China crisis for Trez and Boumsong?

June 5, 2006
By Alex Chick
(Archive)

You know you have entered the 'feeding off scraps' phase of pre-World Cup coverage when nearly every major French media outlet's lead football story concerns the third-choice centre-back.

Empics / TonyMarshallBoumsong is low on plaudits and confidence too.

The French squad are still holed up in their leafy Clairefontaine compound near Paris, protected from the outside world save for the occasional press conference, featuring carefully selected players. In this case, Jean-Alain Boumsong seized a rare opportunity to hog the column inches.

The Newcastle centre-back Boumsong was until recently an integral part of the French defence, starting 11 out of 13 games before being dropped. William Gallas has switched from left-back to take Boumsong's place in the centre, with Eric Abidal slotting in on the left.

Followers of the Premiership might wonder how so hapless a defender could hold down a place for so long, but his selection was hardly questioned in France. During qualifying the team defended well, conceding just twice, with their inability to find the net at the other end provoking much angst instead.

Boumsong started life as a holding midfielder and is not a natural defender, but copes fine when playing alongside an 'organiser'.

He performed superbly at Auxerre with Philippe Mexès sweeping up behind him, while he is also solid in tandem with the legendary Thuram. However, pair him with Titus Bramble, another player who looks great until he has to mark somebody, and things go awry in a big way.

Asked whether he was paying the price for his performances with Newcastle, Boumsong said: 'Only the coach knows that,' which is surely code for: 'Of course I bloody am.'

However, Abidal spent most of the season out injured and has only recently regained to full fitness. His return made it logical to move Gallas into his preferred position alongside Lilian Thuram.

So, on Sunday, while the rest of the country was momentarily distracted by serial choker Amélie Mauresmo crashing out of yet another Roland Garros tournament, Boumsong poured his heart out to the assembled hacks, their dictaphones hanging on his every platitude.

'The most important thing is that France do well … I can only work hard and hope my moment arrives...I will be ready if called upon,' droned Boumsong. Inevitably, this ended up as a tale of suffering and personal sacrifice so brave and harrowing it might as well have been called 'The Passion of Jean-Alain Boumsong.'

After a calamitous season testing the patience of the Geordie faithful, Boumsong is no stranger to the scorn poured on Mauresmo, whose demise saw football relegated to page ten of l'Equipe.

Those hardy enough to wade through the tennis post mortems found discussion of a hot topic - David Trezeguet's lack of form.

Despite another prolific season for Juventus, he has not scored for the national team since March 2005, in a match against Israel from which he was dismissed minutes later, That only makes for a goal drought of four matches but it is still enough to get the headline writers asking, somewhat curiously, whether Trezeguet is 'David or Goliath?'

Louis Saha's excellent performance against Denmark on Wednesday, in which he set up a goal for strike partner Thierry Henry, has seen calls for him to partner the Arsenal captain against Switzerland in June 13th. Trezeguet was relegated to a reserve match the following day, when his goal in a 6-2 demolition of an academy side was overshadowed by Djibril Cissé's hat-trick.

Empics / NealSimpsonTrezeguet's long-standing partnership with Henry faces dissolution.

Trezeguet is clearly feeling in the heat from 'P'tit Louis', as Saha is known, and felt moved to reiterate the strength of his partnership with Henry. 'Titi is the player I know the best. [Juventus team-mate Zlatan] Ibrahimovic has similar qualities to Thierry Henry but is a bit slower,' he said.

But while Trezeguet is an out-and-out goalscorer, Henry admitted he appreciates Saha's more complete game, saying: 'P'tit Louis likes going into battle and fighting for headers. That's what he did for my goal [against Denmark]. He did really well to divert the ball in my direction and I put it away. In any case, he has already proven in the English league that he has international class.'

Much of the criticism of Trezeguet is unfounded. His record of four goals in 16 games at major international tournaments is not brilliant, but six of those appearances were from the bench and he should be cut some slack for his memorable Golden Goal winner in the final of Euro 2000.

In addition, his failure to score at the 2002 World Cup was matched by the rest of the French squad.

However, injuries and suspension mean he has played only seven of 20 matches in the Raymond Domenech era, and the coach is clearly confident that he can get results without the 28-year-old.

Wednesday's friendly against China could provide some more clues as to Domenech's thinking.

If Trezegol does not feature from the start, one can assume his place in the team has Trezegone.

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