows you he has been listening to the critics.
We beat the Netherlands 4-0 in Paris but this is not the same Dutch side of 2010 or 2014 and, if anything, wasn’t a true representation of this France team.
The Luxembourg game will help the squad to reflect on what is required to be consistent at international level. You have to look at the positives, it will be a good learning curve for this group of players.
Consistency is a mentality; 17 of Deschamps’ squad have less than 20 caps – N’Golo Kante, Thomas Lemar, Kylian Mbappe, Djibril Sidibe, Layvin Kuzama as examples – they just haven’t played many games. So it takes time and that’s the trouble with the national team because that’s the one thing you don’t have.
What Deschamps has done really well is the atmosphere in the camp is very good. Karim Benzema is regarded as the bad apple and he’s not being included and Deschamps is making sure the squad is forming a healthy environment.
My concern is the lack of certainty and identity which can be exposed on an off-day. You could be playing a difficult South American team during the World Cup and you’re just not going to be able to steamroller them.
I’m sure the transfer market has been disturbing players while on international duty.
Everybody from international coaches to club managers will surely want future transfer deadlines moved away from these dates.
When I signed for Manchester United in 1999 I was with the France Under-21s in Albania and Russia. It was very difficult. Sir Alex Ferguson was phoning me about the transfer, the line was bad and I was trying to understand his Scottish! It was quite a challenge.
It was the Under-21s so not so much was at stake but it was still a European Championship qualifier and it plays on your mind; it’s a big decision you have to make, especially moving to a new country, and it takes your mind and focus away from preparing from those games.
From the clubs’ point of view it makes the communication with the players hard, as they’re trying to arrange transport for medicals etc.
I played on the Saturday and Wednesday, left the national team on the Thursday, landed in Manchester, signed on the Friday and then made my debut against Liverpool on the Saturday.
FIFA need to establish a universal deadline day, that’s not in the international break and make it uniform across all leagues.
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