Pure Insanity: How Not To Manage A National Team

With the World Cup a little more than a month away, it’s surprising to see two of the best French footballers omitted from the national squad.  Samir Nasri and Yoann Gourcuff are touted as two of the best playmakers in the world, let alone among French nationals.  But when French national coach Didier Deschamps announced his 23-man World Cup squad, along with seven replacements (in case of injury), neither Nasri nor Gourcuff are part of the 30-man list of players.  My question is why.  Why would you omit two phenomenal and proven players from the team?

Samir Nasri is of Algerian descent and hails from Marseille, ironically the same place where he began his professional career, immediately attracting the attention of football managers around the world, including one Arsene Wenger, the unpredictable, über-successful manager of Arsenal.  Over the years, Nasri has proven himself time and time again as one of the best players in one of the most prestigious leagues in the world, the Barclays Premier League as a member of reigning league champion Manchester City.  In fact, he’s so good that he has drawn comparisons to another French legend named Zinedine Zidane, and it’s not because they’re both of Algerian heritage.

Yoann Gourcuff is from Ploemeur, a small commune in Brittany, but his football ability is anything but small.  Former French international David Ginola has described Gourcuff as the best French player of his generation, despite only being 27 years old.  Currently making his presence felt for Olympique Lyon in France’s Ligue 1, Gourcuff won the league’s Player of the Year award, as well as his country’s equivalent distinction, in 2009, immediately cementing himself as a must-have player for his national team, but apparently to no avail.

Didier Deschamps is the national team manager for France, appointed after his predecessor, Raymond Domenech, didn’t have his contract renewed following the 2010 World Cup.  A former French international himself, Deschamps, who helped lead France to its only World Cup victory in 1998, cast himself in a controversial light from the beginning of his stint, suspending the entire 23-man squad for France’s first international friendly following the 2010 Cup.  Continuing with that unflattering reputation, Deschamps released his squad for next month’s World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, omitting several notable French players.  His willful ignorance in picking the squad is only outdone by his cavalier excuse for leaving players like Nasri and Gourcuff off the roster: “I built the best squad, I did not pick the 23 best French players.” The reason it’s cavalier is simple: building the best squad involves PICKING THE PLAYERS WHO GIVE YOU THE BEST CHANCE TO WIN.

Deschamps also explained his omission of Nasri by saying that he doesn’t like coming off the bench and he’d create instability in the locker room as a result.  First, no one is happy coming off the bench.  Ever.  Everyone just knows that it has to happen, and only 11 players can be on the field for a team to begin the game.  This leads me to my second point: Why would Nasri be coming off the bench?  Out of the midfielders selected by Deschamps, only Paul Pogba is better than Samir Nasri, and they have very different roles in the midfield, adding to my confusion as to why Nasri would come off the bench.  As for Gourcuff, Deschamps never mentioned him by name, but his omission is surprising, not because of his absence from the squad, but rather because of who was chosen instead of him.  For instance, Loïc Perrin, of Saint-Etienne, was named as one of the seven replacements, yet he does not even begin to approximate the skill level of Gourcuff.  And even though they play different positions (Perrin plays left back), consider Morgan Schniderlin, another left back from Southampton in the Barclays Premier League, who has never earned a cap for the French national team.  Then consider the fact that he was picked instead of Gourcuff.  Two left backs aren’t needed in a group of seven replacements, which makes Deschamps’ decision all the more confusing.

The worry here is that this World Cup will be a repeat of the embarrassment the French national team produced in South Africa four years ago.  The entire team boycotted training after the dismissal of striker Nicolas Anelka in the middle of the tournament, and exited the tournament after the group stage.  So has Deschamps already set himself up for a disunited locker room?  No one can say for sure, but one thing is clear: by his own admission, Deschamps did not pick the best players for the team, thereby not giving France the best chance to win.

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