France have gone from injuries, scandal and families warring in the stands to total tranquility

Nicolas Anelka telling manager Raymond Domenech where to go in very colourful language amid squad mutiny at the 2010 World Cup. Karim Benzema’s conviction for complicity to blackmail team-mate Mathieu Valbuena over a sex tape.

Allegations Paul Pogba hired a witch-doctor to put a spell on Kylian Mbappe. Adrien Rabiot’s mum blasting Kylian Mbappe’s parents for their son’s ‘arrogance’ and then again after the forward missed the penalty that sent the country out of Euro 2020.

And that’s just in the last 12 years! For fans who enjoy following the soap opera of French football’s seemingly never-ending psychodrama, there’s never any shortage of material.

Indeed, before the Qatar World Cup this winter, Les Bleus were plagued by problems, with numerous injuries, scandal and families warring in the stands threatening to undermine the team once again.

But they’ve overcome all those issues. And now? After cruising past Poland 3-1 in the last-16 on Sunday, it is only tranquility among Didier Deschamps and his players.

The absences of Pogba and Benzema have proved a blessing in disguise, former problem child Rabiot is reintegrated back into the team, and Mbappe is well on the way to winning the Golden Boot. 

England should certainly be worried ahead of their quarter-final clash on Saturday. So just how have France done it? Below, Sportsmail takes a look at their remarkable turnaround.

France have gone from injuries, scandal and families warring in the stands to total tranquility

France have gone from injuries, scandal and families warring in the stands to total tranquility

The World Cup holders have gone from being plagued by problems to looking like the best team in Qatar under Didier Deschamps; Sportsmail takes a look at their remarkable turnaround

The World Cup holders have gone from being plagued by problems to looking like the best team in Qatar under Didier Deschamps; Sportsmail takes a look at their remarkable turnaround

No Karim Benzema a blessing in disguise 

It might seem absurd to say this about Karim Benzema, a striker of such prodigious talent that he scored 44 goals in 46 appearances in all competitions for Real Madrid, which fired him to the 2022 Ballon d’Or, but France don’t really miss him.

Of course, he’s a wonderful goalscorer, and once compared the difference between him and fellow striking rival Olivier Giroud to a Formula One car and a go-kart. 

But at the 2018 World Cup, Giroud – now at AC Milan – famously did not even score once yet was a crucial cog in France’s attack, getting the best out of his team-mates as France lifted the trophy. 

The absence of talented striker Karim Benzema has proved a blessing in disguise

The absence of talented striker Karim Benzema has proved a blessing in disguise

At the 2020 European Championships, Giroud was dropped to the bench for Benzema and look how that turned out – they were knocked out in the round of 16 by Switzerland.

In this tournament, Giroud has three already, the joint-second top scorer in the tournament, and he praised the link-up with Mbappe after the Poland win. 

And that’s putting aside Benzema’s six-year absence from 2015 to 2021 over complicity in blackmailing former international team-mate Mathieu Valbuena regarding a sex tape.

You can see how that could lead to mistrust among his current team-mates. Giroud might not have the individual talent of Benzema, but he is now their outright record goalscorer of all time, and France look a better team with him in it.

Avoiding a Paul Pogba sideshow 

Paul Pogba has been infamously inconsistent at club level – just ask Manchester United fans – but has always managed to turn it on at the international stage. 

He was instrumental in France’s World Cup win four years ago and would have doubtless been a starter and an important player in their midfield had he not been sidelined by a serious knee injury. 

It’s also important to stress Pogba cannot control the actions or words of his brother Mathias, who bizarrely claimed Paul had asked a marabout (which has connotations of an African witch doctor) to cast a spell on Mbappe. 

There has been no sideshow about Paul Pogba's rumoured rift with Kylian Mbappe

There has been no sideshow about Paul Pogba’s rumoured rift with Kylian Mbappe

Pogba denied it and Mbappe dismissed talk of a rift between the pair, insisting he ‘trusts’ Pogba, but it was not ideal for the two most high-profile players in the squad to be mired in negative headlines. 

Another media circus around the pair could have provided a sideshow in Qatar, and that’s been avoided in Pogba’s absence.

More generally, the likes of Pogba, N’Golo Kante, Christopher Nkunku and Presnel Kimpembe not being at the World Cup has allowed talented young players like Jules Kounde, Dayot Upamecano, Aurelien Tchouameni and Marcus Thuram to shine.

Of course, that speaks to the crazy strength in depth available to Deschamps, but also reinforces the narrative that no one player is above the team and that no player is irreplacable. Team above all.

Rabiot’s reintegration 

Adrien Rabiot has come a long way. The midfielder was left out of Deschamps’ squad for the last World Cup but was asked to go on an 11-man standby list. He refused and naturally, Deschamps was utterly bemused.

