Ageing French braced for Deschamps overhaul
PARIS, June 23 (Euro 2008) - The overhaul of an ageing squad in readiness for the 2010 World Cup will be the first item on Didier Deschamps' agenda if, as expected, he replaces Raymond Domenech as France coach following their Euro 2008 debacle.
This summer's tournament exposed some glaring deficiencies within Les Bleus' camp for which Domenech, whose four years at the helm should come to an end in the coming days, has to take most of the blame.
Domenech has always been viewed as an eccentric - he once admitted astrology played a part in his squad selections - but his coaching abilities have now been called into serious question for a number of reasons.
So Deschamps, captain of the France teams that won the World Cup in 1998 and the Euros two years later, is the heavy favourite to come in as a replacement - and he has a tough job on his plate.
Les Bleus' World Cup qualification campaign begins with a clash against Austria in September, and repair work will need to be carried out by the former Chelsea and Juventus midfielder before then.
The list of experienced players set to be unavailable to Deschamps is growing by the day.
Centre-back Lilian Thuram and midfield anchorman Claude Makelele have again announced their international retirement - this time it is for real - while goalkeeper Gregory Coupet and right-back Willy Sagnol are expected to follow suit.
Captain Patrick Vieira may decide to call it quits to concentrate on his club career. The injury-prone Internazionale midfielder will be 34 at the World Cup in South Africa and may have lost his legs by then.
And inspirational striker Thierry Henry, France's record scorer with 45 goals, hinted in May that this summer's Euros may be his last major international competition.
The loss of those six players - three of them World Cup winners - would rip the heart out of the side and Henry, Thuram, Vieira and Makelele especially would be nigh-on impossible to replace, coming just a couple of years after the retirement of playmaker Zinedine Zidane.
But that is the prospect Deschamps is facing. Does he have the necessary talent coming through?
The goalkeeper issue should not be too much of a problem. Coupet has only been number one for the last couple of years and in Sebastien Frey, Steve Mandanda and new Lyon signing Hugo Lloris, they have a host of solid young keepers.
Arsenal's Bacary Sagna is the likely long-term replacement for Sagnol but finding a successor to the authoritative Thuram will be difficult.
Philippe Mexes, Jean-Alain Boumsong and Sebastien Squillaci are the contenders to be the new partner of William Gallas but all three have their flaws. The classy but temperamental Mexes may be the best bet but he is hardly a Thuram-like figure.
Cultured Lyon schemer Jeremy Toulalan is the natural replacement for Makelele, while Mathieu Flamini, Lassana Diarra and Samir Nasri will be pushing to take Vieira's jersey when the current Les Bleus skipper departs.
Henry, 31 in August, may decide to carry on for one last tournament but it may be time for Nicolas Anelka to step up to the plate.
Karim Benzema did not produce the goods in the two games he had at the Euros but he is the real deal, if you listen to the likes of Arsene Wenger and Alex Ferguson anyway, and will come good.
So replacing these veterans is one thing Deschamps needs to contemplate, but it does not stop there.
He has to decide whether Eric Abidal is worthy of retaining at left-back, or if Arsenal's ever-improving Gael Clichy is the genuine rival for Patrice Evra in that position.
Staying on the left flank, surely Florent Malouda's number is up after these Euros and maybe exciting Lyon youngster Hatem Ben Arfa needs to be given a run on that wing.
The final question surrounds the role of Franck Ribery.
Never mind Nasri, Ribery is the man most likely to be a worthy successor to Zidane - not in his style of play but in terms of the inspiration he provides - and the Bayern Munich star needs to be given a more creative role, rather than being stuck out on the right wing.
Deschamps will also have some work to do off the pitch.
Domenech preferred to keep his players away from the media as much as possible during major championships and they were often cocooned away in their own little bubble.
Detaching them from the real world may not have been the wisest of moves, but that was how the authoritarian Domenech wanted it.
Few players were allowed to open their mouths in front of the media and at one point in a mixed zone after the Romania draw, Domenech was seen physically pulling Sagnol away from the press when the right-back dared to talk for more than 30 seconds.
Deschamps may choose to be a bit more open-minded.
He will also need to try to make the French crowd less passive before and during matches. Compared to the likes of the Dutch, the Italians and the Swedes, Les Bleus supporters are mute and get on their team's back at the drop of a hat.
That was seen at the Euros when a section of France fans booed the players off the pitch after their opening game, the goalless draw against Romania.
This is clearly a cultural thing and will not be changed overnight by Deschamps alone.
But there needs to be a change in psyche, even Domenech admitted that, and it may be something for the French Football Federation to ponder after they have installed Deschamps as the new coach.