Until recently, the French defence had a problem. But that problem was a fine one to have, a problem of choice. The left-back position was a well-fought for place, with Eric Abidal, Gael Clichy and Patrice Evra leaving no stone unturned to prove their competency. With Abidal now sadly retired prematurely due to health reasons, the fight has become a two horse race.
Eric Abidal was former French coach, Raymond Domenech’s first choice for the coveted position. And he held the spot in almost every Euro 2008 match until he gave away a penalty against Italy and was eventually sent off, leaving France to battle to save their skin, which they couldn’t and left the group stages red-faced. The Barcelona player was certainly an experienced warrior and gave it all for his country. His commitment and Domenech’s belief helped him stay head and shoulders above the other two. But following a liver transplant, he announced his retirement from international football and easing the problem for Laurent Blanc.
Gael Clichy, now with Manchester City for the last year after leaving Arsenal in 2011, is a right footed left-back, quite like the German National Philip Lahm, but allegedly lacks the character of the latter. His time at Arsenal wasn’t extremely fruitful but his pace was there for all to see. Wenger may have surprisingly decided against keeping another French national in the squad, but Clichy has since found his feet in the blue side of Manchester. His quick feet and his aggressive approach have helped him maraud forward with the midfielders in tow to put in a decent cross in to the box with favorable results.
He doesn’t let his attack-minded approach hamper his basic role though, as he is quick on the return and has the ability to hold his own along the wings. He has started most games for City and has given Kolarov and Zabaleta reasons to worry. At 26, he may just be beginning to blossom in to a world class full back. So his inclusion in the 23-man squad may just be the start of his time at the French National scene.
The famous Manchester United left back, who has troubled most players, is also in the line for Blanc’s favor. He was thought to be a pacy customer until he was upended by Gareth Bale’s pace in a league match. At 31, the Senegal born defender may have lost much of his athleticism that Sir Alex Ferguson found him with. His small frame is another drawback and he hasn’t really shone in the last season for the United side. The Racism row with Suarez may have taken an emotional toll on the player but at this level of football, he is expected to be able to hold his composure on and off the field.
Evra doesn’t have many things going his way and he may just warm the bench; or Blanc may decide to stick with experience and give him a start against arch-rivals England in their tournament opener, where he’ll meet his United compatriots, Danny Welbeck, Ashley Young, Phil Jones. If things go well for both sides, he may even come face to face with Wayne Rooney in the tournament. He will need all the luck he can find to silence the raucous critics, but Clichy does seem to be the favorite from where we are standing.