Rabiot went on to lob bombs at the camp from outside, sending an email to the French FA to blast the manager’s decision making process. 

His mother Veronique has never been one to hold her tongue. She once told Mbappe’s parents: ‘You better take care of your son because he has a big head and too much protection from the press and I think he’s arrogant.’

After the PSG star missed the crucial penalty in the Euro 2020 exit against Switzerland, Veronique leaned over the family section in the stands and told a presumably incredulous Kylian’s dad Wilfried: ‘It is embarrassing how he struck that, for a player of his level. He hit it too lightly. I hope you are going to scold him.’

Adrien Rabiot has come a long way since the last World Cup and is now a starter in midfield

Adrien Rabiot has come a long way since the last World Cup and is now a starter in midfield

There have been no issues with Adrien's outspoken mother Veronique Rabiot (pictured centre)

There have been no issues with Adrien’s outspoken mother Veronique Rabiot (pictured centre)

So not a player or a family without issues. 

But Pogba and Kante’s absences have opened the door to the left-footer, who has played 90 minutes in every meaningful game at the tournament (he was rested for the 1-0 loss against Tunisia when they were already qualified) and scored the country’s opener to begin the comeback after going 1-0 down against Australia.

Mbappe hugged him after that goal in a very public show of unity. The problems appear to be behind them.

Consistency under Deschamps 

Amid Zinedine Zidane’s open overtures to replacing him in the job, Deschamps – himself a World Cup winner in 1998 as a player – has been a quiet paragon of consistency.

Once a diminutive defensive midfielder whose job was viewed as ‘just passing to more talented players’, he has been similarly underestimated as a manager.

Obsessed with keeping team spirit after the Domenech/Anelka affair in 2010 – although he did recall Benzema in 2021 and likely would have started him up front were he not injured – he cares deeply about squad dynamics and dropped Hatem Ben Arfa and Samir Nasri for their perceived unsuitability to ‘squad football’.

This emphasis on togetherness has allowed players with mediocre club form – Upamecano at Bayern Munich, Rabiot at Juventus, Antoine Griezmann at Atletico Madrid – to shine for their country.

France manager Didier Deschamps (second right) has been a quietly effective leader

France manager Didier Deschamps (second right) has been a quietly effective leader

Griezmann said: ‘Our coach believes in us being a group, being a team. It is up to us to have that mentality off and on the pitch. We are on the right path. We are a group that lives well together. I can see it in training too. Everyone gives 100 per cent and we have the perfect set up to take us as far as possible.

‘My joie de vivre? Physically, I feel good and I have no problems in my personal life. I have known difficult moments at Barcelona, for example, and even back at Atletico it was complicated at first. Now I am finding my bearings off and on the pitch. I am fully confident with my club and the French national team. I like to be needed.’  

Mbappe’s PSG future unimportant 

Despite French giants PSG making Mbappe the highest-paid player in the world with a gargantuan new deal this summer, with a reported signing-on fee of £100million and influence over club matters and transfers, his future is up in the air.

He’s hardly denied speculation about one day moving to Real Madrid and there were potential developments on his next club seemingly every day in the build-up to the tournament.

At Euro 2020 he struggled, with zero goals, one assist, 62 possessions lost and nine shots off target out of 12. His personal failure was front-page news and emblematic of a team who weren’t at the races.

Star forward Mbappe has already scored five goals and is a frontrunner for the Golden Boot

Star forward Mbappe has already scored five goals and is a frontrunner for the Golden Boot

This tournament? He has five goals already – two clear of his closest challengers in the Golden Boot race – and, unsurprisingly, questions about PSG are few and far between.

His media blackout before the post-match questions he took after beating Poland indicate a player fully focused on the competition and unwilling to entertain any distractions.

Plus, personally paying the fine handed down to the French FA for his press conference no-shows is pocket change to him – but it shows he is willing to work with the federation and that they’re all singing off the same hymn sheet.

Midfielder Declan Rice says France should fear England. Well, England should fear France too

Midfielder Declan Rice says France should fear England. Well, England should fear France too

On to defend their title?

After beating Poland, French coaches formed a tunnel to pat players on the back, symbolising the love and support among the squad.

Defender Jules Kounde said: ‘We have spent more time with each other, we have more experience and more games together. It’s how you build a group. The spirit is really good, the mix of generations is going well.’ 

With Giroud also hailing the increased ‘freedom and fresh air’ of this tournament compared to the Covid-affected Euros, things are looking much brighter for Les Bleus.

After the failure at that tournament, Deschamps insisted he would take the blame, adding simply: ‘Respect each other, always.’ They appear to have heeded his words.

Midfielder Declan Rice says France should fear England. Well, England should fear France too.

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