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The thorny French path to Euro 2016 glory

Dimitri Payet has been in hot form for France at the Euro 2016. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
Roar Guru
6th July, 2016
4

Iconic it may be, but I haven’t worked out if France the country is relevant anymore.

Furthermore, is French football relevant post Zidane-Henry era? I tend to think the answer is a slight no in both cases.

They’ll probably never get over the six-week surrender. Football-wise, things were of course more successful at the turn of the century. However as detailed in French commentator Philippe Auclair’s biography Thierry Henry, they will spend a long time getting over their football Maginot Line, the bus strike in South Africa in 2010.

I considered France’s welcoming of Zinedine Zidane as a football god as something of a sociological cop-out. He was France’s excuse as a nation. They were always able to point to him and pretend that their country wasn’t falling apart on racial faultlines; to the way he had won France its World Cup in 1998 and were able to blindly say, “But look, even Algerians can make it to the top in France if they apply themselves.”

Meanwhile, the real Algerians remained marginalised and unemployed in terrible suburbs at the end of the Parisian and Marseille trainlines while CVs with Algerian (or Senegalese or any sort of Arab or African) names were proven in a French study to be immediately thrown into the bin by French employers.

These wilfully forgotten second-generation ‘Beurs’ (Algerian-descent) and ‘Blacks’ (mostly children of parents from Martinique and Guadeloupe) from the Parisian outer-suburban housing estates have been the foundation of the French national team from 1998 onwards. The extent of the alienation is covered by the film La Haine, the starting point of a then-young actor Vincent Cassel.

Still, these quasi-outsiders are lining up and representing the nation match by match. The blackness of the French team is striking. There is commentary about how close the ‘banlieusard’ generation are to French nationalism, often choosing not to sing the anthem stemming from the people who went to war with their forefathers. But much of the sneering can be seen as simply racist jealousy.

America, for example, would be a shadow of themselves in track and field and basketball without descendants of West Africans.

The disconnection between the old-school beret French like ex-president Nicholas Sarkozy and football players can be summed up in the phrase ‘la racaille’, the scum, which gained traction when the housing estates rioted last decade.

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This was followed by the French team in 2010, inspired by the poster boy of “What’s wrong with these kids?” Nicholas Anelka, refused to train for their old-school coach Raymond Domenech.

The nation was disgusted, and Anelka was never seen in a French shirt again. But there were other members of that team who were ashamed of what they’d done. Captain Patrice Evra, still part of the 2016 team, and Florent Malouda looked to make amends. Others like Franck Ribery didn’t.

France won the European Championship at home in 1984, the Platini-Tigana Golden Generation 1. Using the same shirt design, they won the 1998 World Cup also at home with the Zidane-Henry Golden Generation 2.

France have struggled to get it together since, arguably, 2000. The 2006 World Cup, featuring Zidane’s World Cup-losing headbutt, was a freak. France have been forgotten in the Spain-Germany era and better known for spats from the likes of Samir Nasri, William Gallas and Karim Benzema, left out of Euro 2016 for a bizarre blackmail attempt against a teammate.

Back in France again for Euro 2016, it will be hard for the current team to live up to the examples of 1984 and 1998, but they’re in the semi-final nonetheless. It all seems to ride on two forwards Antoine Griezmann and Dimitri Payet. It’s also anyone’s guess if Paul Pogba, prodigy midfielder who has all the gifts, can play with some consistency.

Still, they only need to string two quality games together and they’ll have matched previous French teams. To beat invincible, iconic Germany would actually be an improvement on French teams of the past, who lost agonisingly to the Germans in multiple World Cup semi-finals.

Perhaps it’s time. Platini has been disgraced. Zidane was overrrated.

Do national teams actually owe their countries passion? That is always debatable in a nation like France, who have a dozen other things to pay attention to – rugby, high cuisine and fashion, back-breaking taxes.

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Wins against Germany and a possibly ‘easy’ final would not compare them to Platini’s nine goals in five games in 1984. But it would help France put some love back into their national team.