The bulk of the 2002 Blues includes the first generation of French footballers to achieve full honours. But their extended seasons were increased by competitions played to the end (World 1998, Euro 2000, Confederations Cup 2001). And by dint of pulling on the string of organisms that were much too much in demand, the vitality of the France team withered until it suffered fatal injuries… Here is the story of the fiasco of the Blues at the disputed 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea.
Robert Pirès is writhing in pain… He is lying on the ground, struck down, in tears, his hands on his devastated face. He asks for his change, then falls heavily, holding his right knee. Arsene Wenger, livid, understands the seriousness of the injury: rupture of the cruciate ligaments… The season of “Bob” ends this sunny Saturday afternoon of March 23, 2002 in Highbury, in the quarterfinals of the FA Cup against Newcastle. Lying behind the six-meter line, he suffers out of bounds, out of the world. Out of the Blues, especially!
Strategist inspired by the French team at the 2001 Confederations Cup won in South Korea, Robert had advantageously compensated for the absence of Zidane as a playmaker. In top form in 2002, he was even elected Best Player of the Year Premier League at the end of the season. In addition to his versatility, his high volume of play and his goals, he complements Zinédine with creative fluidity in attacking animation. Smiling and friendly, Bob also ensures good connections between clans, generations… The tile within the Blues! Having come to have his injury recorded at Clairefontaine by Doctor Ferret, the verdict is in: six months off. It’s dead for the World Cup which begins on May 31. Present in the infirmary, the coach Roger Lemerre seems terrified in the middle of the friends Vieira, Henry and Zidane who came to cheer up Bob with blows of valves. The doc of the Blues is not surprised. Facing Newcastle, the midfielder Gunners had disputed his 48e game of the season between Arsenal and the France team. Playing games at a frantic pace for almost four years, Robert plays at a high intensity estimated at 13-14 km traveled per game! Before the World Cup in Asia, among the Gunners launched towards a fabulous double Cup-championship, Patrick Vieira will culminate him, at 61 games this season, Sylvain Wiltord at 59 and Thierry Henry at 55. At Real Madrid, winner in May of the Champions League, Claude Makélélé will reach 55 games , and Zidane 51… The FIFA Medical Committee had set the average limit at 45 games per season, which should not be exceeded too much. But who listens to doctors? Not the FFF! She had sent the Blues to Chile for a friendly match on 1er September 2001: 28 hours of return flight, stay of 5 days and 5 hours of jet lag.
Automatically qualified for the World Cup in Asia, the France team has been condemned since Euro 2000 to friendly matches, and in this autumn during which the major European countries are fighting in the World Cup qualifiers, opponents must be found on other continents. So go to South America, where the gritted latino will keep the Blues on their toes. In Santiago, in the rain and the cold, the Roja led by Zamorano literally dynamites on a flawless 2-1 the citadel France badly defended by a declining Desailly. The marked faces indicate an early fatigue more obvious than the disappointment of the defeat, the third of the year 2001. Unheard of since 1992… In the perspective of a new distant journey in Oceania for the Australia-France match November 11, Premier League club presidents refuse to release French internationals. Arsenal boss David Dein wants to keep his four Frenchies already in high demand (Henry, Pirès, Vieira, Wiltord). Alex Ferguson – who coaches Barthez and Mikaël Silvestre at Manchester United – also disapproves of the game in Australia. Superb, Roger Lemerre defends the best interests of world champion France without taking enough account first of all of the physical integrity of his guys: “I am not at the orders of the clubs” , he replies. While bowing, Arsène Wenger denounces the infernal cadences and is premonitory: “The French should not cry when the Blues get injured before the World Cup” …
The Battle of Melbourne!
Imprudently bound by a contract of 3 million euros for this match at the antipodes (with a penalty of 4.5 million in the event of a package!), the FFF still cares about the health of the players. She therefore chartered a gold price (920,000 euros) a Boeing 747 planned for 400 passengers which she had fitted out with comfort seats and four massage tables. Organizations will still have to endure 23 hours of flight time and 10 hours of jet lag. At the Cricket Ground in Melbourne, swept by torrential rain, the meeting turns out to be a cutthroat. The horrible Kevin Muscat kicks Dugarry’s knee, causing a fight to start. Authors of a strong draw (1-1), the battered Blues, disgusted by the violence and the arbitration, realize that they have become the team to be beaten, rather than beaten. In The TeamBixente Lizarazu, lucid since the voracious commitment deployed by Chile, launches the alert after the battle of Melbourne: “Let us have no illusions, it will be the same in the World Cup: the teams will compensate for their supposed inferiority with a total physical commitment. Let’s forget the image of a French team soaring like a majestic eagle and let’s become wild boars sticking their noses in the mud. » In December 2001, Doctor Ferret does the accounts: ten French internationals are in the infirmary… At the end of March 2022, we suddenly observe that the package of Robert Pirès, who we thought was eternally young, in fact sanctions the organization pushed at the end of a man of 28 years past. However, more than half of the aging France team is already in their thirties: Zidane, Thuram and Barthez (30), Petit (31), Lizarazu (32), Desailly (33), Leboeuf and Djorkaeff (34). The average age of the defense reaches 32 years and that of the typical team peaks at 28 and a half. In 1998, she was 26 and a half years old.
