Deep in preparations for the 2013 World Cup qualifying tournament, that starts this Sunday in Moscow, France's beach soccer team has spent the week at Aix-en-Provence. Interviewed after training, the former OM player and current team manager Joël Cantona spoke us about his side.
After winning the 2005 World Cup as a player, Eric's younger brother started by explaining his new role as manager: "I keep a very close eye on the team and I've got plenty of experience because I've been in this magnificent and young sport for 13 years."
It was his idea to appoint Stéphane François as player/coach of the team and admits to 'letting him work in peace', before adding: "I sort of keep an eye over everything, to analyse all the details which is also a big part of the preparation. As we have a big competition coming up, starting this Sunday, I am very attentive about everything. I see who is taking their time to score a goal, who is not in top form, who is in form, who is accurate... We've been working really well on this week's camp which all bodes well..."
The man that wore the OM short from 1994-96 is confident Beach Bleus can qualify for the top prize: "I can feel that the whole team has great solidarity, that they're really focused. We have a huge potential. The only thing we're lacking compared to the top three or four, Russia, Portugal, Switzerland and Spain, is that we're not a complete squad. In beach soccer you have to be focused to the max the whole time."
"Russia are the red-hot favourites, they're undefeated in two years now," he continued. "Portugal are good, very good. They are not better than us in terms of skill, but they are better competitors than us at the moment. All the rest, such as Ukraine, Italy, Switzerland, they are good, but we can beat them. It will be out of seven or eight of the 24 nations to see who qualifies."
When asked about his captain and star player Mickaël Pagis, Joël Cantona was not withholding his praise: "Micka brings us all his experience of traditional football and he's been playing beach soccer for two years now, in other words 20 to 25 top level matches under his belt. You can see physically he's in top form, that he's enjoying himself and that he is an integral member of the squad. He's our captain, our leader, who chooses his words well, just like Fred Mendy. He's a great support to the coach Stéphane François, because player/coach is not an easy job!"