Domenech relies on the stars

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The morning after France reached the final, L’Equipe, the sports newspaper that functions as the palace gazette of French football, ran a celebratory photograph of the coach Raymond Domenech. The caption was: “He foresaw it all.” The astrologer on the bench is no longer reviled.

A month ago Domenech was not popular in France. Since taking charge in 2004 he had never fielded the same team two games running, had never produced attractive football, and had admitted to consulting the planets. There are no Scorpios in this squad. When Zinedine Zidane, Lilian Thuram and Claude Makelele returned from retirement last August to save Les Bleus, it seemed to happen regardless of Domenech.

Senior players pointedly didn’t mention his name in interviews. Domenech had also lost the public and media. His constant refrain that he would be in Berlin on July 9 sounded absurd.

He found his ideal team late. Only in May did he finally see that Thuram and William Gallas, who had both clamoured to play in central defence, might make a decent partnership. Only on May 27 did he give a debut to Frank Ribery. His intended 4-4-2 formation for the World Cup became 4-2-3-1 after Djibril Cissé’s broken leg. Only for the quarter-final against Brazil did he first field the same team twice running.

Still, he got some things right. His teams have rarely conceded goals. After Zidane returned, Domenech swallowed his pride and let him play as he preferred. He heard Patrick Vieira’s plea to be returned from right-half to the centre.

Domenech has lately enjoyed telling the French media “I told you so.” Now the media have stopped thumping him, just as in 1998 when the previously reviled Aimé Jacquet coached France to the title. Domenech, an occasional actor, has become relaxed and funnier with success. Asked whether his goal was met now that France would be in Berlin on July 9, he replied: “Not completely. What I concealed until now is the hour we need to triumph. It’s July 9 at the end of the evening. Until today, the thing was not to get the day wrong. Now we mustn’t get the hour wrong.”

But whatever happens, Domenech won’t become beloved like Jacquet. Winning a World Cup with players who have already done so is not a miraculous feat. For most French people, this team’s leader is not the bespectacled character on the bench but the old bald guy in the number ten, Zinedine Zidane.

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