Fault! The file name is not specified. Domenech (centre) is an ambiguous figure in French football, but he is back in the game with his first leading role in a decade. Why now, and why Nantes? LOIC VENANCE/AFP via Getty Images

It wasn’t the Christmas present that Nantes fans expected, and some reactions to Raymond Domenech’s announcement of his appointment as the club’s new manager were brutal and even violent. Her contract only lasts until the end of the 2020-21 season, as Nantes has to stabilise – they are at the bottom of Ligue 1 for the Breton derby against Rennes at 6. January only three points above the relegation zone – but hostility has increased since his appointment on the 26th. December, of course.

It has been 27 years since Domenech last played as club manager, when he led Lyon against Zinedine Zidane (player) and Bordeaux, and more than 10 years since his last game as head coach of the French national team against South Africa at the 2010 World Cup. This tournament remains indelible in the minds of French football fans, both for the mediocrity of the pitch and for the drama that results from it. After their last game this summer, a 2-1 group stage defeat for the tournament hosts, Domenech refused to shake hands with coach Carlos Albert Parreira because the Brazilian had said six months ago that Les Bleus shouldn’t have qualified because Thierry Henry had cheated on Ireland with his handball.

It’s Domenech in one word: often vengeful and bitter, he never forgets anything. He reads everything that is written about him; he also looks and listens to everything that is said about him. He’s very intelligent, he talks a lot, he’s charming when he wants to and he loves to chat. He is also the most controversial coach in the history of French football, having been France’s head coach from 2004 to 2010.

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This six-year saga with the French national team is unprecedented for Domenech’s career in sport. He started his career so badly, despite the presence in his team of players such as Thierry Henry, Nicolas Anelka, Patrick Vieira and David Trezeguet, that France threatened to miss the 2006 World Cup. It was a time when Domenech, for example, said he couldn’t play with two defenders who had Leo’s star player on the same team. It would not be the first time, nor the last, that Domenech, who believes in astrology, used it to select his teams.

To save the nation from shame, Zinedine Zidane, Claude Makelele and Lilian Thuram came out of international retirement to take the team to Germany 2006. There Zidane led the team and even stopped talking to Domenech, but the Blues lost the final against Italy on penalty kicks and Zidane was sent away for the headline by Marco Materrazzi. Domenech never admitted that he was unfamiliar with leading the team to the finals.


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Eventually the post-Zidane era will prove even more difficult for Domenech and France. After a miserable group phase ending of Euro 2008, in which Domenech never managed to control the tensions between the young stars in his team (Samir Nasri, Karim Benzema) and the older players (Thuram, Willy Sagnol, Makelele), he thought it would be a good idea to offer his girlfriend the post-match interview live on French television, instead of taking responsibility for the fiasco or giving an explanation. (He went on to explain that it was a communication error. I felt a moment of humanity when I should have stayed calm and professional).

The 2010 World Cup cycle was a clear low point. There was the match against Ireland, where Henry’s handball got France in the tournament, the foul between Henry and Anelka, and the goal of the players in the tournament – all of which helped Les Bleus through the group stage, with a draw against Uruguay and defeats against Mexico and South Africa.

Fault! The file name is not specified. Domenech (left) faced a mutiny of players during the 2010 World Cup when the team refused to train and striker Nicolas Anelka came home early. FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Image

Domenech’s contract with the French national team expired after this tournament. Since then he has concentrated on theatre and drama and occasionally performs as an expert in his wife’s television show and leads the management association. However, it has never been far from controversial. He complained when Nantes decided to sign Claudio Ranieri in the summer of 2017 because he believed the Italian was too old to coach in Ligue 1. In fact Ranieri was 65 years old, while in France the age limit for coaches was 65 years. The old boss in Leicester was pardoned and everyone agreed, except Domenech.

The whole controversy prompted Ranieri to respond to him at the press conference: Domenech? If he wants to talk to me about theater, maybe I’ll listen to him. But if he wants to talk to me about football, I won’t listen. The video clip was broadcast on social media after being repeated a few days before the appointment with Domenech; oh, and Domenech turned 69 at the end of January.

It would be an understatement to say that his return to club management is a surprise. No one saw it, and no one wanted to believe it. Yet Valdemar Kita, the controversial owner of Nant, did.

Why Domenech? This has little to do with his leadership qualities, given his long absence from work. The more likely the answer, the more it has to do with his personality, and Keith likes characters. It’s also a great publicity stunt for the club. Keith, who made his fortune in cosmetic surgery, knows there’s no such thing as bad publicity, even though Nantes fans openly encourage him to sell the club. (The protests of the fans against the nursery property at the beginning of December even led to riots and the use of tear gas to spread supporters). When it comes to him and his club, he’s happy.

Domenech also knew that his appointment would cause many problems, but he loves the attention as much as he loves the challenge. His remarks about the new position were diplomatic and spoke of his love for a difficult situation: I look forward to working with the staff and doing what I can to help the club regain its rightful status. He likes it when there’s adversity. (In this respect, he and Keith are actually very much alike).

Will they be made for heaven? Only time will tell. Nantes currently occupies 16th place in Ligue 1, three points away from the relegation zone. They have not won in eight games (four draws and four losses), and there is a lot of work to stabilize the ship, not to mention a positive season. His first practice on Wednesday was ruined by screaming fans: Welcome to the circus! Over the loudspeaker as the actors perform their routine, a disturbing sign of what lies ahead.

In the 70s and 80s, Domenech gained a reputation as one of the meanest defenders in the league. If he can pass on some of this attitude, this Nantes team will be able to improve. Nevertheless, his appointment has revived some of the worst memories in the history of French football and has demonstrated once again that when it comes to Domenech, the controversy is never far away.

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