Barthez: French goalkeeping has declined
World Cup-winner Fabien Barthez has told L'Equipe that the standard of goalkeeping in France has declined since he hung up his gloves in 2007.
Barthez, 41 - the most prominent member of a fine generation of French goalkeepers - achieved success with club and country in his 17-year career.
He feels France's reputation as a country that produces top goalkeepers has been slipping in recent years.
"It's getting difficult to compare, because so many things in so many different areas have changed," he said. "But in France, the standard of goalkeeping has dropped, as has the level of the outfield players.
"You just have to look at the results of the French national side and French teams in European competition."
He said that although the majority of goalkeepers in the French top flight are 27 or under, he does not see anyone being able to challenge France captain Hugo Lloris, who is 26, or his understudy, 27-year-old Steve Mandanda of Marseille, at international level.
"For the moment, there's no-one," he told the paper. "Today, Lloris and Mandanda are a cut above, and then there are the others. Stephane Ruffier and Cedric Carraso are consistent and have bottle.
"But a goalkeeper really starts to take things in hand at around 29 or 30 years old. Goalkeepers in France are 24, 25. They've still got another two or three years to learn all the ins and outs of the position."
Barthez said goalkeepers also needed to curb an increasing desire to be in the limelight, explaining: "After they make a save, you see some of them celebrating as if they've scored a goal. That's not their role.
"Concentration is all-important and, by doing that, you lose it. Two seconds after a save, play restarts - and you have to be ready.
"You have to be really humble when you're a goalkeeper. Things happen really quickly, quicker than for the outfield players. You can never rest on your laurels."
Barthez started his professional career at Toulouse, but it was when he became first choice at Marseille aged 21 in 1992 - and helped the club become the first Ligue 1 side to be crowned European champions the following year - that he shot to fame.
The former Manchester United player also reflected on another change since his playing days: the different character of the footballs themselves.
"The balls really fly," he said. "On TV, you see some bizarre trajectories. It means goalkeepers work less and less on catching balls as that's becoming more and more difficult. They're losing that skill, and focus above all on getting the ball away."