Tensions are creeping into the French camp at the European Championship, with the players involved in a “heated” bust-up following the team’s 2-0 loss to Sweden.
France, which was hit by internal strife at the 2010 World Cup, capitulated against Sweden on Tuesday and would have lost more heavily if goalkeeper Hugo Lloris had not made several saves.
Although the defeat did not prevent France from advancing to a quarter-final against Spain, the manner of it exasperated coach Laurent Blanc and senior players like Florent Malouda.
“Yes, it got a bit heated, but then everyone had a cold shower,” Blanc said on Wednesday. “It shows that there was a bit of electricity. I hope there will be against Spain, because we’ll need it.”
Malouda chose not to speak to the media after the defeat because he was afraid of what he might say. He is France’s most experienced player and was part of the World Cup squad that shocked a nation by going on strike at training two years ago after Nicolas Anelka was sent home.
“What I saw [against Sweden] awoke some demons in me and I didn’t want to express myself,” Malouda said. “Because in the heat of the moment, there was the risk of launching rockets and missiles. There are some things to sort out and sometimes you can really hurt someone with a comment that you make.”
However, with tempers frayed and pride dented after a shambolic performance against a Sweden team with nothing to play for, some of the players could no longer hold back when they got to the sanctuary of the dressing room.
“Sometimes you need to aim a few bursts of gunfire at each other,” Malouda said. “We said quite a few things to each other afterward in the dressing room.”
Centerhalf Laurent Koscielny, who is set to replace Philippe Mexes against Spain, confirmed that an argument took place.
“We were below par on every level,” Koscielny said. “When we got back to the dressing room, we knew we hadn’t performed as we should have done and some things were said ... things that will stay between us.”
Malouda thinks part of the problem might be that some players seem more concerned with their own performances than helping the team.
“Balance is fragile, and when you start thinking you’re at the Euro to shine individually, then the wheels can start to come off,” he said. “You pay very dearly for every error at a Euro. There are personal objectives and there are collective objectives.”
France has worked hard to rebuild its image since Blanc replaced the unpopular Raymond Domenech after the World Cup, but Malouda has raised concerns that a casual attitude could be returning — and he wants it stamped out.
“The evening before in training, everyone had that feeling. Blanc stopped the training and he said there was nonchalance creeping in. It was like we weren’t preparing for this match to win it,” Malouda said. “We’re not here to take a stroll in our flip-flops. We’re here to play matches and win them. In terms of commitment, you can’t drop below a certain level. If we go back to our old ways, we go backward.”
Malouda fears France could get thrashed by Spain if they do not improve their attitude.
“It’s at times like these that you really need a discussion between the players. Because if we don’t sort things out before Saturday, with the opponent we have coming up, the bill could be expensive,” he said. “Knowing the position we were in two years ago and the work that we’ve done to come back ... the fact we gave up everything and played like a team that was just turning up to have fun was shocking.”