2014 FIVB World Championship Men is in the past, but two months later, when the emotions faded, we discuss the presentation of the French national team. What was the key to success for France in Poland?

It would be strange to give any advice or to blame the coach who brought the biggest success with the French national team in the recent years, wouldn’t be? 

Of course, we are talking about Laurent Tillie.  

The “medal moments” are rare for Les Bleus. However, they are in the top ten teams in the world. And you never know how the French will perform in the next major tournament. Will they fail or, conversely, demonstrate the wonders of perseverance and resourcefulness? Will they open a window to the Future and show an alternative vision of volleyball, which is only available to them?

 

 

In fact, there are some objective factors why France played in that great way during the FIVB World Championship in Poland in September. At the same time, it is difficult to understand why they do it now, but did not do before? Another question is if they could look even better on the court? More about this later, but now let’s see how “The Miracle” was born and which were the preconditions to it.

Firstly, there is a systematic monotonic increase of results, despite the short period of work of Laurent Tillie. Starting with the quality of the game at last year’s European Championship, continuing with very good results in the second division of the World League, finishing with the World Championship 2014. I am not going to say anything bad about Philip Blaine, but Tillie managed to infuse this team with hope.

Secondly, in the Men’s  team of the country participate more and more players from the generation that became twice winners of Youth European Championships (2007, 2009) and once won the European Championship Men 21 (2008). That is one of the most glorious and triumphant generations of French volleyball. So, some of the important players then (including Ngapeth ) turn themselves into important players now for the Men’s team. We are talking above all about the middle-blockers: Le Roux, Le Goff and Lafitte, about Kevin Tillie, Benjamin Tonutti, and the second libero Rossard.

Thirdly, I would point out it in a separate point: leapfrog with setters finally ended with  Benjamin Toniutti. Number of options exceeded all conceivable limits, and the number of those options was even bigger than the one in the US team.

Fourth, and perhaps this is the main reason for the success of the French in WCH 2014 –  all the biggest achievements in the recent years in France are tied to the shape of their main opposite player: when Antonin Rouzier is in a good shape – France rages and fumes! If he is sick, tired, or just in bad shape – things just don’t go well and there are only pleasant memories left without any medals or cups. During the World Championship, at least until the semifinal, Rouzier was in an excellent shape and, as it happens in such cases, a fantastic luck  accompanied him also. His quick, risky and aggressive style of play  became systematic, so it confused the strong teams of Iran and USA.  

After the great start for him, it seemed that he was gone, and this also reflected on the whole France team. It was expected that the higher expectations are a double edged sword for him. Nevermind, the presence of Ngapeth in the team decreased gradually this dependence.

But maybe it is  more interesting to talk about what prevented the French team to eventually climb on a pedestal, isn’t it?

First of all, it is, of course, the lack of one of the basic players in the last season: the wing-spiker, the left-handed Julien Lyneel (as Boris Grebennikov – head coach of Gazprom-Yugra shared his opinion in an interview). In some ways this is true, but on the other hand – it is not, because France at the 2014 World Championship showed us the game, which we have never seen in their performance even with Lyneel!

Linnell played a role in last year’s French team that is comparable to that of nowadays plays Gaemi in Iran team, i.e. a stable player, prudent and wiser than Mojtaba/Ngapeth, making more interesting, non-standard solutions in most of the cases. In the Polish team such player was in this season Mateusz Mika, despite all its external dissimilarity with the already mentioned left-handed spikers.

It seemed that Laurent Tillie doesn’t  believe completely in his son as a wing-spiker in the starting six, although the second one is quite an adult player who has already won his place even without the active participation of the father. At the same time, he eventually got more time than Nicolas Marechal, adding considerably in recent years, serving on this tournament excellent serve unlike Kevin. If they needed a powerful hitter in the fourth zone, that can get the ball to the floor in most situations, and even attacked over the block on top, in such cases it was necessary to make a bet on Samuel Tuia. And personally I think he’s stylistic doppelganger of Ricardo Lucarelli. In the match against Brazil the need for such the agressive spiker was especially great.

Tillie hadn’t decided he wants to see from his wing-spikers, which qualities are the most important  and who actually should play with Ngapeth in the roster? To be fair, all the French wing-spikers has good recieving on this tournament.

Consciously or not, the coach of France didn’t pay enough attention to another young spiker, who deserves an  invitation – volleyball player who plays in a Denis Biryukov-like style. We are talking about Guillaume Quesque, who was named MVP in the victorious for the France junior European Championships in 2007.

 Quesque shows excellent combination of block, technical skills and also defensive abilities.

Would be useful Quesque for  the current team of France – not a simple question, but he could reinforce the block if given the chance to show what he can.

The only problem for Jenia is his play in difficult situations. This aspect of his game need to rapidly improve, because such episodes was failed by Jenia during the game against Brazil.

Another surprisingly decision of Tillie was to replace Toniutti to strengthen the block with Jaumel! This conception of the coach was unclear from the beginning. Yoann Jaumel – the player is only 181 cm tall, so how can can talk about a block gain then? For these purposes, Pierre Pujol, so familiar to Tillie matches for AS Cannes, or tall Toafa Takaniku or even Bertrand Carletti could be invited to the French team.  

Yannick Bazin also deserves an invitation to the French team, and, possibly, on the role of the main passer. He has remarkable skills, athleticism and incredible jump serve.

Why the choice was made in favor Jaumel – a big mystery. Rejuvenation of the team – something good and useful, but only when it comes to real enhancing of a team, players not only new, but promising.

And finally, let me once again return to the subject of the most painful theme of French national team in recent years. Fatal theme of opposite spikers.

After the World Championship in Poland no one has the moral right to blame in anything Antonin Rouzier. But at the same time we can not deny the fact that in the semi-finals he didn’t  show what we expected from him. In such situations, no matter what happened to Rouzier: was he scared in the battle against a formidable opponent, or simply he was missing a good physical preparation and had problems with this component in the semifinals? The question arises …Who is capable to replace him in such cases?

No doubt, Mori Sidib is a gifted and original player, but he is also less stable than Rouzier regardless of its current shape and condition! Put up with it on opposite position makes sense, only if Osmani Juantorena and Matey Kaziyski are on wing-spiker position, i.e., as an element for the diversity of the game.

Here we should mention Ngapeth. Thanks to him and to the fact that he kept his expressive power and ingenuity France was going well step by step. The discipline and tenacity of the other players balanced somehow with the character of Ngapeth.

The choice of the second opposite of les bleus went between the candidates Sidibe and Marien Moreau.

If Rouzier played poorly, then Kevin Le Roux, who is trying the opposite player position not for a first season, can replace him. Kevin shows impressive attacks, but for the first temp spiker he lacks the sharpness of attack and variability by the hitting of the ball over the net; he has an impact force, expressed also in the game on the serve, but there is no so-called blocking instinct, in principle.

The only thing that could stop Laurent Tillie  – this is the necessity to search in this case a middle-blocker yet. Frank Lafitte is not yet fully fit for this role. France needs someone bright and expressive.  Perhaps the one who is able is Jean-Philippe Sol with his excellent play on the block and the same time he is well experienced.

Not too early, whether the French coaching staff forgot about Vadeleux and the experienced Gerald Hardy Dessources who with his mobility in the game on the block, and very large, in fact, could be very useful?

Perhaps when Laurent Tillie will answer to all these questions, he will be able to find the correct and most effective combination of players who will lead France to the long-awaited victory. The one with the gold medals.

 

Which I wish him sincerely.

 

Photo: FIVB