Thursday 12 June 2008

Domenech ready to master his mentors

Franck Ribéry could not outsmart the Romania defence

Having already endured one humbling experience at the hands of Dutch opposition, France coach Raymond Domenech will not be underestimating Marco van Basten's Netherlands side at the Stade de Suisse on Friday.

Ajax memory
Domenech began his playing career with hometown club Olympique Lyonnais in 1970, making the first of eight appearances for Les Bleus three years later. However, it was a team from outside France that first captured his imagination in his younger days. "[AFC] Ajax are the team I remember from my childhood," the former defender told "They played football the way it should be played. I've always admired the Dutch game."

Strasbourg defeat
After moving to RC Strasbourg in 1977 and winning the French title two years later, he had the opportunity to witness the Ajax machine at first hand in a European Champion Clubs' Cup quarter-final. The Amsterdammers ran out 4-0 aggregate winners, handing the French outfit a lesson that Domenech still remembers vividly. "They really were impressive," the 56-year-old said. "It was total football. They played, they took risks, there was constant movement – you couldn't catch them. It was beautiful to see them play and even when you were up against them you thought, 'But how do they do it?'."

Barcelona visit
Domenech made the transition from player to coach at his last club, FC Mulhouse, before returning to Lyon and guiding them into the top flight in 1989. His admiration for the Dutch way remained, however, and the Frenchman jumped at the chance to visit Johan Cruyff during his time as FC Barcelona coach. "For the third part of my coaching diploma, I did a report on Barcelona when Cruyff was there," he explained. "I spent an hour with him and observed training for a week. I was impressed by the logical way he explained ideas and then put them into place on the training ground. Often coaches say one thing but then the players play in a different way. With Cruyff, everything was totally coherent. As a coach, whatever option you choose, you need to be able to get your players to carry out the instructions in training, then in the games."

Traditional values
Times have changed and the Oranje no longer play with the same freedom that thrilled the football world in the 1970s. Nevertheless, in beating Italy 3-0 in their Group C opener on Monday, they showed that traditional values have not been totally forgotten. "Against Italy, we saw that they'd rediscovered some of those qualities," said the former France Under-21 coach, who took charge of the senior squad in 2004. "The fluidity of their play, the constant movement and even some of the runs [evoked memories of past teams]. We often talk about their technical quality, but when you see Giovanni van Bronckhorst run from his own penalty area to the opposition box for two of the goals, you know technique is not their only quality."

Romania stalemate
The contrasting fortunes of the two sides in their first matches means the emphasis is on France to seize the initiative in Berne. Les Bleus have been criticised in their homeland following the goalless draw with Romania, but Domenech considers the negative reaction unjustified. "We didn't win because Romania played well. People have to stop saying that if a team doesn't score it's only their fault. Everyone has forgotten that the Dutch didn't manage to score against Romania in two qualifying games. They're solid, well-organised and they know how to defend. Let's see if Italy find a solution [on Friday]."

Defensive strength
Like Romania, France's game is founded on a strong defence. The 2006 FIFA World Cup finalists have kept 15 clean sheets in their last 20 outings, had the joint-best defensive record in qualifying, and have not conceded in their last 459 minutes of football. These may not be the kind of statistics that would excite Cruyff yet Domenech explains that his primary role is to get his players playing to their strengths. "The only thing that matters is not conceding a goal and making sure you score yourselves. We want to have a solid defensive platform and have the possibility to accelerate. We have players who can break forward quickly from one end to the other. This is France's strength."