France’s national team coach between 2004 and 2010, Raymond Domenech knows a thing or two about FIFA World Cup™ Final Draws, having experienced two during his tenure. Capped eight times by his country as a player and a veteran of 79 internationals as coach, among them the Germany 2006 showpiece match, the former Bleus boss spoke to FIFA.com about the emotions that the Final Draw can arouse.
Domenech also discussed a number of other subjects at length, among them the choices he made at South Africa 2010, his hopes for France’s new breed over the next couple of years and the footballing philosophy of Pep Guardiola.
FIFA.com: You experienced the draws for the 2006 and 2010 World Cups. Were they particularly nerve-racking occasions for you?
Raymond Domenech: You feel stress beforehand. There’s so much pressure that builds up during the qualifiers, especially when you have to go through the play-offs, that the draw comes as something of a relief. You just say to yourself: ‘We’ve made it’. It’s a fresh start, and when you find out who you’re playing it makes the World Cup feel that bit closer. It’s more exciting than nerve-racking. You go there looking to catch up on things more than anything, but you’re also waiting to see who you’re going to be drawn against. You want to see the other coaches because it’s a chance to come together and chat. There’s not the pressure that comes with competition, and it’s an enjoyable occasion where everyone is friends. After that it’s different (laughs).
People said the draw for South Africa 2010 was a good one for France, with Uruguay, Mexico and South Africa providing the opposition in your section. Even so, Les Bleus were knocked out. Would it have been better to have been drawn against teams who, on paper at least, looked harder to beat?
It was the media who said the draw was a good one. Coaches never say things like that. Obviously everyone wanted to avoid getting the Netherlands and Brazil in their group, but we knew in any case that the three teams we were up against would play the games of their lives. The level was very high, with little to choose between the sides. In 2006 we got Czech Republic, Togo and Switzerland, whom we’d played in the qualifiers and really didn’t want to face again. That group was hell for us and we just scraped through in our final game. Even so, we then went all the way to the Final.
The fact you’ve qualified means that you’ve got the ability to go and do something, and it doesn’t matter whether we play Brazil or Jamaica.
So is the key then to stay grounded regardless of who you get in the Draw?
The key is to go with a competitive side. You know it’s going to be difficult and you want to go far. You don’t go there to play the victim, to dance samba or go sightseeing for a fortnight. You’re there to win the World Cup and go as far as you can. That’s the objective and you have to get that into your head from the start. It’s not a question of being grounded. That’s not the right word. The fact you’ve qualified means that you’ve got the ability to go and do something, and it doesn’t matter whether we play Brazil or Jamaica. It’s all the same. You have to go out there with the idea of winning all your games. The hard part comes when you’re out on the pitch. Everything can change depending on how the first match goes.
Do you think France’s young players, like Paul Pogba and Raphael Varane, are the ones who should be leading the team in Brazil?
The time has come for these players to show their quality. If by ‘leading the team’ you mean that they need to show they are strong and are good enough, then yes, they should be totally committed to it. They will have to be good. That’s what all of us in France are looking for. It takes time to become a leader in a team, though, and I don’t think you can take on that role at the age of 20 or 21. Zidane only started to lead the side when he was 26 or 27, for example. You can’t put the cart before the horse. If they can perform well and help the side out, then that will be enough in itself. Even [Karim] Benzema is still a young player when you think about it. He’s going to have the opportunity to prove that he is capable of bringing something to the team in a major competition.
Ever since 1998 France fans have expected Les Bleus to win games automatically, even though the players are not as talented as that generation were. Is that not where the problem lies?
That happens with every team. With the exception of the Brazilians, who can win the World Cup every four years, every country is confronted with generational issues, with peaks and troughs. Some handle them better than others, like the Germans, who still manage to reach the quarter-finals or the semis at major competitions even when they’re going through a lean spell. In our case, however, this is supposed to be our bad patch, right after the exceptional class of 1998-2006. But in that dip we’ve reached the final of the European U-17 Championship and won the U-20 World Cup, which shows that the potential is there, that there’s a new generation in place. I think we’re on the way up again and we’ll be competitive again at EURO 2016 and at the World Cups after that.
How did you go about handling the post-Zidane era?
During my six years as coach I could sense that change from an exceptional team featuring players at the peak of their powers to a generation that lost the thread a little. That’s the difference between building on a long tradition and succeeding a one-off generation. The way I see it, we’ve had a generation of heirs who lived off the achievements of their predecessors but who didn’t bring their knowledge to bear in the rebuilding process.
If you win, you’re the best in the world, and if you lose, you’re nothing. That’s the law of the land in our sport.
Have you identified any errors you might have made in 2010?
You can explain everything with hindsight. But if I go and say: ‘Ah, I shouldn’t have done this or that’, who can prove to me that I would have had more success doing things another way? That’s football. That’s life. When you do something there’s no point complaining about it or thinking that you should have done it differently. It’s too late. What’s done is done and you can’t change anything. There are some things that defy logic. You go against the grain because you have a hunch about something. That’s what being a coach is all about. Sometimes you mess up and sometimes you get it right. That’s what happened to me up to 2006. Everything was against me and I came in for some harsh criticism at the time. But I stuck to my guns and in the end the only thing that mattered was the result. If you win, you’re the best in the world, and if you lose, you’re nothing. That’s the law of the land in our sport.
You attach great importance to team play, which is a key virtue at Barcelona. What do you think of the people who say their style of play is boring?
They should change sport! Barça aren’t a team who move the ball around just out of principle, though that’s what you hear sometimes. They do it to create openings and find solutions. They entice the opposition so they can set them up and catch them off guard. And if you look closely at the work they do to get the ball back, it really is an art form. To my mind, team play is what you should be striving for, whether you play like Barça or you don’t. It’s all to do with how they work as a team, whether they’re attacking or defending. The essence of football is the relationship that you forge between players. The ball and the movements they make are the means for achieving that, and on top of that you have the magical qualities of the team.
Are you an admirer of the work Pep Guardiola did at Barcelona?
Yes, but I remember that Barcelona were already playing the same way before Guardiola, namely the Dutch style that the club brought in during the time of Johan Cruyff and then developed itself. Guardiola was brought up in that culture when he was a player, as a holding midfielder at the heart of the action and the team’s movements. It’s a system based on the team sticking together as one, and it works as long as everyone puts the effort in at the same time, in the same place and at the right time.
But he’s also enjoying success in Munich, which was a real challenge.
The fact that he’s managed to bring that culture to Bayern is very impressive, it has to be said. You can see them playing the ball short and hitting pass after pass, which wasn’t part of their make-up at the start. Then again, you can do things like that when you’re working with players as good as the ones he has in Munich. Guardiola has taken his tactical beliefs to a team that are the champions of Germany and Europe, and that’s a tough ask. It requires very strong convictions and an ability to make little changes here and there to the way they play. I think Bayern have been very smart in going for a different style of coach after the treble. When you’ve won the lot, if you rely on the same people again then you’re just repeating things and you run the risk of losing momentum. But when you change the culture it forces the players to question themselves and to focus harder on getting on board with the new project.