What to learn from the 2014 France squad?

First, the US is not France and the US is not close to being France on the soccer field yet. However, Patrick Evra’s ugly sending off in reaction to a Marseille fan before a game reminded me of that 2010 disastrous French team. I was in Cape Town opening weekend and remember clearly that team falling apart.

In 2010 at South Africa things went from bad to worse for the talented French squad. It began back in qualifications after an embarrassing win over Ireland which included a handball by legendary forward Theirry Henry. It got worst once they arrived and began the tournament. Captain Nicolas Anelka was sent home after a verbal assault on then coach Raymond Demenech following a 2-0 loss to Mexico. This was followed by a series of scandals off the field including child prostitution. In response to Anelka’s send off, a mutiny was organized by the team against their coach with the entire squad refusing to practice. That was packaged with only managing a single goal through the loss to Mexico, a draw with Uruguay and a horrible loss to host South Africa. The French fans were so disgusted with their team many in attendance cheered for South Africa in the final installment. Demenech added to the mess by refusing to shake hands with the South African manager after the game and was promptly fired after the tournament.

Their embarrassment in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa is on an entirely different scale, though I do wonder if a mutiny may have happened at some point under Jurgen Klinsmann. France has much greater expectations and much more talent, but certainly there are some similarities to the anger and frustration in France as we are feeling in the US after an embarrassing failure. I think there are lessons the US can learn from how France handled the 2010 team and built to a much more successful 2014 campaign.

Qualification Red Flags

The French team stumbled into the World Cup qualifying thanks to  the dubious Henry hand ball. Many wonder if would have been better had France not even qualified. This ugly stumble was similar to the US poor performance, firing coach Jurgen Klinsmann and even the questionable goal eliminating the US reminded me of this French team.

Perhaps, even as embarrassing as it was and is, that it is best for US soccer that they did not qualify. A lesson learned may be a heightened awareness of a teams mentality. After Jurgen Klinsmann was replaced Arena was put in a very difficult situation and utilized a similar lineup to what Jurgen had. Perhaps then a larger change of players could and should have happened earlier. Hindsight makes my job easy, but having seen both lessons I am convinced that new leadership and blood were required.

France cleaned house

The positive impact of past good feelings from success starting back in the 1998 World Cup victory quickly disappeared after the 2010 blow out. The French Football Federation President resigned his post immediately following the tournament. The French people were indifferent to the coach being fired and President stepping down, they demanded answers from individual players. Their were massive disciplinary sweeps and the leaders of the mutiny were purged from the squad. The French team that showed up in 2014 only retaining four players from the 2010 squad and those few had been cleared of wrong doing in 2010.

There is no need for disciplinary action and losing is certainly not the same as mutiny and the other short comings that 2010 French team had, but I do think a clean sweep is needed. Firing Arena was necessary, but there is more changes needed. The US need a new direction at President, Sunil Gulati didn’t step down, but he shouldn’t run for reelection. There should be major changes on the field as well as all the way down to the youth system.

Young Guns

The French team that arrived in 2014 was an extremely fresh team and very young. There was very little tournament experience on the team. However, they still managed to erase the 2010 memories with a fantastic campaign ending in the quarterfinals in a 1-0 loss to eventual champions Germany. They built off of that tournament and thirteen from that roster led a successful 2016 Euros. The team dominated the tournament including avenging their World Cup loss defeating Germany 2-0 in the semi-final before a difficult loss to Portugal 1-0 in the European final.

As for the US not having the World Cup next year gives us even more incentive to start young now. Again the United States is not France, they don’t have the young talent France does, however the US did have strong campaigns from both our U20 and U17 squads. None of the games for the next year will be meaningful. It’s time to start fresh and begin utilizing a young group that can be developed over the next five years. There are key positions like goalkeeper, left back, left wing and striker that are light on talent. This is the time to develop those positions.

Only a handful of young players should be retained from Bruce’s most recent rosters including Bobby Wood, Paul Arriola, Christian Pulisic, John Brooks and DeAndre Yedlin. The US need a change in leadership and that includes on the field – guys like Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley should be considered old guard and the US needs to move on. Clint Dempsey should be allowed to play for his records, but in a limited capacity.

Turning it Around

France turned it completely around in 2014 and developed a young squad that performed well both in the tournament and in the Euros only a few years later. The United States isn’t France on the field or in its youth developed, but there are definitely lessons to learn from this great turn around.

Arena is gone and there’s the USSF election is months away. The next five years have started and there could have sweeping changes on the field, in the youth programs and in leadership. The time is now to begin those changes and develop a young group for a run at 2022.