Why France’s win has left me unsatisfied

Marty Gleason Roar Pro

By Marty Gleason, Marty Gleason is a Roar Pro

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    There is something not quite right about France’s World Cup win.

    That’s right, there is something unsatisfying about a young team that just won the World Cup, that is capable of repeated four-goal efforts in knockout World Cup matches, and has just unearthed the most exciting, fulfilling teen dream tale for 60 years.

    France are very likely the most individually talented national team that has ever existed. Apart from their right-back, left-back and centre forward (Olivier Giroud did not register a single shot on target for the tournament), France have a better player in every position than any other team in Russia.

    Hugo Lloris is the best keeper. Central defenders Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti are the backbones of superteams Real Madrid and Barcelona and both scored to win the quarter and semi-final. N’Golo Kante is sometimes the best defensive mid.

    Paul Pogba, though inconsistent if played out of position, is sometimes the best attacking mid. Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe are already among the top five or so forwards in the world.

    So why do they play like they do?

    Why were they so uninspiring in all three group matches? Why did Argentina have a great chance for the 4-4 tying goal? Why did France strangle their matches against Uruguay and Belgium? Why were they so terrible for an entire hour against Croatia?

    Antoine Griezmann celebrates scoring against Australia

    French players celebrate scoring a goal at the 2018 FIFA World Cup during a match in Kazan, Russia. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

    It’s true that previous World Cup winners Spain and Germany ground their way to their World Cup victories this decade. Football is a clunky sport and it’s arguably impossible to not have to sweat 1-0 wins against highly-committed opponents at the business end of a World Cup.

    Unless, you know, you have an insanely gifted forward line that can pop home four goals even on an off day. Like, oh I don’t know, France.

    But the difference is that Spain and Germany, even though established world stars, were committed to playing at their maximum, to all hands to the pump. Spain had the same issues as France – why don’t they cut loose? – but were not nearly as penetrative as France 2018.

    France playing at their hypothetical maximum could take the sport to places never seen. They could conceivably have scored three-plus goals in every match, rendering the odd concession irrelevant, like Mario Mandzukic’s blooper-package goal was in the final.

    But beyond this, France are winning for the same reason Real Madrid won the last three Champions Leagues. Because Real can pull out three goals on three isolated plays per game because their catalogue players have the skills to score every time they attack. France can simply pull out two brilliant long shots by Pogba and Mbappe to end it even though they did not have a shot on goal in the first half (the penalty excepted).

    Why would either team have to buy into something greater than themselves? They don’t have to. They do not have to create a collective greater than the sum of its parts. They do not have to aspire to the intangible greatness of players working out passing moves, suffering together, being each others’ mates for two decades. They just have to give the ball to Mbappe and sit back, or have Varane head in a corner kick.

    Kylian Mbappe celebrates scoring for France

    Kylian Mbappe of France (Photo by Michael Regan – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

    France manager Didier Deschamps was committed to the opposite, to making France less than the sum of its parts. The expert, hardworking forward Griezmann produced as much simulation as Neymar. Mbappe spent as much time running the ball towards the corner flag as being Pele II.

    The individuality of France’s attacking, as well as the social disfunction of their previous squads, segways perfectly into France’s representation of the stereotypical worst traits of our newest generations.

    Paul Pogba has admittedly been misused in his career, including by Deschamps, and did deliver at Russia 2018. He is a player, not a marketer, and #Pogback was not his fault. But Manchester United’s ridiculous #Pogback campaign, where the club paid €105 million for a player who had just led France to one of the greatest chokes of modern times against Portugal and then Man Utd to sixth place, summed up the Kardashian type of culture of hype over actual deeds, social media mattering more than wins and losses.

    It is easier to wreck stuff than build it. That is a law of the universe. It applies to logistics, construction, war and peace, politics, classrooms, administration and the attack versus defence aspects of sport. Unless, you have been blessed with extraordinary gifts.

    In which case, goddammit, it’s your duty to transcend the mundane.

    So, I was more compelled by the tidy, committed play of Croatia, who built their first half together, who delivered their best play on D-day, against a team who surely didn’t.

    An old French legend often repeated is that Napoleon, when promoting his generals, was more concerned with whether the new man was lucky than whether he was skilled.

    After watching an own goal that sprung from a dive and a snippy penalty that was the result of Super Slow Motion (Trademark), allowing a team with no organic shots on goal to go into halftime with a 2-1 lead over a team with seven, Napoleon would have been more than pleased with the choice of Deschamps.

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    The Crowd Says (15)

    • July 17th 2018 @ 3:56am
      Kurt said | July 17th 2018 @ 3:56am | ! Report

      “Yeah, sure we won the world cup by scoring four goals in the final, but I’m just a little unsatisfied that we didn’t score 5 or even 6”.

