1 December 2009 ~ In all the righteous bluster that followed the Thierry Henry controversy, there was one man who felt even more hard done by than the Irish players and fans. "We've just qualified for the World Cup," said French coach Raymond Domenech, when asked for his post-match thoughts. "Can't you just let me enjoy this moment of happiness?" Some may say that Domenech should content himself with remaining in his job, but this would ignore the incredibly charmed life that he's led since taking over in July 2004.
Domenech's reign has been beset by public fall-outs with players (Pires, Trezeguet etc) and he survived the humiliation of France's most successful generation of players (Zidane, Makélélé, Thuram) recalling themselves from retirement to help out a stricken team during World Cup 2006 qualification. A public rebuke from the French Football Federation (FFF) followed for the shambolic display at Euro 2008, where Domenech's own analysis of failure involved eschewing the football itself and proposing to his long-term partner Estelle Denis live on television, after the defeat by Italy. So seeing him try and squirm out of a tight spot in front of the media with a display of ham-fisted ineptitude that makes Phil Brown look like Jose Mourinho is merely par for the course.
Domenech's excruciatingly bad relationship with the press was a major pillar of the FFF's post-Euro "review" of his performance. FFF president Jean-Pierre Escalettes referred to the coach's media relations as "at times disastrous" and further chided Domenech for his "aggression" and "lack of transparency", comments that haven't sunk in. This goes a long way to explaining the constant leaking of stories aimed at undermining the coach, such as Henry's reported dressing-room criticism of him. Others simply aim to ridicule him, with a story in the week leading up to the play-off revealing Domenech applied for the Ireland job in late 2002 before being overlooked in favour of Brian Kerr.
His ducking of the Henry handball arguably brought more ire upon Domenech than the player himself. Henry's father Tony criticised the coach in a France Football interview for not sticking up for his son. Henry Sr went on to thank Zidane for his support, while elsewhere on the same page Patrick Vieira defended Henry and said he would have done the same as the striker in the circumstances – reflecting why these two in particular are credited with France's run to the 2006 World Cup final rather than Domenech.
So how has he kept his job? Domenech is cheap, earning less than a tenth of Fabio Capello's £5 million annual salary. There is also a paucity of alternatives – Laurent Blanc of reigning champions Bordeaux, for example, is likely to have his pick of top-notch club posts come the season's end. FFF vice-president Noël Le Graët moved swiftly post-Ireland to kill speculation that Domenech would be replaced following France's dismal showing, so the federation are blindly hoping they will muddle through. They failed to fire Domenech after the Euros or the dire start to World Cup qualification, so short of setting fire to the Elysée Palace on an official visit, he will lead France into the 2010 World Cup. Andy Brassell