Appointed in the acerbic and venomous wake of the 2010 South African debacle, Laurent Blanc sought to bring unity and revolution to the French national team. Under the strained aegis of Raymond Domenech in South Africa, mutiny and revolt had spread. In a tension-laden campaign of expulsions and profanity, arguments and hatred, the French finished bottom of their group, ingloriously dumped out amid a swirling vortex of embarrassment and humiliation. Entrusted with a remit to change and galvanize in the French a semblance of care, a hint of ambition, the merest trace of togetherness, Laurent Blanc was the chosen man.
Over the course of the last twenty-four months, his has been a difficult yet rewarding job. Eager to induce a radical and extreme metamorphosis of French football, Blanc changed entirely the demographic of recruitment. No longer did players gain a jersey merely because of his name; rather, the main criterion for selection appeared to be form and attitude, mental makeup and ability. Under this policy, chances were granted to players such as Samir Nasri, Yann M'Villa, Oliver Giroud and Yohan Cabaye. After initial teething problems, the overhaul had worked. Or so it appeared.
Positive results in friendlies and in qualification for the 2012 Euro Championships served merely to paper over the cracks already beginning to form. Recent unrest and disquiet in the French camp illuminates, in coherence with their abysmal performance against Spain, their arrival back at square one. Once again, for the French football fraternity, it is less va va voom than va va gloom.
In opposition of a Spanish side devoid of their usual zip and verve, the French contrived to produce one of the most shockingly-poor performances of the entire competition. The parallels with South Africa were uncanny. Once again, this appeared to be a random bunch of malcontent, selfish individuals with little in common other than the colour of a jersey and a shared insouciance. Once again, this appeared to be a French side ravaged by infighting and personal animosity, egos with little intention of playing for a collective cause. Once again, this appeared to be the old France.
On this Donetsk day, Spain were as vulnerable perhaps as we have seen them in nearly six years. If faced by a team with more passion, more intention and more ambition, Spain may well have encountered problems. Strangely, Spain seemed unable, once more, to locate that scintillating trademark tempo, nor that zip and infectious swagger. Defensively, Spain relied on a certain amount of luck and, had the French demonstrated even the merest intention to play with purpose and belief, could well have been punished. Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal will prove a more than intriguing semi-final opponent.
As for France, perhaps they will convince themselves that, yet again, they feel the need for revolution. In between tournaments, managers can build and experiment and make a team look pretty in friendlies, but, if, two years on at a further major tournament, they make little progression, how can he expect to be deemed a success? In this regard, Laurent Blanc has failed. Set forth upon a pedestal before the tournament as the great, graceful agent of change and excitement in French football, Blanc has, in the timeless conundrum of the French manager, failed to harness the mentality and attitude of his players. After yet more bickering, yet more infighting, yet more despondent indifference, France are out.