20 June 2008

To cap it all

Not unexpectedly, Lilian Thuram announced his international retirement after France exited wimpishly from Euro 2008. He'd been dropped for their third and final group game anyway and unless France made progress (which was always unlikely, given their utter lack of cohesion against Romania and Holland), his end was clearly nigh.

He made 142 appearances over a 14 year period.

This makes him the fourth most capped player in Europe, after two Estonians and one German. It is a lot of caps, both in football terms and in terms of the proportions his trophy room closet requires in order to accommodate all the headgear because, yes, footballers do genuinely still receive caps when they represent their country. England's most capped outfield player, Bobby Moore, won a "mere" 108 caps.

Does Thuram's achievement - a first choice defender for 14 solid years - marks him out as a wildly great player, or does it show that France, for all their successes when Thuram's generation were at their peak, had no new golden generation to assume his mantle, even as he aged? When a footballing superpower such as France, a decade after winning the World Cup in such joyous manner, is still choosing a 36 year old defender with slowing legs and instincts for a major tournament, it actually does Thuram no favours.

He'll be feted as a hero in France forever - two goals in the 1998 semi-final alone did that, though playing 142 times for his country and winning two major tournaments is a handy back-up achievement - but to see such a stalwart of great heritage and once wonderful defensive ability become a slow, ponderous figure as Mutu and Van Nistelrooy trod him into the ground, was heartbreaking. Domanech did right to drop him, and Thuram's done right to say enough is enough.

You have a problem when you are picking a player out of brutal necessity, as well as a spot of sentiment, if such a player also happens to be still the best available. France's footballing future looks bleak indeed.

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