On April 17, 2002 at the Stade de France, Liza’s fears were confirmed. Faced with a muscular Russia, the Blues pull themselves out of this violent match where blows rain down (isn’t it Karpin?) with a sad 0-0. Feverish, the Habs have sometimes lost their cool, proof that it is primarily the physical that is failing, as Bixente deplores: “We will have to roll up our sleeves and be both cautious and aggressive. » But do the Blues still have the means for such aggressiveness? This very energy-intensive France-Russia had been castigated upstream by Arsène Wenger and Jorge Valdano, manager of Real Madrid. This is the whole dilemma weighing on the 18 Blues out of 23 who play abroad and who oscillate between two allegiances: that due to the selection which made them kings and that due to the clubs which pay them dearly … The 7th May, during the training course in Tignes where the list of 23 for Asia was announced, Jean-Marcel Ferret was worried, as related The Midi Dispatch : the results of the medical-physical tests are catastrophic. Leboeuf and Djorkaeff returned abnormally exhausted from a mountain hike. Christian Karembeu, injured, but possibly recovered in time for Asia, was zapped from the list by Lemerre…
Jupiter Zidane’s thigh
The period of preparation before the 2002 World Cup will be much shorter than that of 1998, regrets Doctor Ferret before an advanced competition from May 31 to June 30 because of the rainy season which is falling on Korea and Japan. in July. But at the end of the training course in Tignes, on May 10, Staff Sergeant Lemerre is straight in his boots: “We are all in great shape. The group lives well. » The insane preparatory calendar to come will take care of contradicting it. 13 days from the France-Senegal opening match on May 31, the Blues barely lost against Belgium (2-1) on May 18 at the Stade de France, 24 hours before the big departure for Ibusuki in Japan! In addition to the absence of Zidane, who stayed with Véronique for the birth of their third son, Théo, Thierry Henry is forfeited. His right knee creaks. He resumed too quickly after just eight days off to play one last game against Everton to finish top scorer in the Premier League. Three weeks off would have been better. Titi has already compromised his World Cup.
Arrived on May 20 in Ibusuki, a peaceful seaside resort in the far south of Japan, the Blues finally escaped the great advertising barnum and multiple solicitations. They train and relax in hot sand baths. On Wednesday, May 22, in a friendly match, they dispatched the Urawa Red Diamonds club 5-1 in the rain… But the physical glitches returned at a gallop with Lemerre’s persistent concerns about Henry’s knee. The rumors of a package around Thierry Henry, a refugee behind medical secrecy, stress the Gunner at the highest point. In this very tense atmosphere with the media, Zidane joins his partners after a grueling trip. The workforce continues its anarchic program by flying to Seoul, stifling and polluted, from where they will then play in Suwon a friendly match against South Korea on May 26! Germany lightened their preparation by playing a last friendly on May 18 to allow themselves two weeks of rest necessary for their acclimatization to jet lag, heat and humidity before their entry into the running on May 1er June against Saudi Arabia… In Suwon, the South Koreans in competition mode, cantankerous and vindictive (cf. the 0-5 against France in the 2001 Confederations Cup) push the Blues to surpass themselves. At the 38e minute, Zidane hurts himself and asks to leave. The verdict will fall after the French victory in Pyrrhus (3-2): external lesion of 10 centimeters of the quadriceps of the left thigh! Zinédine has played 54 official matches this season, 210 in all since July 12, 1998. On Monday, May 27, the medical statement freezes the entire nation: absent at least one match, the best footballer in the world is therefore forfeited against Senegal. The French team is deprived of its two strategists, Zidane and Pirès, struck down by the infernal cadences…
Relive the fiasco of the French team during the 2002 World Cup:
By Cherif Ghemmour