I will never forget watching the reaction of Aimé Jacquet when asked if he would ever forgive the French media for their treatment of him prior to France winning the World Cup in 1998.
"Jamais jamais." Never never.
After helping France reach the semifinals of the 96 Euros, the French press turned on Jacquet for his perceived defensive caution and lack of clarity in plan of attack in the lead up to the World Cup. He was considered a bumpkin, a naive buffoon. So vicious were the attacks that Jacquet announced he would quit as manager on the same night France hoisted their first and only World Cup.
I don't write this out of sympathy for Domenech; his failed on-air proposal following the 2008 Euros should have signaled to the FFF that this was not a man capable of reigning in the complex egos involved in a team with likes of Ribery, Gourcuff and Evra. Even France's success in 2006 was marked more by Zidane's resurgence than Domenech's team leadership.
But leading France is probably the worst managerial job in international football, worse even than England. I was reminded of that today listening to French journalist Phillipe Auclair speak with James Richardson on the Guardian's Football Daily. Auclair remarked that for some in the French establishment, who arguably wanted little to do with football until immediately after France 98, France in the World Cup is not eleven men playing football—it is the nation itself. The players are not millionaire professionals playing at various European clubs—they are the misguided, multi-ethnic product of the forgotten banlieues, who care nothing of French society or its cultural heritage. And Domenech is not a football manager—he is symbol of weak French leadership, a bumbling politician incapable getting these miserable kids to reach a miraculous pro-France consensus.
Normally this sort of overwrought symbolism would remain the purview of pretentious football bloggers, but if memory serves me right, Auclair non-ironically used the word "mourning" when speaking of how the nation reacted to France's mutiny. In England, being shit at the football is the stuff of jokey tabloid headlines and self-serving coming of age novels. In France, it is a "moral crisis." And it's ridiculous, simply for the same reason that many French journalists remarked that the multi-ethnic banlieue team that won in 1998 and 2000 was a symbol of France's glorious new multicultural era.
The social problems in modern France were as rampant then as now, minus the more high-profile rioting of recent years (the prophetic La Haine was produced in 1995). A World Cup and a Euro didn't kill it off. Neither does France's exit mean France is headed for some internal social reckoning. At best that is the thinking of romantics, at worst, nationalist reactionaries. Let France be terrible at soccer, let the jokes ring out about Anelka's little coup d'etat. But don't drag your social political op-eds into the sports section, lest your social politics become mere sport.