By any objective assessment, France should win Euro 2020. They are, in the words of Arsene Wenger, the ‘super favourites’ and it isn’t hard to see why.
They are the reigning world champions, for one thing, and Didier Deschamps could probably pick two different teams from his squad that would challenge for the trophy.
This incredible depth of talent, from Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann to Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante, makes them the team everyone must aspire to beat this summer. Most pundits would agree it’s their Euros to lose.
So why can’t they all just get along with each other? Mon dieu!
Didier Deschamps hugs a frustrated Kylian Mbappe after taking him off against Bulgaria
Olivier Giroud blamed Mbappe for not passing to him enough, sparking a bitter row
A resounding 3-0 win over Bulgaria in their final Euro warm-up was completely overshadowed by a spat between Mbappe and Olivier Giroud that has shattered the harmony in the camp.
Giroud was furious that certain players didn’t supply him the ball often enough, saying: ‘Sometimes you make the runs and the ball is not arriving. People could have found each other, there it is.’
That was taken as a criticism of Mbappe primarily and the Paris Saint-Germain forward was so annoyed he threatened to make an angry statement to the press in response to Giroud’s remarks.
Mbappe, for his part, was slammed for negative body language during the friendly with former France international Johan Micoud saying, ‘It’s becoming embarrassing… when he came off the pitch it was as if the team had lost 4-0. At some point it is not all about you.’
With Karim Benzema an injury doubt for France’s Euro opener against Germany on Tuesday after taking a knock to the knee, Mbappe and Giroud had better patch things up quickly.
With the recalled Benzema suffering an injury scare, Mbappe and Giroud need to make up
France coach Didier Deschamps checks on Benzema’s condition after he left the field
Otherwise, as we’ve seen before with France at major tournaments, a little bit of friction could rapidly escalate into a full-blown meltdown.
And although France may be the ‘super favourites’, they do have to negotiate the designated ‘Group of Death’ containing Germany, Portugal and Hungary.
England, second favourites to win the tournament with the bookmakers, could await in the last-16.
When France avoid squad discord, things usually come together quite spectacularly, as in 1998, 2000 or 2018. But when it goes wrong, it all comes crashing down both on and off the pitch.
The most famous French implosion came at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Having only qualified thanks to Thierry Henry’s infamous handball against the Republic of Ireland – in a play-off because Serbia pipped a lacklustre France to top spot in their qualifying group – things started to go wrong before the tournament.
Patrice Evra (left) walks away after his bust-up with fitness coach Robert Duverne (second right) during the player mutiny that sent France’s 2010 World Cup into meltdown
Nicolas Anelka was sent home from the World Cup after an outburst at coach Domenech
After coach Raymond Domenech insisted his players climb glaciers and take part in a biathlon during a training camp in the ski resort of Tignes, William Gallas rolled a dune buggy during a race with team-mates and Lassana Diarra withdrew with a stomach condition.
When Domenech decided to drop Henry for Nicolas Anelka for France’s first game, a dire goalless draw with Uruguay, the spark of rebellion was lit.
There were constant jibes being exchanged within the camp and after a 2-0 loss to Mexico left France teetering on the brink of elimination, Anelka confronted Domenech after being subbed off at half-time and said: ‘Go f*** yourself, you dirty son of a w****.’
Anelka was kicked out and told to fly home but the rest of the squad rebelled, with captain Patrice Evra the ringleader.
In front of South African fans and the world’s TV cameras at an open training session, Evra argued with Domenech and fuming fitness coach Robert Duverne.
William Gallas managed to roll a dune buggy in a race during France’s training camp in Tignes
Evra was at the centre of a player revolt during the tournament after Anelka was sent home
On the field, France were a shambles as they crashed out following the group stages
It turned out Evra was explaining the players’ position before the squad just halted the training session, got back on the bus and drew the curtains.
A 2-1 defeat to hosts South Africa was the final indignity for France, who finished bottom of their group, in a tournament that saw one calamity after another.
There had been a similar shambles under Domenech at Euro 2008, when they collected only one point from three group games and the coach was accused of tactical mistakes that nullified France’s talent.
Arguments between Arsenal team-mates Samir Nasri and Gallas created a bad atmosphere within the group, with the defender recounting an incident at the tournament when Nasri sat in Henry’s seat on the team bus, sparking a row.
When France lost to Italy to exit the tournament early, Domenech tried to deflect from his own failings by proposing to his TV presenter girlfriend Estelle Denis live on air right after the game.
‘I had a moment of human weakness,’ he admitted later and somehow remained in the job.
Thierry Henry’s dejection against Italy sums up France’s terrible Euro 2008 campaign
Coach Raymond Domenech was fortunate to remain in his post following the shambles
Other French failures have come more from unexpected shortcomings on the field.
Their 2002 World Cup debacle, when they were stunned by Senegal in the tournament opener and crashed out after the group stage, is a parable for not assuming too much even as favourites.
France were the reigning world and European champions at that time but somewhere between Zinedine Zidane tearing a quadricep muscle – the Gallic equivalent of David Beckham’s metatarsal that year – and the likes of Marcel Desailly, Frank Leboeuf and Youri Djorkaeff being made to look past it, everything unravelled very quickly.
They were strong favourites the last time round in 2016, as well, enjoyed home advantage and seemed to be gaining momentum as the tournament went on.
In the 2002 World Cup, France were stunned by Senegal then exited after the group stage
Antoine Griezmann stands amid Portugal celebrations after the Euro 2016 final defeat
Paul Pogba cuts a dejected figure as he applauds fans following the Euro 2016 final loss
And when Cristiano Ronaldo limped off 25 minutes into the final with Portugal, it seemed glory beckoned. Yet they blew this golden chance, losing 1-0 thanks to Eder’s extra time winner.
‘The disappointment is immense, there are no words to describe this feeling,’ said Deschamps.
Would it have ended differently had Benzema been in the team? The Real Madrid forward was frozen out in November 2015 for his alleged part in a sex tape blackmail plot involving his international colleague Mathieu Valbuena.
The trial will finally take place later this year but that hasn’t stopped Deschamps sanctioning Benzema’s return to the France fold after brilliant form for Real.
Karim Benzema has returned to the France fold after almost six years in international exile
Benzema’s international career resumed with appearances against Wales and Bulgaria in the pre-tournament friendlies and France can only hope and pray his return to the side doesn’t cause any issues.
Defusing the row between Mbappe and Giroud, two key players in the French attack, will be an urgent priority for Deschamps.
If the dissent is allowed to fester, history tells us things can head downhill very quickly for France.