(Repeats feature first moved at 0002 GMT)
By Diane Falconer
PARIS Dec 14 Samir Nasri is emerging as one of
Arsenal's leading players but other members of the "golden
generation" tipped to take over from the Zinedine Zidane era
have yet to prove themselves on a regular basis, say French
In 2004, Nasri and his gifted peers were thrown into the
spotlight when they won the under-17 European championship,
prompting much excited discussion about their future promise.
Six years on, however, none of them took part in the World
Cup in South Africa and French fans are still waiting for many
of them to live up to that promising start.
Karim Benzema, who turns 23 on Sunday, has been struggling
for regular action at Real Madrid and is belatedly putting a
difficult spell behind him.
AS Roma's Jeremy Menez, also 23, is showing glimpses of his
skills after a few seasons of underachievement.
"They still need to improve in a lot of areas," former
French ace Jean-Pierre Papin told Reuters when asked about the
2004 generation. "They need to play more with their clubs, score
more goals. France does not have any players at the best level
"At the moment, they are not at the top of the game," added
former World Cup winner Christian Karembeu. "They need to be
France were knocked out in the first round in South Africa
after taking only one point from three games. Coach Raymond
Domenech was fired and forward Nicolas Anelka, at the centre of
a revolt by players, was banned for 18 matches.
Replacement coach Laurent Blanc, charged with rebuilding the
team, has already found fault with Benzema for arriving late at
a training camp in October and over his diet.
Benzema arrived at Madrid from Lyon in the summer of 2009 in
a 35-million-euro move. Since then, he has regularly been linked
with a move away from Madrid following disappointing
performances at the Bernabeu.
Before his Champions League hat-trick against Auxerre last
week, he had managed just three goals in all competitions this
season. In October, he was even declared "dead" by sports
newspaper Marca after a poor display in the King's Cup.
"Karim has to understand that he is not playing by himself,
that he has to be more of a team player and work really hard,
especially in training", Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho told
"I expect a lot from him," Mourinho added. "I want him to be
as good as or even better than the player I first saw at Lyon. I
know how gifted he is and that is why I push him."
Just like Benzema, striker Menez can give off an annoying
air of indifference on the pitch. Since 2008, he has been
showing flashes of his tremendous talent intermittently with
Roma and is only now beginning to find his rhythm.
"The mental side of my game is improving and I am getting
more consistent. I have made mistakes but I have learned from
them, and when you are young you think that you know
everything," he told the media.
Question marks remain however over Lyon's Yoann Gourcuff,
dubbed "the new Zidane" when still a teenager. Since his
brilliant 2008-09 season with Bordeaux, he has struggled to
confirm his talent and has left many wondering if he was a
Two weeks ago Italian Paolo Maldini, his former team mate at
AC Milan, lambasted Gourcuff in the press, criticising his
attitude and lack of effort.
"Gourcuff in Milan was wrong 100 percent", Maldini was
quoted as telling L'Equipe newspaper. "His problem here was his
behaviour. He did not show an intelligent way of managing
himself. When he played here, he did not want to be part of the
"He did not start studying Italian right away. He did not
want to work on tactics. He was not always on time. A lot of
things happened, things that I cannot talk about. But he knows
what he did."
Gourcuff moved to AC Milan from Stade Rennes in 2006 at the
age of 20, but remained on the fringes of the team during his
two years there before returning to Ligue 1 in 2008.
"When he came into a game, he did not commit fully," Maldini
added. "Less talented players were respected at Milan because
they gave everything. He did not do that, and he knows it. At
one point, he had become an outsider to the group."
(Editing Clare Fallon; To query or comment on this story
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