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Last Updated: Sunday, 9 July 2006, 21:07 GMT 22:07 UK
Not everybody loves Raymond

By Dan Warren

France coach Raymond Domenech
Domenech has had many critics - but he is in the World Cup final
France coach - and keen amateur dramatist - Raymond Domenech has scripted an extraordinary real-life story.

The theatre luvvie, astrology buff and user of tarot cards is not, it would be fair to say, Mike Bassett.

Much-maligned during France's World Cup 2006 qualifying campaign - and in the tournament - the eccentric Domenech took France within a penalty shoot-out of an almighty last laugh in the final against Italy.

Nevertheless, their performance in reaching the final match exceeded many fans' expectation. But did this remarkable story of success has come despite, or because of, his approach?

ACT UN: THE SHAPING OF A COACH

Domenech, now 54, was born in Lyon and as a player won the French Cup with his hometown team and was a league champion with Strasbourg and Bordeaux.

I had a moustache like Charles Bronson's, bushy eyebrows and from that, my reputation was born

Raymond Domenech
As a player, he was a hard-man defender, who won eight international caps. And as a coach with Mulhouse and Lyon, a strict disciplinarian.

He was recruited by France in 1993 to become Under-21 coach.

Evidently, they were not fazed by some of his less conventional traits.

Unusually, for a football man, Domenech is a keen actor who has performed on stage and television in France.

Even more unusually, he has an interest in astrology and has admitted reading tarot cards to learn about players' personalities.

He has gone on record as saying he does not like Scorpios and is wary of having too many Leos in his side.

Interestingly, no Scorpios were picked for Germany 2006, with the most noticeable absentee being Robert Pires.

That said, he appears to have few problems in regularly selecting Leos Thierry Henry and William Gallas.

ACT DEUX: TROUBLED BEGINNINGS

Domenech took charge of Les Bleus on 12 July, 2004 and, for a man in love with signs and omens, it was a good day.

His daughter, Victoire, was born that day and it was precisely six years after France's 1998 World Cup win.

Nevertheless, France had problems.

He was the ideal man at the right time

Former France coach Aime Jacquet

When he took the reins, I was very astonished

French TV broadcaster Eugune Saccomano
A disastrous 2002 World Cup - no wins, no goals, one point - was followed by an underwhelming last-eight exit at Euro 2004.

Domenech's credentials were not bad. He had coached the Under-21s for 11 years, and won the 2004 Toulon tournament with the Under-20s.

He helped nurture world-class talent like Zinedine Zidane, Claude Makelele, Lilian Thuram, William Gallas, Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry.

But his unorthodox approach had not made him popular and, perhaps not coincidentally, Zidane, Makelele and Thuram all retired from international football within one month of his appointment.

He had support - 1998 coach Aime Jacquet called him the "ideal man at the right time".

However, critics soon emerged. His new-look France struggled to a draw against Bosnia-Herzegovina in his first game in August 2004.

Twelve months later, things had deteriorated further.

France lay fourth in a tight World Cup qualifying group, behind Israel, Switzerland and the Republic of Ireland and their Fifa world ranking had plummeted from two to nine.

Domenech was in trouble.

ACT TROIS: THE RETURN OF THE THREE MUSKETEERS

Four days in August 2005 turned Domenech's fortunes around.

FRANCE IN QUALIFYING
Minus Zidane, Makelele, Thuram:
Won 2 out of 6 games
Scored 5 goals in 6 games
Drew 0-0 at home 3 times
With Zidane, Makelele, Thuram:
Won 3 out of 4 games
Scored 9 goals in 4 games
Finished top of the group
Zidane, Makelele and Thuram all announced they were coming out of international retirement.

Some believed the three had quit because Domenech took over in the first place, but even if that were so, the health of French football took precedence.

Results improved instantly. All three played a significant role as France took 10 points and scored nine goals in their final four qualifying games to top the group.

Happy jours seemed to have returned, although rumours of discord between Zidane and Domenech persisted amid talk of a power struggle in the dressing room.

Nevertheless, despite his love of horoscopes, Domenech knew it was the distinctly non-celestial stars like Zidane, Makelele and Thuram who had rescued the World Cup dream.

ACT QUATRE: TROUBLED TIMES RETURN

Domenech is certainly not someone who tries to please all of the people all of the time.

Recriminations followed when Domenech selected France's 23-man squad.

We lack the virtues of previous sides when we were a united group, all pulling in the same direction

Zinedine Zidane, speaking in May
England had a glitzy mini-movie as each player was named - Domenech merely gestured at blurry faces as they were projected on to a wall. He did not even announce their names.

It was not just his methods which were criticised.

Domenech alienated the coach of Werder Bremen over the omission of Johan Micoud and Valerian Ismael. He said: "They deserve some respect, because they're not getting any at the moment."

He alienated Barcelona's Ludovic Giuly, who said: "An explanation in private with the coach would be the least I deserve... I won't play for him anymore."

And he even alienated Gregory Coupet, despite selecting him.

Coupet stormed out of the pre-season training camp in the Alps after Domenech told the Lyon stopper that Fabien Barthez was his number one choice.

"There was a problem between us... he lost his head," admitted Domenech.

Such pre-tournament discord did not bode well.

ACT CINQ: THE REAL DRAMA BEGINS

It is easy to forget that France were 35 minutes from another embarrassing World Cup exit.

Patrick Vieira celebrates his goal against Togo
Vieira's strike against Togo may have saved Domenech's job
Drawing 0-0 against Togo in a match they had to win, the pressure was building.

But Patrick Vieira, anonymous in the uninspired draws against Switzerland and South Korea, shot home - and Les Bleus' World Cup came to life.

The old guard came to the fore in round two against Spain as late goals from Vieira and Zidane secured a 3-1 win.

Zidane shone against Brazil, setting up Henry for the only goal. And Domenech justified his decision to pick Barthez as the Marseille keeper denied Ronaldo late on.

And Zidane, naturally, had his say in the 1-0 semi-final win against Portugal, as his cool penalty-kick flew past specialist shot-stopper Ricardo.

EPILOGUE - AND FAILURE

Zidane, many would argue, was the man who made Domenech look good.

And he was the man who may have denied him the greatest prize in the game, after being sent off for an inexplicable headbutt on Marco Materazzi.

A remarkable story came to a remarkable end - but the finale will have left Domenech with a bad taste in the mouth.

Zidane was born on 23 June - perhaps Domenech may find he has an aversion to people born under the sign of Cancer from now on.



SEE ALSO
Italy win World Cup on penalties
09 Jul 06 |  World Cup 2006
France match reaction
09 Jul 06 |  France
Thuram makes international U-turn
07 Aug 05 |  Internationals
Zidane & Makelele back for France
03 Aug 05 |  Internationals
Zidane quits France
12 Aug 04 |  Internationals
France team guide
22 May 06 |  France
Pick your France XI
16 May 06 |  Squad selectors
World Cup schedule
25 May 06 |  Schedule
Have your say on the World Cup
28 Apr 06 |  Football
BBC World Cup coverage
27 Apr 06 |  BBC coverage


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