December 2, 2013
So, yesterday, Paris Saint-Germain started their game against Olympique Lyonnais without a single French player? And this attracted a great lot of attention. This is hardly surprising since the number of foreign players in club teams is a staple of the media. It is more surprising the topic is still attracting media & public attention, since this is hardly the first time. English club Chelsea first did it on Boxing Day 1999. In France, OM did it on 8 August 2003 & Arsenal played with an all-foreign squad (11 players who start the game plus all the potential substitutes) on Valentine Day 2005. It is also surprising, since after a few years of researching the issue for a PhD at the University of Cambridge (Trinity Hall & Centre of International Studies), it appeared very clearly to me that the presence of foreign players in a team is actually a non-issue for the supporters of the club.
To sum up quickly the results presented in my book Foreign Supporters and Football Players: The Old Firm, Arsenal, Paris Saint-Germain (an abridged version of my PhD published upon joining ESSCA), supporters are on the whole very happy with foreign players because:
(a) The identity of club is rarely national : it is above all local – this may come as a shocking surprise to some but a player from Manchester is as ‘foreign’ to an Arsenal supporter as a player from France or Sénégal ; & in some case it is even worse to come from the territory of a team seen as an ‘enemy’ than from abroad. Ask a PSG supporter whether they’d rather have a Marseilles-through-and-through player or a player of equal sporting value from Germany? Of course, players which have similar roots as the supporters are on the whole more supported: this why Ashley Cole’s leaving for Chelsea was seen as a betrayal for a majority of Arsenal fans. For an Arsenal, he was ‘one of us who made it, who accomplished our dream’. For that reason, there is little doubt that Mamadou Sakho or Adrien Rabiot attract more support from PSG fans than some other players with no link with PSG, Paris or its suburbs.