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WhoScored: Cesc driving Chelsea on

Tactics And Analysis 18 hours ago
Read
Sep 4, 2006

The generation game

Less than two months after episode one in Berlin, Paris serves as the backdrop for a remake of the World Cup final on Wednesday as France host Italy as part of their bid to be loading up on duty-free Toblerone and edelweiss in Switzerland and Austria at Euro 2008.

With Zinedine Zidane drawing his pension and Marco Materazzi persona non grata for two games, the Group B qualifier at the Stade de France will be like Cinderella without the leading lady and her pumpkin, though doubts remain whether Cinders would have headbutted her former carriage once it had returned to a permanent vegetative state.

As a result, Italian-speaking lipreaders will be enjoying a night off and the focus will be on how the French and coach Raymond Domenech cope - much more so than against the modest Georgians in their 3-0 opening game stroll on Saturday - with the shift in generations symbolised by the permanent gardening leave taken by their messianic number 10.

For a nation that was once prepared to brazenly sweep away centuries of history at the drop of a guillotine, the French have proved strangely reluctant to do the same with their own footballing aristocracy.

Players, press and public have remained in a thrall to the anciens - literally 'the old ones' - the ever-decreasing number of France squad members who did it, bought the T-shirt and paraded up the Champs Elysees alongside Frank Leboeuf with a gleaming trophy on an open-top bus in 1998 and 2000.

The influence they wielded right up to this summer's World Cup on decisions - both great and small, on and off the pitch - affecting the French squad cannot be underestimated.

It was Zidane himself - according to Willy Sagnol - who decreed the players should have cheese to put on their pasta at team lunches, while the pre-tournament wrangling over who should be first-choice keeper in Germany is an example of just how the anciens could tinker with the make-up of the team.

In one corner, Gregory Coupet - flawless throughout Lyon's Ligue 1 title season and run to the Champions League quarter-finals.

In the opposite corner, Fabien Barthez - coming off an average half-season with an average Marseille side having served a lengthy ban for spitting at a referee.

Crucially though, with '98 and 2000 winner's medals in his pocket, Barthez is an ancien, with the clout to be able to get away with telling Domenech he would not go to Germany as the number two keeper, it was revealed after the tournament.

Coupet, never one to 'keep his tongue in his pocket' as the French say, had already been sentenced to stand in the naughty corner by a kangaroo court of anciens for having stated his ambition of usurping 'Fabulous [sic] Fab's' number one position when he was first called into the squad in 2001.

Result: Barthez has the privilege of being on the business end of things and not the bench when Fabio Grosso's trophy-winning spot-kick zips into the net at the Olympic Stadium.

Domenech was a victim of their power to unsettle when he took over from Jacques Santini in 2004 - the anciens upset Laurent Blanc, one of their own, had not been given the job despite Domenech being the more obvious choice after more than a decade at the helm of the under-21s.

Robert Pires - admittedly not among the pure-bred, untouchable anciens such as Zidane, Barthez et al - went too far in his public criticism of the new coach, paying for his comments that the squad were 'disenchanted' by being frozen out of the squad - the ex-Arsenal man is still shivering today.

But after that, Domenech has proved careful to cultivate this clique within his squad, despite the chill only thawing well into the World Cup campaign with Zidane famously referring to his boss by name for the first time ever only once France had reached the knockout stages.

With Zidane gone, Domenech has promised evolution not revolution, replying in mind-boggling Zola-esque ('Emile,' not 'Gianfranco') fashion, 'the future is the present which continues' when asked of how he views the next two years.

Having forced the hand of Lilian Thuram by calling the ancien defender into the squad for last summer's friendly against the Ivory Coast despite his plans to retire - a fait accompli which paid off handsomely as the veteran had a superb World Cup - Domenech has now repeated the trick with Claude Makelele as he looks to compensate for the lack of experienced defensive midfielders to play alongside a seemingly rejuvenated Patrick Vieira.

But while the prospect of seeing undoubtedly the world's best-paid 'slave' squaring up to Gennaro Gattuso in manacles and leg chains is an enticing one, Domenech has not quite gone as far as branding his millionaire chattel, though he has quietly, gradually stamped his own mark on a team that was going nowhere under Santini.

With the squad sapped of confidence and reportedly fragmented along club and ancien lines after a catastrophically uninspiring Euro 2004 campaign under the slow-speaking ex-Spurs 'coach,' Domenech - having engineered the 'second coming' of Zidane in August 2005 - set the basis for their successful summer on German soil in single-minded fashion.

Not one to be afraid of ruffling a few club managers' feathers - as Jose Mourinho can testify - Domenech, proving as uncompromising as a coach as he was a defender in his playing days, ignored a torrent of 'But we pay their wages' as he named a full-strength squad to fly to Martinique to play a friendly against Costa Rica on a date not sanctioned by the sacred FIFA calendar.

It was a bold move, but it seems the endless rounds of dominoes - reportedly organised by William Gallas - and the come-from-behind 3-2 win saw anciens and new boys moulded together under the Musketeerian motto, 'On vit ensemble, on meurt ensemble' - literally 'We live together, we die together' - which became the leitmotif of their run to the final.

And not for Domenech the chopping and changing other international managers employ with the zeal of a hatchet-wielding psychopath, inspiring loyalty by himself showing loyalty.

David Trezeguet, although having slipped behind Louis Saha in the pecking order and slipped into Serie B with Juventus, has been assured he remains in the frame, Jean-Alain Boumsong - another Juventus man - has been given the same promise; while Sidney Govou was named in the squad to face Georgia and Italy despite not having played a minute for Lyon this season.

After a decade of Zidane-dependance in a 4-2-3-1 formation with the entire focus of the team being brought to bear on the master's balding pate, Domenech is now poised to adopt the classic 4-4-2 lineup favoured by the majority of the planet's football managers and Sven-Goran Eriksson.

The weekend's win over Georgia - largely inspired by Franck Ribery, a man who has all the makings of a future ancien - was earned without a classic Zidane-style playmaker and with Louis Saha playing alongside Thierry Henry, the man who will now be looked to to lay bare opponents, giving the Arsenal man the chance to lay to rest the rumour he tries harder in the red of his club than in the blue of his country.

While attempting to conserve the old guard, Domenech has blooded future anciens - Marseille's much-in-demand Ribery and, to a lesser extent, Alou 'the new Patrick Vieira' Diarra enjoying the chance to improve their German in the summer.

Last month's 2-1 friendly triumph in Bosnia-Herzegovina saw Bordeaux's Julien Faubert and Rio Mavuba and Lyon central midfielder Jeremy Toulalan and team-mate François Clerc called up.

Though only midfielder Mavuba and full-back Clerc have remained in the squad for the serious stuff of the opening two qualifiers, Faubert's appearance in Sarajevo was perhaps the most significant.

The last time Zidane retired, the number 10 shirt was virtually 'retired' NBA-style with him. Faubert, who scored the winner in the Bosnian capital, was given the fabled jersey in the very first game following the great man's ride off into the sunset.

Ça change.

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