Raymond Domenech might just be the luckiest man in football. Seventeen days after his France side were dumped out of Euro 2008 following three wretched performances, the Féderation Français de Football (FFF) today announced it would be holding onto the coach’s services for another two years, much to the disbelief of French fans and media. Despite France’s disastrous results in Austria and Switzerland, a meeting with the 56 year-old coach led to 18 of the FFF’s 21-member federal council voting in favour of Domenech’s tenure, with one abstention and two absentees. France’s uninspired displays at Euro 2008 earned them just one point in the game with Romania, which was followed by successive defeats against Holland and Italy. Throughout the tournament Les Bleus appeared consistently lethargic and uninspired, with many players seemingly lacking motivation, including Thierry Henry, who scored his side’s only goal of the tournament in the loss to Holland.
Moments after France’s 2-0 defeat to Italy, Domenech appeared on live French soccer show 100% Foot, where he was invited to explain his side’s apathetic exit from the tournament. The unapologetic Domenech avoided the question, instead taking the opportunity to propose to M6 channel hostess, Estelle Denis, who also happens to be his girlfriend and mother of his two children. “The only thing I can think of in this moment is for me to marry Estelle,” he said during the interview en direct. “It is in moments such as this that one needs close relations. And now I need them.” When he did finally address the issue of Euro 2008, he blamed France’s abject failure on bad luck, harsh refereeing and unfavourable weather.
A defender with Lyon, Strasbourg, Paris Saint-Germain and Bordeaux who won eight caps for France, since taking over the national team in 2004 Domenech’s relationship with the French public, and press, has been strained. A keen amateur dramatist and astrologer, his team selection and tactics have often raised eyebrows. He is said to be distrustful of those born under the sign of Scorpio, resulting in his decision to leave Robert Pires out of the World Cup squad in 2006. Ludovic Giuly was also omitted after rumours led Domenech to suspect the Barcelona midfielder of having an affair with Denis. In his autobiography, Giuly claims he and Estelle only ever exchanged one text message, and that “Estelle Denis doesn’t attract me — we never had a relationship, or wanted to have one.” Domenech was somewhat reprieved after France finished runners-up in Germany, but in August 2007, he refused to accept Claude Makalele’s retirement from international football, forcing the Chelsea midfielder to participate in qualifying games for Euro 2008 and the tournament itself. The exclusion without explanation of other talented players — particularly Philippe Mexes and Matthieu Flamini — from this year’s squad left fans frustrated and mystified.
Given his troubled history, not to mention France’s shameful recent form, Domenech was expected to be replaced following this latest débacle. Despite obtaining the support of current captain Patrick Viera, several members of France’s 1998 World Cup-winning side — including Bixente Lizarazu, Christophe Dugarry and even Zinedine Zidane — had spoken out against Domenech’s methods, calling for former captain Didier Deschamps to be offered the job. Even FFF president Jean-Pierre Escalettes — one of Domenech’s supporters — had harsh words for his coach. Speaking immediately after the council’s decision, he revealed how Domenech had admitted making “a whole series of mistakes” during his time in charge, citing “public relations that were at times disastrous because they were too personalised” and “excessive aggression and a lack of transparency” as combining to “rub salt in wounds”.
A sense of relief grew amongst French journalists as Escalettes seemed to seal Domenech’s fate: “Euro 2008 was a resounding failure, not very glorious from a sporting view point and, perhaps more seriously, in terms of how it tarnished the image of the French national team. The first person responsible is the manager. He isolated himself, and today he explained to us how. The players share responsibility too, as do the president off the FFF and the members of the federal council who didn’t want to detect the failure because of the success of 2006.”
Then came the unexpected news. “If we were going to look for someone else, there would be a period of uncertainty,” pondered Escalettes, before adding, bizarrely, “The bravest solution is not to go with what the public or the media want.” Escalettes did not remind anyone of the fact that he had also granted Domenech a two-year extension to his contract on the eve of Euro 2008. He did attempt to fan flames by announcing that Domenech’s position will be reassessed after the first three qualifying games for the 2010 World Cup. Escalettes has been henceforth warned to “communicate only about the team, not his own mood and feelings.”