French glad to see end of football debacle

France is in shock and loss at the manner of its football team's ejection from the World Cup - but is reserving most of its anger for coach Raymond Domenech, says Xavier Rivoire of French sports newspaper L'Equipe.

Image caption Watching the World Cup has been a painful experience for French fans

"Good riddance." The cartoon published in L'Equipe on Wednesday morning says it all.

As a plane bearing the colours of France departs South African soil, a chorus of vuvuzelas blast "good riddance". The French campaign has been abysmal, and many people are glad to see the back of this French team.

And now what? This is the question the whole of France is asking on the day their players are coming back home.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy wants to speak to the players personally.

Targeted by the general public, the French footballers know they have to share responsibility for the debacle.

"I apologise in the name of all the players," said Florent Malouda after Tuesday's 2-1 defeat by South Africa sealed a fate that was, in fact, predicted a long time ago.

The likes of Nicolas Anelka and William Gallas will never play for France again. A big question mark hands over Franck Ribery, the self-proclaimed playmaker.

Harsh criticism

The French supporters are now asking: "How can a team full of players plying their trade in the best clubs in the world end up being so poor, and launching a mutiny?"

Florent Malouda hinted at the answer when he said: "It is a shame to finish off on that note, but after what's happened over the last few months, it would have been a miracle if the curtain had been closed in another way."

In that quote Malouda reveals the shame felt by the players, but also their huge frustration at the way they have been left out in the cold by a management which had lost all authority and all vision, all sense of direction, and all dignity as well.

The majority of the French fans are blaming Raymond Domenech, the head coach. The man seems to have attracted even more harsh criticism than French rogue trader Jerome Kerviel, the loose-tongued US Gen Stanley McChrystal, and even Tony Hayward, the BP chief perceived as trying to laugh off the US ecological catastrophe.

How could Domenech make the French team implode in such a way? All throughout the campaign, he sent conflicting signals: sending Nicolas Anelka home; then publicly reading a statement written by the players criticising his decision; then stating he felt the statement was out of order; then refusing to France captain Patrice Evra to face the press to apologise. A series of events that shows Domenech had no clear vision.

Domenech has been accused of arrogance as well as incompetence. His eternal grin, his irony, his air of superiority in front of the media and the general public made him an instant target.

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But for years, his eccentric ways have attracted ridicule. His judgement was ridiculed because he read the players' astrological signs before picking or dropping them.

Image caption Few tears were shed as Raymond Domenech departed South African soil

His ethics were ridiculed, after he accepted an invitation by a sponsor to take part in a poker tournament in Las Vegas before Euro 2008.

His management was ridiculed.

"I was physically sick when I was called up," said Robert Pires, one of the easiest players Domenech had to manage.

"When I was coming back to Arsenal, [Arsenal manager] Arsene Wenger would ask me: 'Robert, why are you so pale, so tense, so worn out? It's your national team!'

"I would simply reply: 'It's Domenech, Arsene'."

At Euro 2008, when France crashed out in spectacular fashion in the group stages, after losing to Italy, Domenech publicly proposed to his girlfriend, live on French TV.

The dressing room was in total disarray, and it showed on the pitch. Domenech's winning record since his appointment in 2004 was only 52%, compared to the 78% achieved by his predecessor, Jacques Santini.

There was public outrage when, after the failure at Euro 2008, Domenech was kept in his position.

The executives of the French Football Federation (FFF) continued to back him - though some of them criticised him in private.

Now, Jean-Pierre Escalettes, chairman of the FFF, now dares say: "I can't leave a sinking ship... We will meet at the beginning of July to see who is responsible.

Mr Escalettes is refusing to resign - which is a bad omen for incoming manager Laurent Blanc, who has the huge task of reconstructing the national team. The former Manchester United player and Bordeaux head coach is yet to sign his contract. Will Blanc be able to restore calm and authority?

Now French football is a field of ashes, the country is shaken. And Domenech's very last gesture on the big stage, his chance to make a dignified exit, was missed, as he apparently refused to shake the hand of South African manager Carlos Alberto Parreira.

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