Robert Pires won the World Cup with France in 1998. He was part of the squad that followed that success with glory at Euro 2000 and he played in the France team that beat England 2-1 at Euro 2004. The winger also won two Premier League titles and three FA Cups as an Arsenal player. And he has lush hair.
He knows a few things about football in France and England – which is why he’s the perfect man to select a combined France/England team ahead of Monday night’s clash between the two cross-Channel rivals. While his inclusion of John Terry and Samir Nasri makes Arseblog News retch, the fact Bobby overlooks picks Gael Clichy over Ashley Cole and dismisses Scott Parker’s qualities raises a wry smile.
So here is the Robert Pires Frangland XI:
Goalkeeper: Joe Hart
He was a champion in England this season and has had a great campaign. He’s been very solid; he just has the edge over Hugo Lloris because of the campaign he has had at City, where he has been outstanding. He’s a decisive goalkeeper, he has won his team some big points with major performances. Lloris is a very sound goalkeeper too but Hart is first pick in my team. 1-0 to the Englishmen.
Right-back: Mathieu Debuchy
There’s no hesitation here, I’d pick Mathieu over Glen Johnson. He’s energetic, and defensively he is very strong. He is a hard tackler but technically very good too; a fine passer of the ball, he gets forward a lot and puts in quality crosses. He’s got a decent shot on him as well.
Left-back: Gael Clichy
This was the toughest decision in the whole team. I’ve played with both Ashley Cole and Gael for Arsenal, and they’re two of the best in the business. Indeed, Gael learned a lot from being Ashley’s understudy at Arsenal. I’m hesitating between the two but I will go for Clichy, because I just think he’s still on an upward curve, and for me he brings more to the team going forward.
Centre-backs: John Terry / Philippe Mexes
The problem with these guys is that there is no left-footer in there. But Terry is a guy you can count on. He’s been there and done it and has experience of top-level football. He’ll give everything for the team. Philippe is quicker then he looks and is rarely beaten in a one-on-one: he’s also the kind of centre-back that midfielders like to have in their side with you, because you know he’s not going to just bang it forward, he’s going to bring the midfield into the game.
Centre midfield: Yann M’Vila
This was another tough choice between Scott Parker and M’Vila, and it took me a while to separate them. Parker has that pugnacious quality that’s so appreciated in the Premier League, but he doesn’t have a great deal of international experience. I will go for M’Vila because he’s impressed me so much. He’s technically better, more skilled than Parker. I like his passing, and in spite of his age he never panics.
Centre midfield: Yohan Cabaye
I will pick Cabaye over Frank Lampard, who has been a fantastic player for Chelsea in the Premier League but I will go for freshness. If I’m picking this team, I want vitality. I think Cabaye has had a fantastic first season in England. He’s very confident on the ball and he’s a great worker. Physically he’s impressive and I think he’s the complete package, an old-fashioned number eight.
Right Midfield: Samir Nasri
Samir has had a good season with Manchester City even though he didn’t play every game. He gets the nod over Steven Gerrrard for me. Samir is always calm on the ball, he sees solutions, he can always pick out a team-mate with the right pass.
Left Midfield: Franck Ribery
I hesitated because Ashley Young is a player I appreciate but I will go for Ribery. He’s had a good season for Bayern Munich, perhaps the most consistent period since he first moved to Germany. What I like about him – and I do know a little bit about this position – is that you have to be unpredictable and Franck is certainly that. He brings you that element of surprise, he loves to dribble, to provoke, and he never holds back. You need the wingers to be on form if your team is going to shine.
Centre-forward: Wayne Rooney
You can’t leave him out of a Frangland team! We’ve known about Rooney for years but I think he has made huge progress technically. He’s a really important player for Manchester United and England but has all the qualities that us French like in the English: he’s a battler, he has character but also he has the skill and he scores goals. There’s nothing not to like. To be honest with you, I’m really pleased he’s not playing against us on June 11. If you take Rooney out of the England team, then obviously that team is severely weakened.
Centre-forward: Karim Benzema
Karim brings you different elements to Rooney and I think they would be very complementary together, they’d be a great strike pairing. Karim is quality: he’s had an enormous season with Real Madrid. Karim is on top of his game. He has that extra confidence about him now: it’s the sign of great players. Those two together is a hot partnership. Hot!
Coach: Laurent Blanc
Don’t forget to make Laurent my coach of this team. I have to put him in because he’s my friend!
Pires’s Frangland XI: (4132):
Debuchy, Terry, Mexes, Clichy
Nasri, Cabaye, Ribery
This is an edited extract from the ebook ‘Best XI Insider: England versus France’, which contains exclusive profiles of Scott Parker, Roy Hodgson, Franck Ribery and Laurent Blanc, and tactical analysis by Michael Cox, and is available to buy here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Best-Insider-England-France-ebook/dp/B0087D8BN0/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1338446019&sr=8-1