After beating Holland 4-0 last week everyone was saying France may be favourites for the World Cup, but we’re not there yet. Individually they have the talent but collectively France are still missing something.
On a good day they can beat anyone but on an off-day, like we saw against Luxembourg, they’re lacking consistency and it is due to the fact France don’t have a straight philosophy.
They have the talent and the potential but on those off days, when you need to rely on certainty in your game, there are question marks. You could see on Sunday that the longer Luxembourg held it at 0-0, the faster the doubt was growing in the French team.
We are very effective in producing coaches and players but we lack the same strong identity as Germany or Spain in terms of playing style and mentality.
You have to build that identity from scratch with all coaches on all the levels across the national team, playing to the same style of football – and I’m not talking about formation, that can vary.
Okay, we always have four at the back and we always defend zonally but in terms of setting up the midfield and strikers, it’s not the same.
From one coach to another, from Under-15 to senior level, you go through different coaches and you keep changing the way you think about football. One coach could be more direct, another more possession-based; one could be wanting to use the flanks, another would play without wingers and no crosses.
That’s always been the case since I was involved with the France set-up. I went from Gerard Houllier at Under-17 through to Under-20s and then to Raymond Domenech with the Under-21s and it was a completely different approach.
As an example, when it came to tactical work, Houllier would want the starting XI to work together both offensively and defensively. Domenech, though, would separate us into groups: defenders, midfielders and strikers. The coaches all have different visions and working practices and then when you reach the senior teams, it’s another philosophy altogether.
When you only have the guys for three days before a game, you need a core philosophy, because you’re bringing so many players together from different clubs with their own different approaches. You don’t have a lot of time to find a structure and provide certainty in your game, which you need to rely on.
There is another issue and it’s that in general in French football we try not to concede and stop the opposition and sometimes it can be a bit negative. It’s difficult to then switch your game to an attacking frame of mind.
From 1998 onwards we’ve had good strikers but the way we’ve set up the team has always been how to stop the opposition. It’s not making the best use of our resources.
That being said, Didier Deschamps has been criticised for being conservative but the fact we now only play with two central midfielders, having dropped Blaise Matuidi, shows you he has been listening to the critics.
We beat the Netherlands 4-0 in Paris but this is not the same Dutch side of 2010 or 2014 and, if anything, wasn’t a true representation of this France team.
The Luxembourg game will help the squad to reflect on what is required to be consistent at international level. You have to look at the positives, it will be a good learning curve for this group of players.
Consistency is a mentality; 17 of Deschamps’ squad have less than 20 caps – N’Golo Kante, Thomas Lemar, Kylian Mbappe, Djibril Sidibe, Layvin Kuzama as examples – they just haven’t played many games. So it takes time and that’s the trouble with the national team because that’s the one thing you don’t have.
What Deschamps has done really well is the atmosphere in the camp is very good. Karim Benzema is regarded as the bad apple and he’s not being included and Deschamps is making sure the squad is forming a healthy environment.
My concern is the lack of certainty and identity which can be exposed on an off-day. You could be playing a difficult South American team during the World Cup and you’re just not going to be able to steamroller them.
I’m sure the transfer market has been disturbing players while on international duty.
Everybody from international coaches to club managers will surely want future transfer deadlines moved away from these dates.
When I signed for Manchester United in 1999 I was with the France Under-21s in Albania and Russia. It was very difficult. Sir Alex Ferguson was phoning me about the transfer, the line was bad and I was trying to understand his Scottish! It was quite a challenge.
It was the Under-21s so not so much was at stake but it was still a European Championship qualifier and it plays on your mind; it’s a big decision you have to make, especially moving to a new country, and it takes your mind and focus away from preparing from those games.
From the clubs’ point of view it makes the communication with the players hard, as they’re trying to arrange transport for medicals etc.
I played on the Saturday and Wednesday, left the national team on the Thursday, landed in Manchester, signed on the Friday and then made my debut against Liverpool on the Saturday.
FIFA need to establish a universal deadline day, that’s not in the international break and make it uniform across all leagues.
England welcome Slovakia to Wembley on Monday in a top-of-the-table clash in Group F of World Cup qualifying.
Here, Press Association Sport looks at five key issues.
The relationship between England and their fans is under the microscope, with boos from the travelling contingent after a goalless first half in Malta and plenty of criticism on social media before three late goals brought a 4-0 victory.
Harry Kane has led the calls for patience from supporters and it will be interesting to see how they are welcomed back to headquarters.
Things tend not to get too heated at Wembley, which attracts a family-friendly crowd, but there was frustration in the counterpart fixture against Malta, with Wayne Rooney jeered on what turned out to be his penultimate cap.
At least one alteration to the team is expected, with Eric Dier back from suspension and likely to take over from Jake Livermore in midfield.
Things are less obvious in the attacking areas, with Raheem Sterling taken off at half-time on Friday and Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain turning in a blunt performance on the opposite flank.
Marcus Rashford was lively as Sterling’s replacement and the tactically disciplined Danny Welbeck grabbed a goal on his first appearance under Southgate. Both must be tempting options to freshen up the starting XI.
Injury kept Kane out of Southgate’s first six matches at the helm but the Tottenham man has quickly made up for lost time, netting five times in three outings against Scotland, France and Malta.
That has doubled his Three Lions goals tally and taken him past another north London poacher, Ian Wright, and level with his Spurs predecessor Paul Gascoigne. One more against Slovakia would see him join another Tottenham favourite, Teddy Sheringham, on 11.
England began the campaign by beating Slovakia in injury-time of Sam Allardyce’s only game in the dugout. On paper that was the toughest assignment in the group but Jan Kozak’s side have kept up the hunt, winning their last five games to sit two points off top spot.
A shock away win would hand them the keys to automatic qualification and throw Southgate’s plans into disarray. On the other hand, success for England would leave them all but certain of their place in Russia and free to proceed with logistical planning.
Southgate resisted the temptation to stand Joe Hart down in Malta after his difficult start to life at West Ham, denying Jack Butland the chance to stake his claim for the number one shirt.
As expected, Hart had almost nothing to do at the Ta’ Qali National Stadium so retains his place again.
But this should be a challenge of a different order and the 30-year-old will expect to be busier against a confident Slovakia side. How he reacts could be important, not just for England’s prospects but Hart’s own long-term grip on the gloves.
Belgium secured qualification for the 2018 World Cup on Sunday by winning 2-1 away to Greece.
Romelu Lukaku scored what proved to be the winning goal and the victory ensured Belgium top spot in European qualifying Group H.
They join Brazil, Iran, Japan, Mexico and hosts Russia in guaranteeing a place at next year’s finals.
Belgium bossed the game but only made the breakthrough in the 70th minute when Jan Vertonghen scored from distance.
However, Zeca equalised for Greece in no time, volleying in three minutes later.
Lukaku then put his side back into the lead just two minutes later as Thomas Meunier’s cross from the right was nodded home emphatically by the Manchester United striker.
The 2-1 win saw Belgium become the first team from Europe to confirm their World Cup qualification.
— Brendon Netto (@BrendonNetto) September 3, 2017