I am confirmed in my studied ignorance of the World Cup, if anything by the dismal role that France had in its first two games. Even German star Beckenbauer said that the performance of France was unbecoming of a world cup, that there was no team to speak of. That implies no team spirit, no coordination, no skills, every player in their own little corner.
I only watched ten minutes of the Mexico France game, when Mexico was leading 1 to 0 (final 2 to 0 for Mexico). It is hard to see a more eloquent description of all that is wrong with French soccer today, how far we are from the glories of ten years ago. The Mexican played for their lives, with gusto, with fire on their bellies. The French played for… their paychecks? Because they had nothing better to do? Who knows…..
Why is France so bad? Well, I have a very, very un-PC theory and I am going to write it down anyway. Because France has a team mostly of first generation Frenchmen. That is, the sons of African immigrants raised in the unforgiving “banlieues” of French cities, with a justified feel of being second class citizen. They play soccer hard to get out of the ghetto and when they reach major leagues they are not going to risk their legs playing for France when Westchester Divided or Inter Capri is are willing to play millions for their skills.
When France won its first World Cup in Paris most of these kids (elderly players now) played in the French league. Few could make it even to the German league. When they played at Stade de France against Brazil in that memorable finale they might not have played for France but at least they knew that winning the World Cup would open many doors. It did. Zidane played in Spain, Henry played in England before going to the Barça and today Ribery is a German star.
Look at how most teams stand when their national anthem is played and look how the French team behaves when the Marseillaise is played and you will understand much better what I mean, even though the attitude of French players has improved some in recent years as a possible reaction to some cities of France where the fans booo the Marseillaise.
Of course, I do not mean to say that cheap patriotism or chauvinism as you may have it is the guarantee of success for a world cup, not at all. But it is an essential element. Players that go to the World Cup just because they get a pay check for it, just because they know for PR reasons it is a good thing, are not going to carry their team. You need hungry players to explain why Mexcio beat France, why Serbia beat Germany, why favorite Spain failed in its first game. But to recover from initial losses, to get the very last ounce of energy and skill and determination in you to rebound your team, you need to feel the importance to play in your country’s team, for your country’s colors and fans.
Playing in your country’s team is not a reward for a good season at the Atletico Pontevedra, it is an obligation you accept to be the best player, the most selfless one, to play for the millions of people that are watching you at home. Before going to South Africa we got tired of hearing stories about how the French team had the most luxurious quarters in South Africa or Reunion island or who knows where, how pampered they were, how the coach was supposedly using horoscope to finish his line up selection, and who knows what else. Now you see the results. And in addition you hear about team infighting, betrayal, fights with the coach and what not. Pathetic.
PS: traditionally I root for France, Argentina or the Netherlands, whichever is on the field. This year I was going Spain way but their start was less than promising for reasons that cannot be explained as easily as for the French Waterloo. But Argentina looks better and better. The Higain triplet is just a beauty and even if the slime coach is Maradonna I might have to accept that when he is not snorting coke he knows what a team should be doing.