Euro 2016: Patrick Vieira comments on France, Deschamps, and Benzema

Patrick Vieira - New York City FC - watches on

Minutes before the official kick-off of the UEFA EURO 2016 opening match, between France and Romania, NYCFC head coach Patrick Vieira appeared on ESPN2 to discuss the host country’s prospects. He should know well how France shapes up in international competition, having played 13 years for France, earning 107 caps and scoring six goals for Les Bleus.

So how does he rate the current squad? He’s bullish on their youth, he told ESPN. “When you look at the starting XI you can see there are some really young players who really want to be at the top of international football,” he said. “For me this is the strength of the team, looking at [Blaise] Matuidi, [N'Golo] Kante and [Paul] Pogba. They’ve got a really good game understanding, they’ve got legs to cover ground and they’re really good and comfortable on the ball. So I hope that them three will perform in the competition because they will have a massive part in the success of the French national team.”

There’s one notable absence on the squad, though—Karim Benzema, whose exclusion caps off a year of personal disaster off the field, as well. (Here's more or less a nutshell recap of his alleged sex-tape blackmail scandal.) And in fact, Vieira says, this is probably what led to France coach Didier Deschamps choosing not to call up the Real Madrid star.

“It wasn’t easy to leave Benzema out, because Benzema was the best player on the French national team,” Vieira opined. “Having Benzema is something [Deschamps] believed was too difficult and too hard to manage inside the group, because of the negativity that he was going to bring from what’s happened with the off-field situation.”

As such, Vieira said he believes Deschamps’ focus on unity will serve the team well during this international campaign. “He’s a leader. He will bring the players together. He will make them understand how important it is to wear the French national team jersey and he will make them understand that they can achieve their goal,” Vieira said. “When you look at the image of the French national team since he’s been in charge, the image has changed a lot. It’s been more positive under Didier Deschamps.”