|It is merely a matter of time. A question of when and not if. France have been grooming Grégory Coupet as their future No. 1 for some time and the Lyon ‘keeper says he is ready take the mantle from Fabien Barthez whenever Les Bleus Coach Raymond Domenech gives him the green light. Barthez will always have a place in supporters' hearts after helping France win the World Cup and the European Championship, but the French public is ready to move on.
A recent poll in France Football magazine revealed that 87 percent of French people regard Coupet as 'an indispensable’ member of the France squad, while only 73 percent say the same for Barthez. Coupet tells Matthew Spiro about his goals, and why he is prepared to wait.
France are set to play Switzerland and Israel in the next week. How crucial are these games in terms of World Cup qualification?
It's already crunch time for us and this is the moment we have to react. We have to show the French public that we are a strong side and that we are capable of winning in the Stade de France against another good team like Switzerland. They’re a direct competitor for World Cup qualification, as are Israel, so this could well be a decisive week.
Is it difficult to prepare yourself mentally when you know there is a good chance that Raymond Domenech will pick Barthez ahead of you?
All I concentrate on is playing well for Lyon and working hard in training when I'm at Clairefontaine with the France squad. I can enhance my chances by making a good impression on the Coach, but then it’s up to him to choose between myself, Fabien, or anyone else.
Do you enjoy a healthy rivalry with Barthez?
Absolutely. We get on really well off the pitch, even if we don’t phone each other up all the time. We often go for coffee at the French training camps and we have a very laid back relationship. I do my best to make it a hard choice for the Coach, but I’m in no hurry to replace Fabien. I’ve made slow but steady progress throughout my career and I'm confident my chance will come.
Your chance may come soon if Barthez receives a lengthy ban for the recent spitting incident?
The fact that Barthez could receive a suspension is something I've been thinking about. I have to be in the right frame of mind to take the chance if it comes. But if Fabien gets banned, I know I’ll have a tough job on my hands replacing him.
Are you pleased to see five Lyon players in the current France squad?
Sure. It’s good for Raymond Domenech as well as being good for Lyon. When you have players who already know how to play with each other it’s a massive help. I totally understand why he prefers to pair the Monaco lads Gaël Givet and Sébastien Squillaci in central defence because, as well as being top players, they know each other inside out already.
Unlike France, Lyon are in the habit of winning. What’s the key?
We’ve been playing together for a long time and we’ve been in the Champions' League for the last five years. At the moment we're just enjoying ourselves on the pitch. We work hard for each other, the Coach has put together a strong squad and we're giving pleasure to the spectators as well which is nice.
Despite putting 10 goals past the German champions, Lyon are still not being regarded as serious candidates outside France to win the Champions’ League. Does that provide an extra motivation?
We know that people in England, for example, know very little about us. We know that we have qualities and our aim is to try to emulate what Porto achieved last season. We are different to Porto who were quite a defensive side. We're a complete team as we can defend and we also score a lot of goals.
Is there more pressure to beat PSV Eindhoven in the quarter-finals than there would be if, for example, you played Milan in the semi-finals?
Definitely. People in France expect us to beat PSV, whereas if we played Milan we’d be the underdogs. PSV are a really athletic side. I’ve seen what they did to Monaco and I noticed that they beat Ajax 4-0 last weekend. It'll be tough but we’ll just try to keep on enjoying our football.