By Max Winters For Mailonline
Just over 12 months ago, France arrived at the rearranged European Championships as favourites to add continental glory to the World Cup they won in Russia in 2018.
Didier Deschamps had a squad full of talent that still featured a large contingent of the group that delivered the World Cup title. It was hoped that continuity would pave the way for more success.
On paper their group looked rather difficult, though. Tough tests with Portugal and Germany awaited in the first stage of the competition, mammoth clashes that are usually saved for the nail-biting backdrop of knockout football.
France are in disarray with just over a month to go until they begin their World Cup defence
Kylian Mbappe has cut a frustrated figure at PSG and is currently battling image rights deals
Didier Deschamps’ men were well beaten by Denmark – who they will play in the World Cup group stage – last month
Les Bleus would also play Hungary and, while you might think they would be the group’s whipping boys, they were playing two of their three group games (including against the French) in their raucous national stadium in Budapest.
The first sign of discontent within the French squad came to light following their friendly with Bulgaria in the build-up, in which Kylian Mbappe was angered by comments made by Olivier Giroud regarding the quality of service he receives.
Giroud’s post-match interview with L’Equipe ignited a feud between the ex-Chelsea striker and Mbappe, in which he said: ‘You say that I haven’t been seen much but maybe we could have found each other better.’
Mbappe was understood to have been infuriated by Giroud’s comments, and while the veteran striker maintained the remark was not directed solely at him, the PSG star demanded that he call a press conference to give his side of the story.
Despite Giroud’s repeated assertions that the comment was not aimed at him, Mbappe failed to temper his rage, to the annoyance of senior players such as Steve Mandanda, Hugo Lloris and Moussa Sissoko, who had reportedly grown tired of seeing the 23-year-old ‘sulk’.
They managed to put the bad blood aside (for now) and won their opening game against Germany 1-0 in Munich thanks to a Mats Hummels own goal, and it looked like Deschamps’ squad had laid down a marker for the rest of the competition.
But then more cracks began to appear. France struggled to cope with Hungary’s intensity and went 1-0 down in Budapest thanks to Attila Fiola’s superb individual goal.
An own goal by Mats Hummels gave France victory over Germany in their first group game
But France limped to a 1-1 draw with Hungary after Attila Fiola’s fine individual goal in Budapest
The French struggled to find their way back into the game as the hosts – buoyed by the home support – dropped deeper and deeper to defend their lead.
Antoine Griezmann eventually found a way through but there was to be no dramatic winner as the French limped to a 1-1 draw that would mean the third and final round of games could see all four sides progress.
Karim Benzema – back in the national team fold after a long exile – scored twice either side of half-time to wipe out Cristiano Ronaldo’s opening goal against Portugal, the reigning champions.
All four teams in Group F changed positions frequently that afternoon but, despite Ronaldo getting a second, France managed to hold on for a point that would ensure they topped the group.
More off-field problems began to emerge during the tournament, particularly the players’ annoyance with their hotel facilities and family restrictions.
While the likes of England, Italy and Spain played the majority of their games in their home countries, France were required to travel to Munich, Budapest and Bucharest for their games.
As a result, the players didn’t have a base camp to settle in and were dissatisfied with their accommodation, particularly in Budapest where they stayed at the Marriott Hotel.
France managed to finish top of their group thanks to Karim Benzema’s brace against Portugal
The players were far from impressed by their accommodation and trips around Europe, though
Pogba reportedly asked for the squad to stay 50 kilometres away in Gardony at a facility that overlooked a lake. However, the French remained at the Marriott where they are understood to have felt confined as a result of the bedroom windows not being openable.
The squad were also said to have been disappointed in being unable to see their families for much of the tournament.
They argued that the Belgian and Spanish squads had been able to spend time with their loved ones, but the French Football Federation denied their pleas, reasoning that doing so would have health implications as a result of Covid bubble protocols.
As relationships within the squad became more and more strained behind the scenes, it finally spilled over to the pitch where France’s hopes of lifting the trophy evaporated in a remarkable last-16 game against Switzerland.
Haris Seferovic headed the Swiss in front and the underdogs also had a penalty saved that could have made it 2-0. France came roaring back and the sublime Benzema scored twice before Paul Pogba put them 3-1 up with a screamer.
Who knows how far France would have got if they could have held on. A dramatic final 10 minutes saw Seferovic grab his second before substitute Mario Gavranovic hammered in a last-minute equaliser to send the game to extra time.
Mbappe stepped up with the shootout locked at 5-4, but his shot was parried by Yann Sommer
A row involving Paul Pogba (left), Raphael Varane (centre) and Benjamin Pavard had broken out
Pavard (centre) was frustrated by Pogba’s defending in France’s 3-1 defeat by Switzerland
Mbappe, who didn’t score in the whole tournament, missed some huge chances to snatch victory in extra time and Giroud had a header saved in the final minute as the game went to penalties.
Mbappe – the poster boy of this France team – was the only player to miss from 12 yards following an outrageous save by Yann Sommer as the Swiss won 5-4 and went through to the quarter-finals.
The PSG star apologised for missing but it was during the final stages of the shock defeat that rows broke out both on the pitch and in the stands between the families of the players.
It was claimed that Adrien Rabiot and Pogba insulted each other throughout the loss to Switzerland, with the Juventus star unhappy with how the former Man United was failing to work hard off the ball.
Raphael Varane also lambasted Benjamin Pavard for his poor defending. The Bayern Munich defender later blasted Pogba for not contributing defensively and Varane is said to have sided with Pavard during that exchange.
Adrien Rabiot’s mother – Veronique – was reportedly involved in a heated exchange with the family members of her son’s team-mates.
Reports in the French press claimed she asked Pogba’s family how he could have lost possession in midfield before the Swiss team countered and found the back of the net.
