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August 23, 2012
Interesting quote in L’Équipe today from Leonardo – in his heyday one of Brazil’s great players & currently sporting director at French Ligue 1 club Paris Saint-Germain.
« La gestion de l’équipe de France est difficile parce qu’ici on a l’impression que tous les autres sports sont sains et que le foot est malade. Pourquoi ? La sélection souffre de ça. Jérémy Ménez, qu’est-ce qu’il a fait ? Nasri, qu’est-ce qu’il a ? M’vila ? Il y a une ambiance injuste autour de cette équipe. »
‘Managing the French team is difficult because it feels here that all the other sports are healthy and that football is ill. Why? The national team suffers from this. Jérémy Ménez, what has he done? Nasri, what does he have? M’vila? There is an unfair atmosphere surrounding this team.’
Leonardo seems to agree with my analysis, developed in a previous post, that the media fury surrounding the French team could be summed up in four words sentence: Much Ado about Nothing. There is no need to repeat that these football players have been sanctioned for acts that happen more or less all the time in clubs and national teams.
The comparison with other sports is far more interesting. During the last Olympics, a few TV pundits or anchors (among them the diminutive veteran Gérard Holtz) have been reported saying that there is something rotten in the state of football & that, conversely, other sports showed remarkable respects for the true values of sport. I am not even going to question what these values may be.
At the end of the Olympics, the French handball team won the title for the second time in a row & added another gold medal to the four (Olympics 2008, Worlds 2009 & 2011, Europe 2010) they had bagged in the past four years. With 5 titles in 4 years, the handball team is undoubtedly France’s most successful national team ever; & one of the greatest in its sport – arguably in all sports, only rivalled today by Brazil’s men national team’s incredible string of success in volleyball since 2001. As usual, the team, nicknamed Les Experts was hailed for its great spirit, for how approachable the players in the team are &c. I spare you the list of all the standard clichés on successful sportspeople (apart from Lance Armstrong?) that appeared in the media.
Yet this ‘Good’ team, this ‘Heroes’ team, this ‘Batman’ of team sports showed a behaviour that would have dismayed everyone in, had it been displayed by the ‘Bad’ team, the ‘Villains’, the ‘Joker’ of team sports, the French football team. On the set of L’Équipe TV, they started to demolish the studio, enacting revenge on the newspaper L’Équipe, whose reports on the team’s progress in the unsuccessful Euro 2012 tournament, and at London2012 were deemed too critical. Needless to say, the Press in general (bar perhaps from L’Équipe & the newspapers of that group) mentioned the incident, but in page 3, 4 (or further!) & seems to have accepted the excuse that this was just after-title celebrations that had gone slightly pear-shaped.
Let us compare this with a comment (by Phil Markham) on my previous blogpost:
‘L’Équipe has an extremely unpleasant set of editorial values and what we are seeing is not a genuine moral panic, rather an engineered journalistic closing of ranks which scares the life out of the FFA, Laurent Blanc and any other potential target for the displeasure of L’Équipe. There is no widespread moral panic other than that created in the minds of L’Équipe journalists.’
The same mechanism might be at work here: the idols are excused any kind of behaviour as long as they are successful, criticisms start to emerge when they lose their sporting dominance, the team management uses criticisms (especially from L’Équipe) in order to strengthen ranks & foster team spirit (like Domenech did so clearly in 2006), this backfires if the team does not become successful again: L’Équipe &, in truth, all quarters of the Press attack & burn to the ground the very teams they had adored. On ne brûle que ce qu’on a adoré.
In this case, the savage criticisms that the French football team has been receiving for nearly 10 years now (since the 2002 debacle) may be explained by the extremely high level of adulation that Les Bleus received after their success in the 1998-2000 period. Paradoxically, & bearing in mind that l’Équipe de France is not receiving half the criticisms that the English football team does, this may show that football may have finally displaced cycling as the №1 sport in the French psyche – despite the tremendous support that Voeckler’s ten days in yellow generated in 2011.
It is this central position in the popular culture of European countries that makes the study of football so interesting for social sciences, & is the rationale for the FREE – Football Research in an Enlarged Europe – project.