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Friday, June 18, 2010
Everybody hates Raymond

Andrew Warshaw, Polokwane

Just after the World Cup began, a headline in one of the South African supplements read: "Everybody Hates Raymond". France 0-2 Mexico
• Media blast France
Domenech: We need a miracle
• What's the problem with France? A trifle harsh on the avuncular Raymond Domenech? Not now, not after the kind of capitulation his star-studded team suffered against the Mexicans. Few sections of the media anywhere in world football have vilified their national coach to quite the same extent as France's football journalists and commentators. Remember the Sun's depiction of Graham Taylor as a turnip after England were eliminated at Euro '92 after losing to Sweden? Remember, long before that, how Bobby Robson was equally vilified despite being the most successful English manager since Alf Ramsey. Now you can put Domenech firmly in that category. Twenty-four hours after the night before, the attacks on Domenech reached new heights back home. "Let's mock Raymond Domenech, so full of himself, overcome by his players' egos," L'Equipe said. "Laugh about these major players - Franck Ribery, William Gallas, Nicolas Anelka, who believe themselves so superior - and their arrogance, supported by a federation that should wear a headless chicken as a symbol." Casual observers might well ask what the fuss is all about. Domenech, after all, led his country to the final of the World Cup four years ago, the pinnacle - apart from actually winning it - of any coach's ambitions, falling short of the ultimate prize through the lottery of penalties. This was a man, too, who had lost only 11 of 74 games coming into the tournament and the only person to steer France to three consecutive major finals. But this was also a man who had never won anything, whose bookish appearance, love of the theatre and intellectual style never caught on with the public, whose passion for astrology was allegedly one reason that Robert Pires, being a Scorpio, was treated with such suspicion. And they weren't the only reasons Domenech fell out so spectacularly with the media and, if rumours are to be believed, some of his players to boot. His selections, such as leaving likes of Sami Nasri and Karim Benzema out of his squad, had some questioning his sanity. His soft-spoken, almost superior way of answering questions was anathema to grass-roots fans who turned on the coach with such venom that he had been known to turn up to games in disguise. After France's shock exit at Euro 2008, Domenech hardly enhanced his reputation. Asked about his future, he replied merely that his only plan was to get married. He later explained: "It was just a thought. Everyone was so sad and I thought to myself, 'Life has its beautiful moments. You have to tell people you love them'." Many observers might empathise with such comments, agreeing that there is more to life than football. Others were not so accommodating, with former players queuing up to argue that Domenech had finally lost the plot and had become a figure of fun who simply had to be replaced. Soon he will be, with Laurent Blanc taking over at the end of the tournament. A players' player, a champion on the field, a man to restore pride and glory to French football. Before that happens, France have another game to play here. Domenech, whose toothless team rarely looked up for the fight against Mexico, face a second successive swift tournament exit unless they beat South Africa comfortably in their final group game. Hardly likely given that France, for all their resources, have not scored a goal in a major tournament since reaching the final four years ago, and even victory won't be enough if Mexico and Uruguay draw. "I'll have to digest what has happened," a crestfallen Domenech said as he faced the music in the wake of the 2-0 Mexico defeat. "I'm lost for words." Maybe, just maybe, it was written in those stars in which Domenech so passionately believes. France, as well as their under-fire coach, came into the tournament as the team everyone loved to hate following the Hand of Henry that broke all Irish hearts in the play-offs. With their siege mentality, they had a great chance to redeem themselves and stick two fingers up at their critics. Instead Les Blues have turned colour with alarming alacrity, a red-faced international laughing stock. And, for Domenech, there is no turning back...

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