Who's in charge? Blanc is

July, 27, 2010

The Tour de France may have completed its long journey Sunday, but the gears keep shifting for that other French showcase to the world -- the running joke known as the national football team.

While Thierry Henry scored his first goal for the Red Bulls, William Gallas shrugged at Panathiniakos' contract offer and Franck Ribery consulted his lawyer last week, new Les Blues boss Laurent Blanc made headlines of his own. He gave the guillotine to the 23 players who gave France the shaft in South Africa.

In the wake of a head coach firing, how many times has some overweight wannabe-never-will-be jock declared on sports talk radio that you couldn't fire the team? Perhaps you can't. But it turns out you can suspend it.

Salut, Monsieur Blanc. Suddenly, the France-Norway game in Oslo on Aug. 11 is one of the most intriguing games of the year. While there is now little possibility of French follies in the fjords (sequels are never as good as their original summer blockbusters anyway) there is the prospect of a unique international head-coaching debut.

And Blanc is no ordinary coach. One of France's greatest defenders, he was a member of the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 winning teams. In his second season at the helm of Bordeaux, he won the 2008-09 Ligue 1 title, breaking the seven-year title streak of Lyon. It takes nerve to implement a 23-man suspension. It also takes pedigree. Blanc has plenty of that.

He's even said that he'll quit the team if France doesn't qualify for Euro 2012.

He also has some stellar players who missed the South Africa soap opera: Health permitting, Karim Benzema, Samir Nasri, Lassana Diarra and Benoit Cheyrou can all expect to line up for the playing of La Marseillaise in Oslo. Relative youngsters such as Aly Cissokho, Moussa Sissoko and Hatem Ben Arfa will likely be included as well.

In his playing days, Blanc famously kissed Fabien Barthez's bald cranium before every national team game. Having kissed off three World Cup keepers for the Norway game (Cedric Carrasso, Hugo Lloris and Steve Mandanda) Blanc may have to kiss up to Gregory Coupet to come out of international retirement and make a farewell performance in Oslo. But in the long term he has no worries in the net. Lloris is a safe pair of hands, and in the wake of his suspension he issued a profuse apology for his South Africa strike action.

So with one decisive move, the new head coach knows he has a goalkeeper who wants to play in the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign. All he needs now is some real strikers.



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