Talented, undoubtedly, but troubled, too, and these are turbulent times for Laurent Blanc and his apparently dysfunctional team after Samir Nasri’s latest altercation with the press following France’s exit from Euro 2012 at the hands of Spain on Saturday.
Just like the Dutch team of the ’90s, France seem incapable of getting through a major tournament without making headlines for all the wrong reasons. Tensions in the camp came to the surface after defeat to Sweden last Tuesday, simmered all week and then burst dramatically after the French lost 2-0 to the reigning champions.
And at the heart of it is Samir Nasri, the player once referred to as a ‘rat in the dressing room’ by his former Arsenal team-mate William Gallas, and the player identified — anonymously of course — by members of the current squad as the leading source of friction in the French camp.
Nasri blew up spectacularly on Saturday night, laying into one French reporter with a tirade of expletives and offering to settle the argument outside the mixed zone, which is where media and players are supposed to meet and exchange polite — and sometimes not so polite — conversation after a match.
The Man City midfielder took the latter course to the extreme, turning on a reporter from Agence France Presse (AFP) with a four-letter outburst when asked for his thoughts. “You are looking for shit, looking for trouble,” he is reported to have said. “Fuck you, go fuck your mother, you son of a bitch.”
He then offered the reporter outside, before being hustled away to the team coach, leaving Blanc to pick up the pieces of yet another PR disaster for the Football Federation Francais (FFF).
Blanc had dropped Nasri from the starting line-up after the former Arsenal star was involved in a dressing room row with team-mate Alou Diarra following the Sweden defeat.
Blanc said: “There is a problem between the press and Samir Nasri. It was embarrassing and regrettable. If it is true, it is disrespectful to the journalist.
“This is unfortunate for his personal image and that of the national team. I’ve already told Samir what I had to say, but obviously the message did not go well.”
It is not the first time Nasri has been in trouble. Apart from Gallas’s infamous rodent reference, Nasri offended senior French players by taking Thierry Henry’s seat on the team coach at Euro 2008. Only a fortnight ago he celebrated his equaliser against England by making a gesture towards the French media suggesting they ‘shut up’ about him. It prompted FFF president Noel Le Graet to say: “It is difficult behaviour and we will be looking at his problem.”
It is possible that Nasri will be reprimanded, but whether any sanctions are taken against him in terms of his place in the team may depend on whether Blanc stays as coach or is tempted by a return to club management, with Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy ready to begin discussions now that France are out of the Euros.
Blanc has worked hard to repair the damage done under his predecessor Raymond Domenech, whose players staged a minor French revolution at the World Cup in South Africa and returned home without a victory but with much vindictiveness from the public.
After Saturday’s defeat in Donetsk, Blanc admitted he was more upset by losing to Sweden than to Spain, as it meant his side dropped behind England in Group D and had to face the world and European champions in the quarter-finals.
“Over the past five years, teams have tried everything to beat the Spanish and lost because they are the best team in Europe.
“There is no shame in the way we played — we were realistic and wanted to keep it goalless until half-time. Apart from their first goal, Hugo Lloris was not otherwise disturbed.”
Xabi Alonso put Spain ahead with a thumping header in the 19th minute and the former Liverpool midfielder completed victory with a stoppage-time penalty to celebrate a century of international appearances.
“I was really pleased to win my 100th cap, get to the semi-finals and score two goals. Hopefully my 101st cap will be even better,” said the Real Madrid midfielder.
Spain’s semi-final on Wednesday pits Alonso against his Real Madrid team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal. They were fierce rivals when Alonso was at Anfield and Ronaldo played for Manchester United, and the Spaniard said: “We know Portugal very well, they know us very well and it’ll be a tough match.”
Team-mate Xavi added: “Portugal are really tough, much better than they were in the World Cup. They have improved and matured. They defend very well and are so dangerous on the wing with Nani and Cristiano, who are players that can dribble, connect with others can both shoot brilliantly.”
Coach Vicente Del Bosque admitted his players looked tired in a less than sparkling show at the Donbass Arena, but will raise themselves once more for the battle of the Iberian peninsula.
And Cesc Fabregas believes there is extra pressure on Spain now that they are world and European champions. “Four years ago when we won in the quarter-finals we were all together jumping up and down in the middle of the pitch celebrating.
“We were saluting the fans and our families, we felt the joy of success when we beat Italy on penalties. And now it seems like an obligation, something normal.
“But these are the wins that we have to treasure most because they are so tough. We’ve won a Euro and a World Cup and now we’re already back in the semi-finals. It’s brutal. To think of Spain in this way was unthinkable six years ago. But we’ve changed that mentality and we have to stay on top.”
Subs for Spain: Pedro for Silva 65, Torres for Fabregas 67, Santi Cazorla for Iniesta 84.
Subs for France: Menez for Debuchy 64, Nasri for Malouda 64, Giroud for M’Vila 79.
Ref: Nicola Rizzoli (Italy).