World Soccer: Do you think that France’s difficult World Cup qualification campaign – including the infamous play-off against Ireland – has helped make the French squad and technical staff a more united group?
Raymond Domenech: The qualification a bit tense from France for the World Cup 2010 has been much ink. What do you remember this qualifier and do the problems you have discussed the close-knit staff and staff alike?
I don’t have any problems with the staff being united. We’ve been working as a cohesive group for years now, working together both on our strategies and on the way we’re organised. There are 25 people working together. It’s serious work. The reason we’ve managed to overcome the difficulties we’ve faced is because of everything that we’ve done together previously, precisely to help us deal with any tough situations that might arise. And as far as the team is concerned, well, we’ve been dealing with difficult qualifying campaigns forever.
There have been some easy ones; Michel Platini and Jacques Santini won all their games. But in 2000 when we became European Champions it was a miracle that we qualified at all. Pretty much every match that we got anything out of was little short of a miracle. I’ve always understood that France can be favourites to qualify, but that we can end up in trouble. But all matches are difficult. International matches are never easy. We know that the aim of the game is simply to qualify, to get through those difficult moments. And the fact that we’ve qualified this time shows that there’s something special about this group of players.
The playoffs were tough. But back in 2005 if the Swiss centre forward Alexander Frei had scored a winning goal a minute from time against Ireland then we would have been in the playoffs. These things turn on nothing at all.
Everybody forgets the qualifying stages. It’s about what happens at the tournament that matters. There were 53 teams trying to qualify and we ended up with 13. It’s better to make it to the final 13 with great difficulty than to have played well and be in the other group of 40.
Will your experiences in guiding France to the Final of the last World Cup back in 2006 make things easier this time around in South Africa?
Yes, it’s helps you to deal with things on a day-to-day basis. The whole idea of a top class competition that lasts a month isn’t easy. Just the simple organisation of things. The fact that I’ve already experienced it helps you to avoid falling into all the little traps that exist. For example, you have to understand that you shouldn’t do too much, especially before the matches, and you have to make sure that training doesn’t become a hobby, but a job of work; that training sessions aren’t always necessary and that you focus on the matches. To be able to play all your matches with the right level of intensity you have to know how to look after what happens off the pitch.
That’s where being experienced counts, in finding a compromise where you don’t go too far in training but you find things for the players to do. Mobilise the players together to do things without them getting bored or worn out, or that they spend all their time on the phone. That’s the key. Dealing with a competition is all these little things outside of the matches to ensure that you arrive to the matches in the right frame of mind.
That must put pressure on you.
I don’t feel pressure. It’s not pressure, it’s responsibility. And that’s not the same. I’m responsible for how things unfold. But pressure means you’ve always got something weighing down on you that stops you breathing right or from being normal. I don’t feel that at all; quite the opposite in fact. I’m ready to take responsibility. I know how to give people information and impart what I’ve learnt to improve things. And that’s it. It’s not pressure. If I was sensitive to external pressures I’d be finished.
Apart from France, who are your favourites for the World Cup?
I’ve seen Brazil play and we played against Spain and they’re the two big favourites. After that there are a load of teams, some South Americans – Chile have a good team – Argentina. The English, the Germans, the Italians. There’s probably a good 10 teams that have a chance.
Portugal… They said our qualification was difficult, but I have no idea how they made it. At the end they’d really decided that it would be another country on the plane to South Africa! That’s at least eight teams who have a realistic chance, without even mentioning the one or two surprises that a World Cup traditionally throws up.
How do you feel about the group you’ve been drawn in, especially considering the fact that you will come up against host nation South Africa?
It’s never easy. It’s got its good side, because to play South Africa in South Africa, that’s really participating in the World Cup. We’re playing them in the third match, which will be decisive either for one team or the other or maybe for both. It’s very symbolic. A tournament in Africa, football in a country that’s mainly known for rugby. It’s massive, a match that will really put the spotlight on the whole tournament. It’s a historic match. They might find it a bit difficult in the first match with all the attention that will be on them. They might freeze. But in the last match they’ll have to let themselves go and it will be a difficult match for us.
Your views on Uruguay, Mexico and South Africa?
I’ve started having a good look at Uruguay now. They’ve got a good team. They attack quickly and in numbers, they’re good technically and up front with Forlan and Suarez who’s scored 30 goals this season they’ve got two great strikers. They’ve got hardworking midfielders and as I said they’re a very decent team.
Mexico will play 12 or 13 preparatory matches. Plus they’ve traditionally always done well at the World Cup. And the host nation has always qualified too.
Are you happy not to meet with European countries in Group A?
Yes, because it’s the World Cup. European countries? We’ve seen them, we’ve played them in the European Championships and well, you know… The World Cup is something really special, and if you end up playing against the teams you play all the time then it’s not really the World Cup. For me playing against, say, South American teams in Africa, that’s really the World Cup for me.
Plus that really puts the players in the frame of mind for the World Cup. In 2006 we played Switzerland and we’d been in the same qualifying group as them. It felt like we’d only just seen them. It was something like the fourth match between us in six months. Even Togo didn’t really feel like the World Cup with the number of players we knew from France. In 2006 we then came up against Spain, Portugal and Italy. It was a bit like playing in the European Championships.
If the games go according to form there’s a good chance you could meet England in the quarter-finals. What do you think about Fabio Capello’s side?
They worry me a bit. I hope Rooney might still be injured. He’s my idol. I was criticised because when we were choosing the best player of the year I put Rooney in there. People went mad in France, saying ‘He’s not a footballer’. Here in France it has to be beautiful. When I see Rooney play I became a fan, waving my scarf and shouting ‘Allez Rooney!’ He’s technical, he’s productive, he’s got everything. He’s the centre forward that everyone dreams of having in their team. Of course it would suit me if he were injured, though I don’t wish that on him. But if we meet England and he’s not playing, well…
When a team has two or three players of that quality then you know they can do something. Alongside France they have the most clubs in the quarter finals of the Champions League, so they’ve obviously got very good players. And of course if we play each other it’s a derby and it will be an incredible atmosphere.
Will the conditions in South Africa help the African countries?
I remember the World Cup in Germany in 1974. It had rained so much that they had to get the water off all the pitches with rakes and what have you. It could rain over there just as easily, so I don’t think that’s too much of a problem. The real problem I can foresee is all the Vuvuzelas all through the match. Things like that are banned in France. You can’t even take an umbrella into the ground for fear that people will throw them. But it’s all part of things. We don’t want to go down there and force our culture on the place. We’ve already done enough of that. It’s their culture and we have to respect that and we have to adapt to what goes on over there.
It’s really the only thing that will be different because all the teams will be in their hotel complexes with their security etc. We’ll all live in a little bubble inside the country. You don’t go wandering all over the place.
Yes, the grounds will be different. It won’t be Munich or Stuttgart like last time. It will be Pretoria or Cape Town, but that’s it. Is there a way to prepare the players? Sure. I blow in a Vuvuzela to make some noise! All the guys play in big clubs, they play everywhere and know what it’s like to face a hostile crowd.
What’s most important and most different is on a symbolic level. It’s the first World Cup that’s been in Africa and we all want it to go well for everyone and that the Africans prove that they can organise something really well. We all want that.