Euro 2012 qual. - Early Doors: France coach draws Blanc in X Factor search

Tue, 16 Nov 08:47:00 2010

Fabio Capello isn't the only international boss looking at his squad list and wondering how it could have come to this.

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France head ponderer Laurent 'I didn't touch Bilic' Blanc has spent many a long night staring down a brown paper bag, contemplating how he is going to explain to his nation that their players are actually very poor.

Looking every inch like an exasperated accountant, Blanc admitted that he feels France 'no longer possess any great players' in their squad, and extolled the virtues of putting long-term development (or a three-year master plan if you are Roy Hodgson) ahead of short-term financial gain.

With all the earnest sincerity of a bespectacled (and still employed) Ray Wilkins, the former France skipper proceeded to inform his countrymen that it was a 'fact' that he does not possess a single world-class player in the current squad ahead of sampling the joys of Club Wembley on Wednesday.

But that was not all, because Blanc deemed it appropriate to qualify what he meant by 'great', to further dismiss the crop of players under his stewardship in the process.

"When I say a 'great' player, I mean a great player at European level... we're far away from that," said Blanc, who has ordered his players to learn La Marseillaise in his pride-restoring revolution post-Raymond 'Scorpios stink' Domenech.

So Blanc is not only saying that there are no world-class players in his squad, but that there is no one at European level. Suddenly Fabio's motley crew are looking like a seasoned bunch of esteemed international performers. Plus Carlton 'called up as cover for...' Cole, of course.

When Capello and Blanc are quaffing a choice drop of burgundy after the game, each may be left to bemoan the dearth of established top-tier talent at their disposal with the France coach explaining to his counterpart that the term 'golden generation' the Italian believed he was taking on was not a term lost in translation.

While Fabio may cite the names of Jay Bothroyd, Jordan Henderson and Chris Smalling, the former sweeper can trump him with those of Mamadou Sakho, Adil Rami and Kevin Gameiro - and still share sympathy with his opposite number for the absence of Bobby Zamora.

But there is, of course, Karim 'I don't run, I score' Benzema, so there is still hope, while Samir Nasri has made it plainly clear that the match represents an untimely 'distraction' from Arsenal's title bid.

But for all his honesty - insert 'self-pity' if you prefer - Blanc has had the audacity to slam England's recent form: "Their results have not been up to scratch for a while."

No doubt Capello would have been tempted to deliver a swift riposte in his pidgin English, pointing out that his counterpart could have done better than losing 1-0 at home to Belarus in his first competitive fixture in charge.

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In terms of lethargic and belated concessions, Arsene Wenger's revelation that Bothroyd's Arsenal departure was "one of my regrets" is now right up there with Rio Ferdinand's acceptance that he "probably shouldn't have" missed those drugs tests back in 2003.

Wenger has said that Arsenal are "very proud" of Bothroyd's resurrection after the former starlet was thrown out of the club by head of youth development Liam Brady following the kind of incident Antonio Cassano is involved in on a weekly basis.

One widely-held assumption is that by picking a Championship player, temperament and attitude will not present a problem - but this is a man who had to be flogged by the Gunners after hurling his shirt at Don Howe when he was taken off during the 2000 Youth Cup final against West Ham.

But since then the Islington-born forward has been upgraded from an Arsenal 'brat' to what his current boss Dave Jones, with a wry grin, terms a 'high-maintenance lad'.

Making Bothroyd's resurgence sound like that of Mickey Rourke, Wenger reflects: "He went down but has come back up again and we are all very proud of him at Arsenal. Sometimes it is only later they realise they not only have to have talent, but need to work as well... he is classy."

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: Finally, someone has countered the argument that Wolves' midfield enforcer Karl 'it was below the kneecap' Henry is too dirty, and it is the man himself who provides the rebuttal. "People have got to look past someone being flipped in the air. Sometimes tackles look a lot worse than they are and TV pundits just pick out a small portion to make it seem like a hate campaign."

FOREIGN VIEW: The big Uruguayan derby between Nacional and Penarol may have been a drab goalless draw, but the two sides provided a demonstration in sterling 'banner banter'. Amid the fireworks, coloured smoke and ticker tape, a Penerol banner simply stated: "We forgive you your envy Nacional", while the home fans posed with one which read: "There is no loony-bin big enough for such craziness." But the excitement was over for the 58,000 crowd, who were subjected to a match even duller than the Premier League's Second City derby at Villa Park earlier this month.

COMING UP: Anyone who thinks there is a dearth of world-class sport going on today is sorely wrong: Scotland host the Faroe Islands at Pittodrie (19:45), while Stuart Pearce's England U21 side travel to face their German counterparts (17:00). There is also a glut of FA Cup first-round replays (19:45), with Vauxhall Motors looking to torch Hartlepool United at Rivacre Park, and River Plate host Boca Juniors. If cricket is your bag then check out live scoring of India v New Zealand, Sri Lanka v West Indies and Pakistan v South Africa (all underway).

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