Sesailly: Ireland must not fail to prepare
Former France international Marcel Desailly ended an impressive playing career with 116 caps and a kitbag haul of trophies that included a World Cup and a European Championship medal, a couple of Champions League medals and League medals from France, Italy and England.
This week, as a roaming ambassador for a beer company, he was in town to help us work up a thirst for football ahead of the European Championships.
A tough, skilled defender, Desailly was rated at Marseilles, Milan and Chelsea for being a consummate blocker. He gave little away.
At the interface between football and commerce, Ghana-born Desailly became the go-to guy to ask about Eric Cantona's explosive contention that the decision by coach Didier Deschamps to leave Karim Benzema and Hatem Ben Arfa out of the France squad was based on grounds of ethnicity.
"I'm not responsible for what Cantona says," he replies, laughing defensively. "He's French. I want to support him but I'm just backing up. How can you can justify this?
"Deschamps decided not to take (Samir) Nasri for technical reasons," he continues. "He probably thought that, in his own ideal philosophy of the eleven, it was better not to take him. This time he was scared about any problem with Benzema. You know, any media issue.
The friends of (Mathieu) Valbuena in the team who probably create something. So as a coach, and President of the Federation (Noël Le Graët), you have to make a decision, a statement. They waited quite long."
According to Desailly, decisions to drop Benzema and Ben Arfa weren't taken lightly.
"They put themselves into parte civile, which in law means they had access to all the files," he says in relation to Benzema and the scandal that saw him questioned by police investigating alleged attempts to blackmail France team-mate Valbuena over a sex tape. "So they know a lot of things that happened inside this case that we don't know."
Benzema claims Deschamps "bowed to the pressure of a racist part of France".
"There's no racism in football," insists Desailly. "As a coach you want your best player. When you are 9, 8, or 10, maybe the coach can be influenced by the social level of the parents to put their kids in a team. Once you reach a decent level, the best are playing, no matter the colour or origin or whatever. You want your best players."
With eighteen goals to his credit this season, Ben Arfa is said to be attracting offers from major clubs following his unhappy spell at Newcastle (on loan to Hull and Nice).
Desailly's assessment is rigorous. "Where was he two years ago, three years ago?" he asks. "What was his presence as first choice? What has been the reason? You have to look very far to make a decision on players. He's been doing very well this season. But the previous season he was hanging. Look at deep down at the continuity in the game. Deschamps wants his midfield to drop back to make the effort.
Does he make the effort? Yes? No? Didier has to make his own judgement that he might prefer to have (Kingsley) Coman on the left side. On the discipline attitude he might prefer someone else to Ben Arfa."
Clearly, being manager of France has its complications.
"I was with him (Deschamps) on Sunday and he explained a little bit of the worries he has and, wow, a lot details," reveals Desailly. "He's been studying Ben Arfa deep down."
Then there's the question of security in France during the tournament.
"Actually we are more worried about the strike," declares Carlsberg ambassador Desailly. "The government are aware and are concerned. They have no guarantee that they are going to give maximum insurance on the safety level. The fanzones are the critical areas.
"They are putting security and plainclothes police into the system. But it's the whole of Europe. In any village in any European country something can happen for them to show their political or religious implication. For the Euros, I'm sure there will be no room or opportunity for them. The secret service are very busy."
What does Marcel think of Ireland's set-up and chances in France this summer? He's shared punditry duties on television with Ireland manager Martin O'Neill.
"He's obsessed about football," says Marcel. "So it's good because you have to be obsessed to be a coach. He doesn't communicate that much. But at the same time, he's good. He has been to many clubs, so deep down he has the football experience."
Roy Keane is even more of an enigma.
"For him, it's a great job opportunity," suggests the former France international. "You might be a quality coach but the first job that you take mightn't bring you to the level that you're expecting to get to.
"So this opportunity that he has with Ireland gives him the possibility to express himself. We were having some doubts at the beginning. Because they are two personalities, you were wondering how you are going to shape these two strong characters? And it's working, no?
"We hope that Ireland go through the first round," says Marcel hesitantly. "We don't see them winning the Euros. But we hope that they'll play like they've done in their qualification round. They played well at home. Away they've been decent. They've not conceded many goals. So the defence is good.
"Ireland can go through the first round because . . er." Marcel seems stuck for a convincing argument.
"It's a matter of preparation," he says, sliding out of trouble. "I hope they will prepare them very well. The preparation for Ireland. How Roy and Martin are going to prepare the players, instead of building up the physical aspect of the players for the second round, how they are going to build the confidence. If you get the confidence plus the crowd, you can surprise people."