France made a decent showing in World Cup qualifying. Sure, they were forced into a playoff with Ukraine, but after being drawn into a group with Spain, you almost expect to come in second. Their side looked revived, and the country started to dream of a strong national team once more.
But will those dreams once again be discarded? Will France fall apart before they even get on the plane to Brazil?
The last time the World Cup came around, France did a spectacular job of falling apart. Les Bleus were in open rebellion against their manager, refusing to train after Raymond Domenech expelled Nicolas Anelka from the squad. Earlier attempts at team bonding enforced by Domenech, including mountain biking and dune-buggy racing, had failed miserably. The cracks forming between the teammates grew even more sharply defined as the spotlight in South Africa grew brighter.
Of course, their play suffered. After a draw with Uruguay and defeats to both Mexico and South Africa, France finished last in their group. Les Bleus were on their way home.
France are now under the leadership of Didier Deschamps, who took over after Laurent Blanc took the team to the quarter-finals of Euro 2012. Deschamps seems to want to avoid making the same mistakes as Domenech, which may be why he left Samir Nasri out of his World Cup roster. Nasri had a wonderful season at Manchester City, but according to Deschamps, his behavior could weaken team spirit during the time spent in Brazil.
But France are already suffering from the fallout. After Nasri’s girlfriend insulted Deschamps on Twitter, throwing plenty of ugly curses his way, the French coach elected to file a lawsuit against her, claiming “public insult”. The French Football Federation also released a statement, backing Deschamps.
A minor blip, perhaps. After all, Nasri isn’t included in the squad, and there’s no evidence that his teammates are set to rebel over the slight (Nasri was also not part of the 2010 squad). But is this a preview of what is to come from France this time around? Will the coach attempt to crack down, prompting public blowouts and attracting media attention? Will both the coach and the players be distracted, once again, by antics off the pitch?
Switzerland, Ecuador and Honduras certainly hope so.