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Focus on France

Q&A with Bixente Lizarazu

April 23, 2010
UbhaBy Ravi Ubha

Ravi Ubha chats to World Cup winner Bixente Lizarazu about France's hopes for the finals in South Africa.

Bixente Lizarazu lifts the World Cup aloft on home turf in 1998
GettyImages / DanielGarciaBixente Lizarazu lifts the World Cup aloft on home turf in 1998

Lizarazu was part of the victorious French squad on home soil in 1998, and also won Euro 2000 and two Confederations Cup titles during his 97-cap international career. He played club football for Bordeaux, Athletic Bilbao, Bayern Munich and Marseille.

Ravi Ubha: Bixente, what are your expectations this summer?

Bixente Lizarazu: Well, we aren't really in a good position. We had so many problems in qualifying. When we played against Spain, they were a class better than us. We have a lot of players injured, like [William] Gallas, and you have players like [Thierry] Henry, who isn't playing anymore at Barcelona. So let's say we just have three [friendly] matches now to prepare for the World Cup. Of course we don't go into the World Cup with as much self-confidence.

At the moment, we're trying to find solutions. For example, we have problems in defence. We think [Jeremy] Toulalan has to play to make it more secure. We think France also has to play in a different system. Henry has to play in attack, not on the left side, like he was playing at Arsenal. There are things France have to change, but the problem is the coach didn't try them before, and again, we have only three matches to change that. We have good players, but we don't have a team at the moment.

RB: Domenech recently compared the team's form to pregnancy. He said the process and delivery can be difficult, but when the baby arrives, everything can turn out fine. How much do you agree with that?

BL: Not if we don't change the positions of some players on the team. For me there are two important changes. Henry has to play in attack. Let's say that [Florent] Malouda is playing on the left, and that [Franck] Ribery is playing behind Henry and being very free, because he has to be. Then we'll only play with one defensive midfielder, Alou Diarra from Bordeaux.

You play with Diarra and [Yoann] Gourcuff, who plays in a position like Andrea Pirlo at Milan. Gourcuff is really the playmaker of the team. We have a problem finding width when Henry is playing on the left, because he comes in to the centre, and when [Nicolas] Anelka is playing on the right, he comes into the middle, too.

Gallas is very important for the team, but we haven't found the player good enough to play with him. [Eric] Abidal can do it, but I think he's better as a left-back. You can play Abidal or [Patrice] Evra there. Abidal is better defensively and Evra offensively. So with these changes, you can have another team, another spirit. But if you play like we are playing in the current system, I don't think it's enough.

RB: You mentioned Malouda. He's having an excellent season with Chelsea but has clashed with Domenech in the past. Is he guaranteed of playing?

BL: We have a lot of players injured or who aren't playing, so if you don't use the players that are playing, then what do you do? It's important to use players who have been playing. It's true Domenech hasn't been playing him a lot, but he has to change. And he also has to change his mind regarding the position of other players.

RB: There are reports that too many players have big egos, such as Henry. How big of a problem is that?

BL: I think all the players, champions, at this level, have an ego. It's important. You have to be strong. It's not a weakness to have an ego. But you have to also think about the team, the quality of the team, and the balance of the team, because no one can change a game alone, except [Lionel] Messi. You must have a mix.

Bixente Lizarazu faces the press
GettyImages / GabrielBouysBixente Lizarazu may face more questions this season

RB: Who are the real leaders on this team?

BL: I think Henry and Ribery are the leaders in attack. Gallas and Toulalan have to be leaders, and the goalkeeper also, because we have a fantastic one in France.

RB: But who's the leader in the dressing room? You had so many veterans in 1998.

BL: It's true everyone is thinking about his own problem, and not thinking about the problem of the team. Everybody is a bit individual at the moment. They have to change.

RB: You know about great goalkeepers, having played for so long with Oliver Kahn. How good is Hugo Lloris? He's had a phenomenal season for club and country. Is he the best young keeper in the world at the moment?

BL: Yes, he's the best young one in the world. He's very strong mentally. He has a good feeling for football. There are goalkeepers who don't have a feeling for football, regarding the game, what's going on, anticipation. He's also very good in the aerial aspect, very good and secure, and he helps the defence a lot. He's very humble, listens a lot and learns a lot. For me, he has everything physically and mentally to be one of the best goalkeepers in the world in the next three or four years.

RB: In the past, you haven't been a fan of Domenech. Do you think France's chances would be better with another coach?

BL: Oh, yes. We had to change the coach in 2008. But in France, there's politics, like in other countries. I like politics when a good decision is made, to help French football and to make it better. But that wasn't the decision. It was to keep the powerful. In 2008, you had available coaches like [Didier] Deschamps and [Laurent] Blanc, who are doing a very good job at Marseille and Bordeaux. They have international experience and played at big clubs. I thought they had the quality. For sure the team would have been better than the team we have now. But it's like that. It's amazing that after Euro 2008, where France was terrible, you still have the same coach. In other countries, this isn't possible.

RB: Are you worried France might not get past the group stage? It's certainly not the most dangerous group, but Mexico and Uruguay pose a threat.

BL: I hope we will go very far. The group we have isn't the toughest. I prefer to be in this group than the one that features Brazil, Portugal and the Ivory Coast. But if we play like we did against Spain and Ireland, we can lose against teams like Mexico and Uruguay. Ireland were better than us technically and in passing. We were really very, very bad at this time. But we have good players. These good players have to play together. You have to change a couple of positions with only three matches of preparation. This is the job of the coach. That's the situation we're in now, and we have to take that risk. We have to find something.