Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The end of France

Thus France left the Eurocup with one of its worst showings ever in a major tournament, and definitely the psychologically worst result. And somehow I am not too upset, in fact finding quite a silver lining for world football.

As soon as the French tied Romania I knew it was all over. This was THE GAME France had to win to ensure its chance in the "death group". Instead it announced that France would be the worst team of the tournament. I did not watch the other games. The only surprise for me was that Italy did manage to qualify though it did not deserve it. Well, it deserved it more than the French to qualify but still, brave Romania should have had the nod.

The lesson of this cup, so brilliantly demonstrated by the Netherlands, is that nothing can match a good and decided offensive game. Defensive games like Italy or France have been displaying (and since Zidane departure it is even more pathetic for France which has fallen into a "catenachio" of sorts) will have now to be reviewed after the Netherlands humiliated successively Italy 3-0 and France 4-1 in what has to be the most dramatic winning streak in world football history. You can have the best defense of the world but if you have a self-indulgent and uncoordinated attack you cannot hope for much better than 0-0 against Romania. Italy has managed to pull it off better because this strategy has been its football tradition, reflecting its international spirit of knowing that it was never the strongest country and thus only caution and guile would allow for it to win. That is why if many respect Italy's game, few love it.

But that does not work for France who has a more national dashing spirit.

There are also more negative things about the French team. That coach Domenech could not resist favoring stars was only one of the minor failings. But there were also psychological failings. See, football at this level also thrives on the psychological impact of being in the National Team, on representing one's country, or tribe if you wish. Silly for sure, but a reality. Thus a national team cannot be managed as a club team. Supporter of Chelsea or Real Madrid do not care if their players are green with little antennas: they want their city team to win. Supporters of a national team think differently. When you watch the line up of the 11 players representing your national team singing your national anthem you look for the one that looks like your neighbor, your coworker, your relative. It is part of the fantasy that maybe if things had been different you could have been the one singing on that field, before playing the game of your life. But when you look at he French team you are looking at an African team.

Now, I do not want this to be taken as a racist comment, not at all. The progress and integration of the sons of African immigrants in Europe is great and most national selections have now 1, 2 and more black/turks/north-african/elsewhere players, but no other country has pushed the envelope so far as having now token white players.

When France played the Netherlands in Bern a few days ago, the French nightly TV newscast was naively wondering about the streets of Bern so filled with orange shirts while the French drowned by that "Oranje" wave seemed almost absent. Look at an Europe map and you also will be surprised. Within a 3 hour drive of Bern you may have 10 million Frenchmen. By train? Way more than what the Netherlands could send for about the same trip. Yet the Dutch went and the French stayed home.

Sport psychology works in mysterious ways but there is one parameter that is always present: you are only a true star champion when you can connect with your crowd, whichever that crowd is. You feed from each other. McEnroe was a reviled brat and yet he filled the Tennis courts because he was such an American bad boy. Sampras or Federer have a more impressive resume but all remember McEnroe, or even Borg cold class.

France needs to look into why white kids are not playing football good enough. Football, like baseball in Venezuela, is in France a favored way to escape the ghetto. In Venezuela you will find many Venezuelans who claim to be fans of baseball but yet they will not be able to mention exactly the current standings of the major league. Yet, without hesitation, they will give you the statistics of the Venezuelan players up North, and how much money they are making.

I have always wondered if there was a Baseball true world cup how good Venezuela would fare? I am willing to bet that Santo Domingo would do better. The Venezuelan team would be comprised of fragile celebrities, more worried about preserving their arm for their club. The Santo Domingo team will be formed of Quisqueyanos.

This is what happened to France, it is an assembly of celebrities, much more worried about their chance to get into or remain in the Spanish league than to take risks to beat Romania. I cannot blame them, I would probably do the same if I were in their "crampons". Why should they have a wet eye in case they know the words of the Marseillaise? France has become such a class society that football is their only option for riches and fame and the heck with the snob French that could not be bothered to come.

Meanwhile as of now France has ceased being a world football powerhouse and its classification for the South Africa cup is not even a sure thing.

And as for this blogger, he can root happily for the Netherlands or Portugal.


-The end-

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