France keep up their tradition of infighting
France v Spain, June 23, 7.45pm
June 23 ~ Another tournament, another row in the France camp. Followers of les Bleus who felt internal bust-ups had been left behind at the 2010 World Cup will have to think again. Two years ago, Nicolas Anelka was sent home after expletives he launched at coach Raymond Domenech made it on to the front page of sports daily L'Equipe. There were unsubstantiated rumours that midfielder Yoann Gourcuff was the victim of bullying at the hands of other squad members. So the story that broke this week had a familiar ring.
Thursday's L'Equipe revealed an angry exchange of words between coach Laurent Blanc and Hatem Ben Arfa followed France's 2-0 defeat to Sweden. The paper said Blanc scolded Ben Arfa for using his phone in the dressing-room. Ben Arfa snapped back that Blanc had been wrong to substitute him and could send him home if he wanted.
The paper also detailed a clash between Alou Diarra and Samir Nasri. Diarra – one of the squad's older players and a former captain – criticised his team-mates for their lack of motivation and tactical discipline. Nasri told him to speak more politely.
Florent Malouda admitted the players launched verbal "missiles" as tensions rose. "Yes, things got a bit heated," admitted Blanc on Wednesday. "These things happen in a dressing-room, especially after a defeat. It shows there's a bit of a spark. I hope there'll be a spark on the pitch against Spain."
What is perhaps most surprising is that more people did not flag up the potential for conflict before the tournament. Ben Arfa, Karim Benzema and Nasri are members of the "1987 Generation" that were tipped for greatness for more than a decade, but chippiness is always near the surface.
Ben Arfa was argumentative at first club Lyon to the point that he and Benzema were barely on speaking terms when Ben Arfa left for Marseille. Nasri fell out with William Gallas at Euro 2008, then refused to speak to the centre-half at Arsenal or shake hands after Gallas moved to Tottenham.
Ben Arfa and Nasri may have time to ruminate on the bench against Spain. The Newcastle winger disappointed against Sweden and is expected to make way for Jeremy Menez for Saturday's quarter-final. L'Equipe have suggested that Nasri slows France's attacks. The Manchester City midfielder made an average of 3.7 touches in possession against Sweden. Only three times out of 50 did he release the ball first time.
Blanc is nicknamed "le President". He'll need all his political nous for France to upset the holders. James Eastham