The French men’s national football team is no stranger to madness. In the 21st century alone, his greatest hits include sex tape blackmail casea player mutiny, racist quotas and headbutt. But never before has the controversy escalated into a pre-World Cup storm like the one brewing right now outside of Paris.
Getting ready for Qatar 2022, Blues won only one of six games. They lost their second match in a row to Denmark on Sunday and look both on paper and in reality as imposters of an All-Star team who conquered everyone four years ago.
The results, however, are the least of their concerns. In the last two months there has been a terrible case of extortion and accusations of witchcraft; a boycott of the photo shoot and a dispute between the team’s brightest star, Kylian Mbappe, and the French Football Federation over image rights; reports of cover-ups of sexual violence and harassment within the federation; and a plethora of injuries that have turned a once-absurdly strong team into a frighteningly mediocre one.
World defense champions have a habit of exploding. The last three and four of the five in this century have failed to progress beyond the group stage. Implosions, however, usually culminate. during tournament and on the field. On the other hand, France seems to be on the move and knows no borders.
“The atmosphere is heavy,” head coach Didier Deschamps admitted earlier this month.
Of course, there is still time for the burden to subside and mountains of talent to rise to the surface. But given the characters involved and the historical precedent, no one is betting on that.
Mass of injuries in France
Back in 2018 and beyond, Deschamps could field two different teams capable of competing for the World Cup. At the moment, he is struggling to build it because his starting 11 and reserves have been decimated by injury.
Among those absent this month were Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante, Karim Benzema, Kingsley Coman, Adrien Rabiot, Theo Hernandez, Lucas Hernandez, Presnel Kimpembe and Hugo Lloris. Their absence opened the door for newcomers and minor players, some of whom also suffered from untimely tension or strikes. Ibrahima Konate, Boubacar Camara and Lucas Digne also missed two matches in September. And then, in the first, Jules Kunde and Mike Meignan, Lloris’ second-in-command for goalkeeping, joined a crowded list – a list that, on its own, could probably have won a World Cup.
Most injuries, including those of Kante and Benzema, should heal Katara in sufficient time. Most suspect is Pogba, who suffered a meniscus injury in July. He initially refused surgery and attacked the rehab process that allowed him to return before the World Cup. However, after several runs on an anti-gravity treadmill and field tests, he went to the doctors and underwent surgery. Juventus coach Max Allegri has said that Pogba will not play for his club until the end of the World Cup. It is unclear what form it will be in by November.
Other injuries, however, matter in that they robbed Blues their only meaningful time to freeze before Qatar. Their June international window was marred by the absence of Deschamps, who was mourning the death of his father. Their September window featured the likes of Jonathan Klaus, Yussouf Fofana, Benoît Badiashiel, Adrien Truffert and Randal Colo Muani – players who, in all likelihood, will have no role to play in a World Cup title defense. The full squad will meet only a week before the opening of the World Cup.
His attempt to repeat will depend on his ability to develop, something so often failed to do sixty-year-old predecessors. The last consecutive men’s World Cup winners were Brazil in 1958 and 1962.
However, his ability to progress has been hampered, if not outright hampered, by his current inconsistency – and possibly the myriad off-pitch issues that demand his energy and attention.
Toxicity and dysfunction of the French Football Federation
Some of the problems go far beyond the current men’s team. Noel Le Grae, dinosaur president of the FFF, who is a former denied the existence of racism in footballwas accused of sexual harassment and harassment federation staff.
Le Grae, now 80, allegedly sent inappropriate messages to several female employees and contributed to a culture in which misogynistic and abusive behavior is common. Several women quit their jobs in the federation to get away from it. High-ranking male officials allegedly and repeatedly joked about women’s appearance and clothing.
FFF also reportedly attempted to systematically suppress numerous allegations of sexual abuse, including against young players, in French football.
Toxicity and dysfunction are widespread and often overlooked by current players. But it has not completely escaped them, and sometimes hangs over them. Mbappe, for example, criticized Le Gras for ignoring complaints of racist abuse he suffered last year.
The 23-year-old forward also took issue with an image rights deal that forced France players to endorse certain brands such as fast food chains and betting shops. In June, the FFF said it would renegotiate the agreement. By September, that hadn’t happened, so Mbappé announced that he was boycotting the pre-World Cup photo op. Other senior players supported the boycott. This led to an urgent meeting between some of them, Deschamps and Le Gres, and another promise from the FFF at the start of what was to be their most important week of preparation for the World Championship on the pitch.
Countless members of the French football community have called for Le Gré to resign. He refused and continues to watch an endless stream of distractions.
It now seems like many years ago the biggest distraction was L’Affaire Pogba, an incomprehensibly convoluted extortion case involving a magical midfielder and his brother. The case became public late last month when Matthias Pogba, Paul’s older brother, showed up at the police station. weird videoin which he promised “big revelations” about Paul, Paul’s rep and Mbappe.
Among the alleged revelations to come was that Paul Pogba asked a marabout – a Muslim saint or hermit – from his entourage to cast a “spell” on Mbappe. The media seized on it and presented it as a potential bomb that could irreparably destroy the relationship between the two French stars just a few months before the World Cup.
In fact, according to Paul and the French authorities, it was nonsense – and it distracted from genuine concern that Pogba, who shone at the 2018 World Cup, had been subjected to alleged threats and attempts at armed extortion since March. He lives with the associated injury and is under police protection as the World Cup approaches. His brother and four other former friends have been arrested, but fears remain.
They overshadow France’s World Cup preparations, which, remember, have not been smooth on the pitch. The team almost finished last in the UEFA Nations League group of Austria, Denmark and Croatia.
France remains World Cup 2022 favorite (+550) only by pedigree and talent. But everything that surrounds this talent turns into pessimism and chaos.