Now that the lengthy national hangover of 2010 is more or less over, the dust has settled and revealed something more disturbing to the French about their national team. It's far worse than the belief that they had a team whose potential was being utterly wasted by in-fighting and attitude problems - instead, they're just simply not very good.
This isn't, however, as much cause for concern as it appears. The simple fact is that France are a team in transition, just waiting for the next generation to take the torch. They have more in common with England than they do the likes of Spain, Germany or even Italy, in that their team contains few real stars, and has a lot of young talent that isn't a huge amount of use right now. Unfortunately, the World Cup in Brazil has fallen at the wrong time.
This is what happens when a transition is timed badly. Italy are also a team in transition at the moment, but the result for them is not a mismatch of average players, but a strong squad with a good balance of youths and veterans. France currently lack the kind of experienced mastery that an Andrea Pirlo could bring to their side, but the only youngsters who could make a real impact at all are Paul Pogba and Raphael Varane.
That's not because they don't have the talent coming up to replace them -- far from it -- but just that it's concentrated in the wrong places and with the wrong skills to be immediately useful. Part of the reason pacy youngsters tend to get early debuts is that their speed offers them an immediate advantage that can be utilised despite having a lot of development to do. France have some outstanding young players, but their real wunderkids are at centre-back, where, Varane aside, they can't play a significant role in the current team.
They can add to this the likes of Gianni Imbula, Florian Thauvin, Lucas Digne and Alexandre Lacazette, players who encompass a vast variety of skills and roles. The other advantage to their youth establishment is sheer numbers, with an extraordinary mass of youngsters being churned out by the domestic academies. France won't need nine average full-backs to choose from, but any one of them could be the late developer who goes on to be the next Lilian Thuram. In contrast, Italy and England are having to put their faith for future success in a very small cluster of players.
It's unthinkable that France won't be among the best sides in the world once again before too long. The talent is there, and crucially, their players are all on the right stages to progress. Paris Saint-Germain, Marseille and even Monaco are all making use of the top talent, as well as the smaller clubs, birthing a new national team that will be far better than this one. But to paint the current incarnation as even "dark horses" seems optimistic. The present is bleak only for want of better timing.