      Said no fan of a world cup winning team ever.

      • Roar Pro

        July 17th 2018 @ 6:38am
        Marty Gleason said | July 17th 2018 @ 6:38am | ! Report

        I’m not French, I don’t have to submit to that. They’re certainly a very good enigma though that they can play that shithouse and still score four goals.

    • Roar Pro

      July 17th 2018 @ 6:36am
      Marty Gleason said | July 17th 2018 @ 6:36am | ! Report

      My original line was, “Olivier Giroud did not register a single shot on target for the tournament, lol.” The Roar’s editorial style is a bit too serious sometimes.

    • July 17th 2018 @ 8:08am
      chris said | July 17th 2018 @ 8:08am | ! Report

      It does make you wonder where this French team could go if really pushed and were coach by someone less encumbered.
      It appeared Griezman was in first gear in every game. Totally different to how he busts a lung for At Madrid in the games I’ve seen him in.
      What exactly does a coach tell these types of players? The whole French side looked like a Ferrari at full speed but with the handbrake on.

    • July 17th 2018 @ 8:21am
      Fadida said | July 17th 2018 @ 8:21am | ! Report

      So Croatia were at their maximum and France cruising? And France could have scored 6 or 7. That’s impressive.

      France went unbeaten through the competition (with a much tougher run) and are unsatisfying. England lose 3/7 and are feted. I realise expectations were different but it’s amazing that Deschamps is being widely questioned despite winning the bl00dy World Cup!

      Who’s to say that had they played an expansive game that they would have been knocked out by a sucker punch?? Deschamps played the odds with an admittedly talented squad. His job was to win. He did it.

      As for Giroud, he was an excellent linkman. Ronaldo scored 4 but went out in the second round. It’s a team game. I know what I’d rather. FYI, Stephan Guivarch failed to score in the 98 tournament. France also won that.

      • Roar Guru

        July 17th 2018 @ 9:09am
        JamesH said | July 17th 2018 @ 9:09am | ! Report

        Well said. It really irritates me that people think France have some sort of obligation to play a certain style. France did what all champions do: they made sure they won. Not that averaging 2.67 goals per game in the knockouts suggests a dour performance.

        Belgium were feted for playing beautiful, attacking football… except they only beat one team of note (by ceding possession and counter-attacking, funnily enough) and were very nearly knocked out by Japan in the round of 16. De Bruyne and Lukaku were exciting in attack, but they didn’t buy into team defence to the extent that Griezmann, Mbappe and Pogba did.

        The last paragraph is just silly, too. France had luck in the first half of the final but it was skill that got them there and skill that finished Croatia off after the break. For all of Croatia’s effort they had only four shots on target for the match (the 7 in the first half Marty refers to was total shots). That’s not a figure which is going to beat a high-quality side very often.

        Maybe instead of criticising Deschamps, people should be criticising the tactical failings of his opposing coaches, who generally failed to force France to adopt a plan B. A football match can be a ridiculously unpredictable thing, which is why tournaments are usually won by sides who build their game around a strong defensive ethos.

    • July 17th 2018 @ 9:07am
      Torchbearer said | July 17th 2018 @ 9:07am | ! Report

      But big tournament football is always an odd beast- they got their hands on to the trophy, and in the end that is all that counts!

      • July 17th 2018 @ 9:40am
        MQ said | July 17th 2018 @ 9:40am | ! Report

        That’s it, Deschamps’ methods are a bit uninspiring, we’d all agree there, but it was a winning formula, and no matter how predictable that formula was, both Argentina and Croatia leapt headlong into it, while Belgium failed to pick it apart.

    • Roar Rookie

      July 17th 2018 @ 11:08am
      The Phantom Commissioner said | July 17th 2018 @ 11:08am | ! Report

      Weird old team and just seemed to do what they had to, any time they were challenged they rose to it and were only behind in the tournament for 9 mins. It is pretty rare World Cup winners play exciting attacking football, Spain probably really the only one in recent memory.

      • July 17th 2018 @ 11:56am
        MQ said | July 17th 2018 @ 11:56am | ! Report

        In truth, even Spain knew all about being pragmatic when it mattered (all the best teams know it).

      • July 17th 2018 @ 12:20pm
        RandyM said | July 17th 2018 @ 12:20pm | ! Report

        This French team and Germany in 2014 were more exciting than Spain in my opinion. Spain just held possession and won most games 1-0. Italy 2006 were truly boring, very defensive team.

        • Roar Rookie

          July 17th 2018 @ 7:07pm
          The Phantom Commissioner said | July 17th 2018 @ 7:07pm | ! Report

          I’m probably speaking in terms more of intent, teams set up to stop Spain playing so yes they didn’t blow teams away 4-0 every match.

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