Forza Italia: Frey hopes to get nod

France is currently awash with goalkeeping talent and coach Raymond Domenech faces a selection headache for Euro 2008 - with Sebastien Frey right in the mix.


Former number one Fabien Barthez is now retired, leaving the jersey to Lyon's Gregory Coupet who has impressed in Ligue 1 for several seasons.

But a less-than-perfect performance against Scotland in a Euro qualifier in October, as well as injury and age, has left question marks over Coupet's long-term future.

The obvious replacement for many, given Mickael Landreau's recent eccentricities for club side Paris St Germain, is Fiorentina's Sebastien Frey.

The 27-year-old has consistently challenged Gianluigi Buffon for top Serie A goalkeeper, winning the title last season.

His acrobatic shot-stopping, positional sense and aerial ability helped Fiorentina to a top-six finish last season, with the second-fewest Serie A defeats after runaway winners Internazionale, who triumphed despite a 15-point penalty as part of the Italian match-fixing scandal.

That came after a serious knee injury had finished his promising 2005/2006 season, as well as ruling him out of any chance of a World Cup call-up.

Frey was on loan in Florence at the time, but coach Cesare Prandelli - who had previously been his boss at Parma - saw enough to pay a five million euros transfer fee and signed Frey on a five-year contract.

Frey had begun his career with French side Cannes in 1997, and at the age of 17 made his debut in a 1-1 draw. Following 27 appearances, he was seen by Italy World Cup legend Walter Zenga and secured a move to Italian side Internazionale, despite interest from Juventus.

But he found himself understudy to former Italy number one Gianluca Pagliuca, and played only seven times, which included leaking four goals on a difficult Serie A debut against Sampdoria, before being sent on loan to Verona.

There he impressed in 30 appearances, before returning for 28 games in the 2000/2001 season.

He won his first silverware after a transfer to Parma in the summer of 2001, replacing Gianluigi Buffon and winning the 2001-02 Coppa Italia.

Though he has yet to add to his medal collection, another good start to the current season convinced Domenench to play Frey in a November dead-rubber qualification game.

France had already secured passage to Euro 2008 when Frey traveled with Les Bleus to Ukraine in November. Taking the French goalkeeping jersey for the first time, Frey had the chance to impress his case to become permanent number one.

Except things did not go to plan for the shot-stopper from Thonon-les-Bains.

After having no chance with Andriy Voronin's opener for the hosts, Frey will not want to watch many replays of Ukraine's second goal and equaliser.

Chelsea striker Andriy Shevchenko looped a header from the 16 yards, and Frey looked comfortable on his goal-line as he quietly prepared to catch the ball. But as he jumped to catch the ball one-handed, Frey committed the most public of fumbles and helplessly saw the ball nestle in the back of the net via the post.

The error recalled Lionel Letizi's horror-show against Russia in a 1998 friendly, when two minutes into his second international appearance fumbled a Frank Lebouef backpass, allowing Russian striker Sergei Youran the easiest of finishes.

Letizi's international career was soon over, and Frey is hopeful his mistake will not cost him as dearly.

"This (mistake) puts everything into question," he said after the game.

"It was an opportunity to do a good thing with the French team, and this episode puts me in difficulty.

"I am going to work again to prove to everyone that I can be part of the team.

"I am a little mad. With a goal between the legs or a ball sliding through the hands, we can tell ourselves that we made a mistake, and that's it. Here, I have seen the ball, but I completely lost track. It was not an impossible ball to catch."

Frey may have found the disappointment easier to deal with after converting to Buddhism while injured in 2006, thanks to contact with ex-Azzuri star Roberto Baggio.

But another spell in the international wilderness may beckon, because Congolese Steve Mandanda has impressed at Marseille this season.

The 22-year-old has just signed a permanent deal with OM and has already featured for the France 'B' side.

Euro 2008 may be too soon for the youngster, but Frey will hope for Fiorentina to qualify for the UEFA Champions League this season so that he can demonstrate his talent on Europe's biggest club stage.

Should they not finish in the Serie A top four there are many clubs rumoured to be interested in stumping-up the 13 million euros asking price, but Frey seems unwilling to leave Florence should La Viola achieve a Champions League spot.

"I have heard some rumours regarding my future but my only focus right now is on Fiorentina," said Frey. "My wish is to remain in Florence and I will do everything so that it remains like this.

"The club has created a project and I and the rest of my team-mates want to be a part of it."
Source: PRESS ASSOCIATION