Throughout history there has usually been one country that has ruled the roost in footballing terms at any one time. Football fans – no matter where they are from, once prejudices and loyalties are put to one side would almost to a man and woman, agree that one country is out on their own. That particular country has changed and shifted over the years and decades. Brazil held that honour for many years, including for much of the 1960’s and the turn of the last century. Germany and more recently Spain have also reigned supreme. France have dabbled with it, but never quite seen it through to claim an era as theirs, and you can’t help but think they have missed their big chance.
Vorsprung Durch Technik
There was a time when if you had some spare cash and were in the mind to put it on someone to win the world cup or European championships, Germany would have been thesafe bet. That reputation, no matter how stubborn it may prove to be, has been somewhat tarnished after their dismal performance in Russia. Today, even if armed with a free bet you could probably find a better place to put it. Germany’s reputation as a tournament team is down to them being in the final four or two consistently over several decades as well as because of periods of downright dominance. They won the Europeans in 1972 and 1980, losing in the final (on penalties) in 1976. In that time, they also picked up a world cup in 1974.
The Spanish Elbow
For a while, the Germans and Brazilians were eclipsed by a Spanish side that had previously won the unwanted reputation of being the best side never to win a tournament. Suddenly that all changed. Between 2008 and 2012, Spain – under the stewardship of Luis Aragonés and then Vicente del Bosque, won the European championships twice and the world cup once. Their star has subsequently faded, and that proves the point precisely. There will be a time when through several factors, one being luck, a country will produce a “golden generation” of players. It is down to good coaching and more luck, to make the most of that group of players, but there is certainly no guarantee that there will be an unlimited supply of equally talented players coming through the ranks to replace the current squad.
The problem faced by national managers and football associations is twofold. First, when those opportunities arise, they have to recognise them and make full use of them. England’s much vaunted golden generation never managed to turn undoubted talent and potential into silverware, nor did its arguably better team of a decade earlier. The second issue is that knowing that this period will not last for ever, they need to use the momentum gained to extend it as long as possible. Winning is a habit, just as much as losing is. Bringing talented but untested players into a winning team is a lot easier than bringing them into a team which is carrying decades of loss and disappointment on their shoulders.
After winning the world cup in 1998, France famously capitulated in Japan and South Korea. That was slightly different, as the side was radically different, the previous success being the culmination of a long journey. Moscow was a different matter. Les Blues were a largely young side, with an array of talent which had them as many people’s favourites going into the tournament. That was an opportunity they did not waste.
Les Bleus’ Blues
Since then it has not all been plain sailing, and you cannot help but think that they have lost some of the momentum that they had built up. Momentum that is so crucial in football, particularly international football, when the games come so infrequently.
The aura of dominance, of being a team too good to put a glove on has gone. It is not just the Turkey game, or the defeat to the Netherlands. Going back to the domineering Spanish side, and the German team over a couple of generations, you can be almost certain they would have gone on and won the Nations League. When those sides were on top, they stayed there and made sure no one was able to come close to knocking them off.
The footballing world moves quickly. Germany will come good again. England have been winning everything at youth level and look like they may be in a position to change potential into prizes. This is France’s time, it will not last for ever, so they need to make sure it is a time looked back on fondly in years to come, not with regret.