Adrien Rabiot’s mother Veronique was reportedly involved in a bust-up with other family members of France’s Euro 2020 squad
Her fury continued after the shootout and she was then said to have asked Mbappe’s father to ‘reframe his son and make him less arrogant’.
She also reportedly ‘attacked’ members of the press covering the game and took aim at some of their attitudes towards the PSG forward.
It was then claimed there was a ‘heated exchange’ between Veronique and Mbappe’s mother, Fayza Lamari, as well as his father.
The families of other French stars were said to be ‘shocked’ by her outburst and the timing of it, given they had just watched their relatives crash out of the competition.
It was another grizzly exit from a major tournament for the French that had shades of the way things unraveled at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa when the squad, then managed by Raymond Domenech, revolted.
Having lost their first two group games, Domenech had a blazing half-time row with Nicolas Anelka before sending him home from the tournament. The following day the rest of the squad boycotted training in protest. France’s tournament ended in the most explosive fashion.
Around 15 months will have passed from the shambles of Euro 2020 by the time France kick off their World Cup defence against Australia on November 22 but the national team looks as fractured now as it did then.
Their preparations have been overshadowed by talk of witch-doctors, image rights, an alleged extortion plot and more than a dozen star players out injured. Sounds like strong foundations for a tilt at the title, right?
The case involving Pogba (right), which emerged from his brother Mathias (left), is ongoing
There really is one place to start and that is the ongoing story that features Paul Pogba, a witchdoctor, alleged extortion and masked men holding him at gunpoint.
The remarkable tale came to light last month when Pogba’s brother Mathias threatened to share ‘explosive’ revelations about him to the public.
The Juventus midfielder responded by claiming that he was unsurprised by Mathias’ threat, as he revealed he had been held hostage by men with assault rifles in Paris in March as part of a long-running blackmail plot that involved his brother.
Mathias has subsequently been charged for his alleged involvement in the extortion plot, and is currently being held in police custody. Four other men, who are alleged to be his accomplices, have also been placed under formal investigation for extortion and criminal association.
It did not stop there, though. Mathias, who denied accusations made by his brother, labelled him ‘a coward, traitor and hypocrite’, before claiming Pogba had met with a witch doctor to cast a spell on his international team-mate Mbappe.
Pogba strenuously refuted this claim, and Mbappe has since spoken out about the accusation, insisting he is believing the word of a team-mate over a team-mate’s brother.
This all comes amid Pogba’s race to be fit for the tournament in Qatar. He is currently sidelined after having knee surgery and is at risk of missing the action in the Middle East.
Then there is the latest saga involving Mbappe. When he is not rowing with Neymar or criticising PSG’s management, the mercurial forward is battling historical agreements over image rights owned by the FFF.
Mbappe had reportedly refused to take part in a recent French team photoshoot over a long-running dispute on image rights – incredibly embarrassing as the poster boy of the team.
The PSG striker led a boycott among the French team of certain sponsors back in March as he did not want to be associated with particular brands but for it to flare up again last month was alarming.
The FFF acted quickly and released a statement confirming they will look into the situation surrounding players’ image rights.
Mbappe took the FFF to task over image rights and brought about agreement for change
French newspaper L’Equipe are very concerned that ‘clouds are gathering’ over the team
It was agreed back in 2010 after the national team’s disastrous World Cup that image rights would be distributed equally between the 23 members of each French squad.
However, Mbappe, who sees any money earned from sponsorships with France go to charity, wants to see more of the team’s revenue going to grassroots football.
Add on top of Mbappe and Pogba the unsavoury situation that is enveloping Noel Le Graet’s FFF presidency.
The French Football supremo has been accused of inappropriate behaviour towards female co-workers as well as overseeing an alleged wider culture of harassment within the organisation.
The bombshell allegations against him led to France’s sports minister, Amelie Oudea-Castera, ordering an investigation into the FFF.
The investigation – known as ‘audit and control mission’ – was announced a day after the FFF confirmed their plan to file a defamation case against So Foot magazine, the original publication of the allegations of harrassment against Le Graet.
French Football Federation president Noel Le Graet is facing allegations over his own conduct
So Foot’s six-page investigation quoted anonymous current and former FFF employees, as well as alleged text messages from Le Graet, 80, that it has been claimed were sent to women at FFF.
It is ‘imperative that the FFF continues its activities with absolute respect for all employees, regardless of their hierarchical position,’ Oudea-Castera said.
Le Graet has not spoken publicly on the allegations but the FFF are taking the strongest possible line against So Foot magazine.
November 22: vs Australia at 7pm
November 26: vs Denmark at 4pm
November 30: vs Tunisia at 3pm
*All times in BST
So that’s the star striker fighting the war on image rights, the FFF president facing allegations of misconduct, and the FFF deciding to file a defamation lawsuit, and one of their key midfielders also embroiled in a police investigation into an alleged extortion.
Not exactly the tried and trusted recipe for success.
And to top off Deschamps’ woes right now, he had 12 players missing for their pair of Nations League games last month which robbed him of any chance to nail down his best team for Qatar.
Benzema, Pogba, N’Golo Kanté, Kingsley Coman, Presnel Kimpembe, Lucas Hernandez, Hugo Lloris, Ibrahima Konate, Rabiot, Boubacar Kamara, Theo Hernandez and Lucas Digne were are all missing.
A few of those have already returned for their club sides but Deschamps will have been annoyed at how many key personnel were absent when his team met for the final time before he names his World Cup squad.
So there you have it. The French national team is in the midst of another crisis, just over a year since their last one dealt a fatal blow to their chances of European glory.
They may come into the World Cup as defending champions but who knows how far they will go in Qatar? Once again, France are proving to be their own worst enemy.
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Published by Associated Newspapers Ltd
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