Welcome to our PRESS BOX feature at Football News. In this series of interviews, some of football’s most renowned experts have their say on the ongoings in the French football world, looking in from the outside.
This week it is the turn of Bleacher Report’s lead football writer to spend some time in our PRESS BOX, as we notably discuss the French connection at Aston Villa and Ngolo Kanté’s difficulties in terms of getting a call-up to the French national team.
GFFN: Is there a particular style of football, in your experience, that you would characterise as “French”? If so, can you describe it to us?
Sam Tighe: There’s a healthy variation of styles and formations in the French football matches I watch, but at a push, I’d probably associate the 4-3-3, possession-based style with France.
Why? Because the headline sides – Paris Saint-Germain and the French national team – both play it. I am a big fan of Didier Deschamps’ system and how it utilises (or has utilised) Karim Benzema and Blaise Matuidi.
GFFN: You are known for having a soft spot for Aston Villa, which Ligue 1 recruit from this summer has most impressed you and why?
Sam Tighe: Initially it was Jordan Amavi, but a cruel injury cut his season short. It took him just 90 minutes to become a fan favourite, excelling on the opening day against AFC Bournemouth. He is Villa’s fastest player and best crosser. After him, it’s Jordan Ayew.
He regressed to what many would consider to be his norm last week with a stupid, stupid elbow to the face of Aaron Cresswell against West Ham. But that aside, he’s been a leader for this beleaguered team; he’s dragged them through the mud, worked extremely hard and scored some wonderful goals. It’s arguable he’s the odds-on favourite for club Player of the Season – a hollow crown, but a crown nonetheless.
GFFN: To what extent would Remi Garde be responsible, should Aston Villa be relegated from the Premier League this season?
Sam Tighe: About five percent. This really isn’t his fault. The problems at Villa are widespread and precede Garde by about five years. The Frenchman should definitely have secured his first victory more quickly than he did, but he inherited a jumbled, imbalanced squad bereft of confidence with no true No. 9 – the most important ingredient for survival.
Garde has conducted himself with class, has remained determined, and Villa fans, on the whole, really quite like him despite the predicament. No one is calling for his head.
GFFN: Do you think that Remi Garde’s situation at Aston Villa might deter other Premier League clubs from bringing in other French managers in the future?
Sam Tighe: I’d like to think other clubs, from the outside looking in, can identify that Villa are a broken, poorly run club and that Garde’s “failures” this season aren’t a product of poor management from him.
There’s a stigma in England about bringing in “foreign” managers who “don’t know the league.” That will probably never change, and Garde’s struggles will neither accentuate or diminish those opinions.
GFFN: How would you describe Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the brand?
Sam Tighe: Enigmatic? He’s a lot of fun, and here in England we’ve always had to switch away from the Premier League to take in his talents. He’s the ultimate quote machine, style icon, controversial figure and leader rolled into one.
When I covered PSG vs. Chelsea in the Champions League at the Parc des Princes, I was surprised to hear just how loud the roar was for his name when announced pre-game, but looking back on it, I shouldn’t have been. It’s Zlatan!
GFFN: Do Francis Coquelin and Ngolo Kanté deserve more serious consideration for the French national team?
Sam Tighe: It’s rough for these two that France have so many options in this area, because they’ve been absolutely fantastic since breaching the XI of their respective teams. Kante has been the best central midfielder in the Premier League this season without question, but which position would he assume in Deschamps’ 4-3-3?
Matuidi’s? No thanks, Matuidi is great. Coquelin is obviously only suited to the anchor role, but with Yohan Cabaye, Morgan Schneiderlin (who I think is genuinely brilliant) and Lassana Diarra all vying for one spot, is it worth complicating matters further by bringing in a fourth contestant so close to the tournament? I’d argue no.
GFFN: In 2015, Ligue 1 clubs received 386m Euros in transfer fees, more than any other European league. Will such a selling culture prevent Ligue 1 from ever becoming a dominant European league?
Sam Tighe: Ligue 1 is going to need more than one “super club” (PSG) to become a dominant league. The perception of Ligue 1 in England is that of a walkover league, where PSG enjoy a cash-infused reign and every other team is sub-par.
That’s a reductive and inaccurate assessment, of course – it’s not hard to see the great storylines and emerging teams if you look hard enough – but the ultimate restrictions for Ligue 1 lie, I believe, in the financial department. Until the seventh-best club in France can offer €60,000-per-week in wages to players, it won’t catch up.
GFFN: EURO 2016 – Are you going and are France favourites in your opinion?
Sam Tighe: I’m not scheduled to go at the moment—Bleacher Report have built a swanky new studio and I’m staying in London, for the most part, to provide analysis and reaction via video format. For me, France were favourites until, you know, Benzema.
GFFN: Can France win the Euros without Karim Benzema?
Sam Tighe: I think France can win, but only if they replace Benzema properly. I’m not tuned into what Deschamps is thinking, but I dread the thought of him selecting Olivier Giroud as the starter for the tournament; in England is well known for missing big chances and his failures to convert one-on-one opportunities – despite his excellent goal return this season.
Antoine Griezmann is a gem and, given he now plays centre-forward for Atletico Madrid, he should be a natural fit. With Griezmann up front, France can win it.
GFFN: Will PSG win the Champions League this season?
Sam Tighe: I predicted Barcelona to retain the treble back in pre-season and re-affirmed that prediction just a week or so ago, so I have to say no to this question. I think PSG look ferocious this season, truly ferocious, but I can’t see past Barca.
For the entire PRESS BOX series, click here.