"It's one of my best memories," Samir Nasri told UEFA.com. "
I don't think I've ever enjoyed myself so much on a football pitch. We were so good. We could find each other with our eyes closed. It felt like we were playing on the PlayStation."
Nasri is not talking about Manchester City FC's title-winning campaign. Nor is he referring to the early years at Olympique de Marseille or his excellent final season at Arsenal FC. The 24-year-old is thinking back to the 2004 UEFA European Under-17 Championship when an exceptional crop of French talent blew away the competition.
Hatem Ben Arfa, Karim Benzema and Jérémy Ménez all starred alongside Nasri in the team that won five matches out of five, including two victories - 3-0 in the group stage and 2-1 in the final - over Cesc Fàbregas and Gerard Piqué's Spain.
France's dynamic attack all registered goals - Ben Arfa top-scoring with three and Nasri scoring the winner in the final - and were described as "phenomenal" by their coach Philippe Bergeroo. "They were so sure of themselves," Bergeroo remembers today. "
They weren't arrogant. They simply decided they were going to be champions. Just before the final I still recall Nasri saying to me: 'Don't worry coach, this trophy is ours'."
Eight years later, the skilful quartet - plus one other Under-17 champion, defensive midfielder Blaise Matuidi - will be reunited at a major competition for the first time in Ukraine. "The one quality they share is raw talent," Laurent Blanc pointed out. The France boss refuted suggestions 'la génération '87', as they have been dubbed in reference to their birth year, possesses too much individual flair and not enough hard graft. "We're lucky to have them. To say we've picked too many players with talent doesn't make sense."
Few are arguing with Blanc. While Nasri helped City to the English title and Benzema struck 21 goals in Real Madrid CF's triumphant league campaign, Ben Arfa and Menez have been scintillating for Newcastle United FC and Paris Saint-Germain FC respectively.
All four have experienced fluctuating fortunes through the years. Benzema, for example, needed two seasons to establish himself in Madrid; Ben Arfa fell out of favour at both Olympique Lyonnais and Marseille; and Ménez only really flourished after leaving his homeland for AS Roma. Raymond Domenech did not pick any of them for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
Bergeroo cites the pressures of a modern footballer as one of the reasons for their slow progress on the international front, saying: "When they turned professional everything became more difficult for them to manage. They entered this glamorous world and were suddenly in demand. They had to learn to live with it."
Doubts remain regarding their compatibility at the highest level. Starting for the first time together in a senior international last Sunday, Les Bleus struggled against Iceland, creating few chances and conceding twice in the first half. It was only after the introductions of Franck Ribéry and Olivier Giroud that the team recovered to win 3-2. "They may work hard but they defend badly," Blanc said of the vaunted quartet.
There is still work to do but it does seem as though 'la génération '87' is ready to blossom at last. "We used to talk about all playing together in the seniors one day," Nasri said last week. "Now the dream is coming true." If they click like in 2004, Europe had better watch out.
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