Jacques Santini did not want to attend the final French press conference in Portugal today, saying it did not give him sufficient time to reflect on a UEFA EURO 2004™ campaign which came to an end with last night's quarter-final defeat by Greece.
The coach did attend, though, and questioned whether the 1-0 loss, which followed a first-round exit at the 2002 FIFA World Cup, signalled the end of a golden generation of French talent crowned world and European champions in the space of two magnificent years. "Our football was at its lowest level technically," Santini said. "We knew that we needed to be more competitive to achieve the goals we had set. Yet this is not my business anymore, I will return to being a passionate supporter of Les Bleus."
Santini continued: "Maybe we were misled by the 3-0 victory against Germany while preparing for EURO 2004™. Maybe we imagined we were better than we were. Some players were exhausted. They have had two or three demanding seasons with their clubs and they were unable to take any more. When you play too many matches during the season, you are certainly not capable of performing in such a tournament."
The coach did not play Marcel Desailly against Greece, provoking consternation from the captain who could not understand why he was not picked. Santini admitted it was a difficult decision, saying: "When I was appointed two years ago I gathered my family together and told them to enjoy it because I knew it was going to be tough as it is always the coach who is responsible. Unfortunately, I have been proved right."
Santini said the current situation was incomparable to that of two years ago, when France left Korea/Japan without a point or a goal. France finished atop Group B with seven points and scored twice against England and Croatia and three times in the defeat of Switzerland, only to suffer a crushing quarter-final loss. "I only hope this team will be capable of bouncing back," said Santini, who gathered his squad and staff to say goodbye last night.
The 52-year-old will now head to England for a new challenge with Tottenham Hotspur FC, while French Football Federation president Claude Simonet - whose relationship with Santini has on occasion been tense, particularly over the Nicolas Anelka affair - will continue to search for a new coach, with Jean Tigana and Jean-François Domergue the favourites.
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