What to make of the enigmatic French? At the turn of the millennium, Les Bleus ruled the world with a marvelous multiracial mix of what was termed Black, Blanc, Beur.
But in more recent tournaments, including the World Cup two years ago, France was a divided, disputatious squad - almost a rabble - and usually the first team flying home in disarray.
Yet today, though not the caliber of the 1998 World Cup winner or the 2000 Euro champion, France has put together 19 games without defeat. The contenders
Those games include a 2-1 victory this year over Germany — a team favored to win the European tournament that begins in Poland next week and ends in Ukraine on July 1. Can France, the good and harmonious France, be a real contender for the title this time round?
Laurent Blanc was a key defender, known as “The President” on the 1998 team.
Now he is the coach, charged with piecing together the remnants of a French squad that mutinied against his predecessor, Raymond Domenech, at the 2010 World Cup.Political pressure
Blanc wrestles with the political interference that came from former President Nicolas Sarkozy down. Last year, Blanc barely survived the repercussions of being implicated in a clandestine discussion between coaches to limit the number of black players coming through the French system.
The odds on Blanc’s continuing to blend and harmonize the national squad seemed bleak. But his coaching record suggested he was still the best man for the job, and, in terms of results, that bears out.
“Top-level sport,” Blanc said this week, “is always about the winning habit.”
He had said previously that the 2-1 victory over Germany in February was a turning point. “Everybody was a bit scared before that game,” Blanc said. “And everyone was pleasantly surprised. Victory in Bremen showed we could raise our level.”
The country that ruled global soccer a dozen years ago, and came close to it again in 2006, is the last place on earth where racial quotas should be discussed. If France has a chance of reclaiming a title, it is down to blending the available talents.