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October 5, 2012
A few lines in L’Équipe today mentioned that FC Anzhi Makhachkala (ФК “Анжи” Махачкала) which is in Chechnya & plays in the Russian football league yesterday became the furthest away club to provide a player (Lassana Diarra) to the French national team. There would be a few PhDs to write about the club itself, its links with the regime(s) in both Grozny & Moscow, so we might have to leave that point aside for the moment, unfortunately.
On a far lighter note, it is interesting to note that, if L’Équipe is to be believed (& most probably, it is), apart from 5 players who came from Algeria (then a colony part of the French territory) all other French internationals played in Europe when they were called for their national team. Obviously, players mostly came from the Big-4: England, Spain, Germany & Italy. Interestingly, & probably due to cultural as well as geographical proximity, five came from Belgium (including of course Papin with FC Bruges, Six with Cercle Bruges but also Bras, Maryan & Herbet), & one from (Genghini) from Servette in Switzerland. More recently, Nicolas Anelka, Christian Karembeu, Djibril Cissé & Jean-Alain Boumsong were all called from more unlikely places : respectively Fenerbahce (Turkey), Olympiakos & Panathinaïkos (Greece) & Rangers (Glasgow, Scotland).
The picture just sketched here very briefly, shows that despite an undoubted internationalisation of the game, the centre, when it comes to football, firmly remains in Europe. A few European stars moved to Brasil last summer (including Clarence Seedorf who now plays for Botafogo) & David Trezeguet is playing in Argentina (Atlético River Plate). Some players like Thierry Henry enter semi-retirement when moving to the USA. But these players are exceptions &, as far as I know, none of them has, in the recent past, continued to wear their national jersey competitively (not even at the Olympics, as the case of Beckham illustrates). More importantly, most African & South-American nations have their star players in Europe. Examples are, of course, too numerous to mention. Furthermore, the centre seems to be limited to a few countries (4 or 5), which are all in Western-Europe.
This is a pretty exceptional situation. In terms of popular culture, Europe is often seen as lagging behind the US. A closer examination may show that, as the Olympics closing ceremony painfully showed when it comes to pop music, the UK have produced their share of high-sellers, & a few culturally influential bands (The Smiths or Joy Division, for example). However, the UK remains isolated in that respect: the fleeting success of Europop / Eurodance, the ‘French Touch’ or Swedish band remains on a much smaller scale altogether. Equally, Italian & French movies have contributed greatly to the development of a shared cinema culture throughout the world; but the US dominate ‘cinophilie’ head & shoulders.
It was therefore very good to have a panel on sport (including papers on cycling, football, male underwear &c.) at EUPOP12 (the Inaugural Conference of the European Popular Culture Association). The FREE project looks forward to being present at the second conference in 2013, hopefully with a whole panel on football (please get in touch if you are interested).