New French coach promises change
New France coach Laurent Blanc was "outraged" by the behaviour of certain players during the World Cup debacle and plans to rebuild the national team with only players he can trust.
Blanc inherited a team devoid of confidence, as Raymond Domenech's troubled six-year reign ended with rifts and infighting after the team went on strike at a training session shortly before its World Cup ended in the group stage.
"What bothers me is that, after the World Cup, a new coach should be able to lean on a hard core [of players]," Blanc said Tuesday at his first news conference. "This hard core is not even a melon's pip. ... My task is to find a hard core within this team."
Blanc plans to meet with players shortly so he can sort out who forms a part of his future plans.
"I can't act like nothing happened in South Africa, it wouldn't go down well. I followed the events, as you all did, with a lot of sadness," Blanc said. "I was outraged by certain behaviour ... it's a delicate situation, there are certainly meetings to be had."
The 44-year-old Blanc's first game is an away friendly against Norway on Aug. 11, followed by a Euro 2012 home qualifier against Belarus on Sept. 3.
"Of course I will speak to those concerned. We will speak about the future, and about what happened in South Africa," he said. "I will make my choices, and perhaps among my choices there will be a sporting punishment that means certain players who were present in South Africa are not among my choices."
Blanc is fully aware that the climate is so bad that he is immediately under huge pressure.
"Everyone wishes me luck. I get the impression I'm heading toward suicide, or the guillotine," Blanc said. "I hope this climate will change with results."
Blanc has some key decisions to make, and little time.
The trouble with Evra
Federation official and former international Lilian Thuram -- Blanc's teammate at the 1998 World Cup and at Euro 2000 -- has already said defender Patrice Evra should never play again for France because he was the captain who led the strike.
Evra was stripped of the captaincy by Domenech and dropped for the final game against South Africa, which France lost 2-1.
Blanc intends to speak with Evra, and others like Franck Ribery, Thierry Henry, William Gallas and Eric Abidal -- reportedly the five main instigators in the mutiny -- before deciding whether he picks them again.
"There are very few people who can tell you what really happened. I think I know a few of them," he said. "And knowing them well, I think if I have a meeting with them, they will tell me what really happened."
Blanc insists only those "with the right mentality and team spirit" will be chosen as he rebuilds the team and designates its new leader.
"It's possible that the captain changes in every match in the games to come," he added.
Domenech's team disgraced itself at the World Cup, when in the space of a few days it completely fall apart, causing politicians to fly to South Africa to try and save face, and answers to be demanded by a shocked nation.
The problems started when sports newspaper L'Equipe published details of Nicolas Anelka's expletive-filled rant at Domenech the day after France lost 2-0 to Mexico in their second group match.
Anelka was sent home, and the next day the entire squad sat on the team bus, refusing to train in protest at Anelka's dismissal. The bizarre images, including one FFF official storming off and screaming he was "ashamed," were shown live.
"What shocked me the most, what disappointed me the most, was the behaviour of the squad during the public training session, 48 hours before a match," Blanc said. "[The decision to strike] was thought through and badly thought through."
Evra also had a lively altercation with the team's fitness coach, and Domenech -- shunned by his own players -- had to read out a letter on behalf of his players explaining their strike.
France went out for the second consecutive tournament without winning a game, after its humiliating first-round exit from Euro 2008.
Given the players' fall from grace, Blanc demanded a new attitude.
"People will have to show a certain amount if humility," he said. "At a certain point in time our national team could say 'We're going to the European Championship to win it' ... I don't think we'll even be in the top 10 FIFA rankings now. We will need to be a bit humble, given that we're in a total rebuilding phase."
Speaking to a packed news conference, Blanc pledged to improve working relations with the media -- fraught relations that became non-existent with Domenech.
In a thinly veiled swipe at Domenech, Blanc insisted France must stop isolating itself. Domenech's training camps were held far away from the public eye, with no interaction with fans.
"I don't envisage a team living behind closed doors, cut off from the world," Blanc said. "I think football has to open itself up. In other sports it happens, and the results are good. We should be able to do it. We have an effort to make."
Blanc replied with a firm and blunt "No" when asked if he had spoken to the unpopular Domenech since taking over.