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"It little profits that an idle king, By this still hearth, among these barren crags, Match'd with an agèd wife, I mete and dole Unequal laws unto a savage race, That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me."

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Le problème

Alan has listed the French equivalents of some common footballing terms. The one term he seems to have missed is le problème - the problem with French football.

World Cup winners in 1998. European Champions in 2000. Knocked out of the first round in the 2002 World Cup! Toothless in Euro 2004. And a tame draw against the Swiss in the first game, a few days ago. What is the problem with the French side?

The French look depleted. Most of the players of that inspiring midfield that trampled over opponents at the turn of the century are either missing or are past their prime. Zidane, for example, is hardly the player we used to regard with awe and admiration. So is Vieira, who seems to have taken to the Italian value of efficieny rather than pace, creativity and slick passing which marked his Gunner days. Trezeguet... the lesser said, the better.

They do have some quick and effective players though. Wiltord and Malouda who play for French Champions, Olympique Lyonnais, are fleet-footed. But their main man is Thierry Henry. France now see Henry like what India used to see Tendulkar as in the 90s. If France go on to win the World Cup, you can be certain that Henry will be one of the contenders for the Golden Boot.

Maybe I'll be accused of being radical or stupid or both... but can France afford to drop Henry? The reason behind this suggestion is that the Henry we know and we see all around the year plays at the head of a very young Arsenal midfield. There is Fabregas, Hleb, Reyes and even Pires (whose pace hides the fact that he is on the wrong side of 30). The Henry who plays for Arsenal relies on them to provide him with excellent through-balls, to play one-twos with him and bomb the opposition with the swiftness of their attack.

Sadly, Raymond Domenech cannot provide him with what Arsene Wenger does. Domenech gives Henry a big-name player called Zizou. He can give him a sluggish Trezeguet. At the head of such a midfield, Henry will get limited service. He cannot play a ball from wide position and expect the quick feet of van Persie to tap it in. It was on view during the Swtizerland game. Domenech cannot create an El Dorado for Henry. Despite his credentials as one of the top strikers in the world, he cannot produce goals unless he is fed amply.

Given this situation, Domenech can (and I'm sure he won't; no one expects him to, not even I) ask some other striker, someone who can tolerate a depleted midfield, who can be slow enough to strangle the French advance, to train instead of Henry. Thierry Henry is a great player. But it is not his burden to win the World Cup for his country -- surely not with this team. Let us relieve him of such a strain.

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