With the World Cup in full swing, Lessons learnt reflects on the headlines in South Africa.
Last Updated: 21/06/10 3:05pm
At a World Cup where the majority of European teams are doing their best to imitate sides from Hackney Marshes, there should perhaps be some sort of Légion d'honneur awarded to France.
As he fielded questions on England's inadequacies, John Terry had not sweated so much since his extramarital activities hit the front pages. But he had it easy. Spin doctors have been doing their best to twist tales of a revolt in Fabio Capello's camp. But France have the real thing.
English satire has poked at the excesses of the French revolution pretty much since the 18th Century and, although it is highly unlikely that we will see Nicolas Anelka, Patrice Evra and Raymond Domenech brutally guillotined in the shadow of the July Column at Place de la Bastille, there is now almost a similar uproar across The Channel.
A lifeless defeat to Mexico included an apparent row between Chelsea striker Anelka and Domenech that resulted in the former arriving back at London's Heathrow. France's squad therefore decided that they did not want to train in protest. That prompted a furious exchange between fitness coach Robert Duverne and captain Evra, while team director Jean-Louis Valentin stormed out before announcing his resignation. Staggering. Lesson learnt; do not, reportedly, tell your manager to, "go f*** yourself, you son of a whore'.
Domenech, who let it be remembered only lost the 2006 World Cup final to Italy after a penalty shoot-out, arrived at this summer's finals as the King Louis XVI figure, the greatest French public enemy since British beef. But now his players' effortless performances are almost being classed as acts of treason against the liberties and patriotism of the home country.
Former France international Jean-Pierre Papin has become one of the latest to voice his opinion on the matter, telling L'Equipe: "It has touched bottom, we are the laughing stock of the world." He added of the French squad: "They dirty their country."
There come times in sport when you quite simply think you could not concoct off-field events. The saga at Newcastle United in the 2008/09 campaign, or the manner in which Kevin Pietersen lost the captaincy of the England cricket team. Us English seem to have a knack at causing, or possibly exaggerating, controversy, but the French have surpassed.
The France squad returned to training on Monday morning following the events of the weekend, but that has not prevented French president Nicolas Sarkozy wading into matters. The premier has asked his sports minister Roselyne Bachelot to meet with the key people involved. Imagine David Cameron and Hugh Robertson offering guidance on Emile Heskey's selection.
Bachelot told TF1 television: "We are taking note of the indignation of the French people and ... calling for dignity and responsibility. It's not yet the right time to take disciplinary action, but that time will come very soon." Is that the sound of whetstone against guillotine steel?
One point to add; an internet game has been dedicated to Domenech. The online fun was created shortly after the humbling against Mexico and allows participants to take mock penalties at the French manager, who is chained to the goal-posts with arms and legs spread wide. Players are rewarded for hitting Domenech in the head or genitals, with points awarded in the form of a mock-up of Parisian prostitute Zahia, who was allegedly involved in the recent Franck Ribery scandal, removing items of clothing. Once again, you could not make it up.
* There's no pleasing some people. After Holland had defeated Japan on Saturday to stretch an unbeaten record to 20 matches, coach Bert van Marwijk was forced to field Dutch questions about the supposedly laborious performances of his team.
Admittedly, there has not been much of the legendary Total Football from the Oranje. But what would England give to have played two matches, have six points, scored three goals, a guaranteed place in the knockout phase, and still have the sense that there is plenty more to come?
Van Marwijk said with a degree of irony in his post-match press conference: "All we want is beautiful football and a 5-0 at half-time. I have tried to explain that at this level you cannot score immediately... You have to focus on making the difference."
Surely the Dutch do not need to be reminded of Euro 2008? Holland won Group C, which included Italy and France, by five points after a 100 per cent record. Marco van Basten's side were playing one-touch, ruthless, counter-attacking football that had the continent purring. But they simply ran out of steam against Russia in the quarter-finals. It is best not to peak too soon.
* Last week this column dedicated time to the criticism being painted onto Dunga's Brazil for their defensive and pragmatic approach that reflects that of the manager and not the nation.
However, while they are not on a par with the teams of 1970 or 1982, the five-time champions gave a sneak peak of their potential against Ivory Coast on Sunday evening as they eventually turned on the famous samba style.
Perhaps Dunga is an avid reader of Lessons learnt? Not only did his team show a bit of panache, he also ditched the fisherman's friend, woolly turtleneck, which earned comment from my colleague Alex 'Jean Paul Gaultier' Dunn, in favour of a casual, radioactive salmon-coloured shirt.
Brazil were understandably outraged by the shameless theatrics of Kader Keita in earning Kaka a suspension just when the Real Madrid man appeared to be finding some sort of form. But, while they would also do well to remember the acts of Rivaldo against Turkey in 2002, on the overall evidence there is no need for panic.
Possession, as they say, is ninth tenths of the law. Fifa's official website lists Brazil's completion rate of 1260 attempted passes at the World Cup as 83 per cent. England's record from 1093 attempted passes is 73%... Say no more.