Following Laurent Blanc and his team has been a fascinating experience so far. The players, technical staff and in particular the coach himself have been refreshingly relaxed and good-humoured. They frequently invite the press to training sessions, host media activities every day, and when possible take the time to chat with curious locals and journalists.
As a result, I've been lucky enough to catch a glimpse of what competing at a major tournament is like. It is, however, only a glimpse. A huge amount goes on behind closed doors, far away from the glare of the cameras – as we discovered on Sunday when France's video analyst Thierry Marszalek and physio François Darras briefed us on their roles.
The physio's remit is well known – although Darras explained that his activities go well beyond massages. "We have a privileged relationship with the players and some confide in us," the 42-year-old said. "Like anyone, they can have problems and may need to talk. What you say during a massage is just as important as what you do with your hands."
Marszalek is also closer to certain players. "Some are keener than others to watch their video montage," he explained. "Karim Benzema, for example, always asks me for his straight away. Zinédine Zidane, on the other hand, never used to watch videos of his games. But maybe he didn't need to."
Every time Les Bleus play, Marszalek's team put together a compilation for each individual. The duration depends on the player's involvement. "Franck Ribéry touched the ball more than 100 times against Ukraine," he said. "It took us a long time to edit his video. Hugo Lloris' was much shorter.”
While television viewers only follow the action, Marszalek, 45, can track individuals thanks to an overhead camera that captures the entire pitch. Messages can be relayed to Blanc during a game if the analysts spot something significant, such as a player not marking in the correct zone at a set piece.
Opponents are also studied in detail. Before the Sweden game, Marszalek will present a 20-minute montage to the players. If Mathieu Debuchy appeared totally unfazed by the surprise inclusion of teenager Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain against England, it was partly because he had been forewarned.
Should Blanc's charges reach the quarter-finals, they will be ready for Italy, Croatia or Spain: two French coaches are present at every UEFA EURO 2012 game, while Marszalek has more than 10,000 old matches to consult via a live link to the Clairefontaine archive. Whatever happens in the coming days, the players cannot say they were unprepared.
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