Category Archives: France

Algeria, France, Celebration and Identity

For the first time ever two African teams have qualified for the World Cup knockout stages and Algeria, who edged out Russia and South Korea in Group G, are one of them. Algerians at home and abroad celebrated les fennecs’ first time getting past the group stage but it is in France where the celebrations were most vocal, and disputed. Seventeen of Vahid Halilhodžić’s squad were born and raised in France, which is also home to the largest community of Algerian descent in the world. It is also Algeria’s former colonial power, which fought a bloody eight-year war against the FLN until Algeria finally secured its independence in 1963. Since then Algeria and Franco-Algerians have become a particular favourite whipping boy of the French far-right.

The nastier elements of French fascism had their eyes on Algerian fans from the off, spreading misinformation on Twitter after the Belgian game, misrepresenting a building in Algiers festooned in Algerian flags as being in Paris (and contrasting it to one in Hammersmith draped in England flags). They also posted photographs of upturned scooters and wheelie-bins that dated from last November. The far-right got what they wanted after the win over South Korea, when there were outbreaks of violence and vandalism in a few towns across France. The vast majority of Algerian fans celebrated festively and without breaking anything but there is often delinquency on the margins, something the far-right lap up. The jack-boot Bloc Identitaire, not so distant from the mainstream UMP, has made regular ‘patrouilles antiracailles’ (‘anti-scum patrols) on public transport across the country in recent months, dressing up in hi-vis jackets and explaining to puzzled commuters what it is they’re ‘protecting’ them from. Bloc Identitaire had planned another patrol in Lyon after the Algeria-Russia game “seeing as the police didn’t do their job on Sunday [after the South Korea match]” as one of them tweeted, but the police swiftly banned the planned action.

There were 74 arrests across France after the match, which is lower than you would have for Bastille Day or New Year’s Eve, but, as many people have reasonably pointed out, a lot for a football celebration, and no other team’s celebrations have degenerated in quite the same way. Still, it is a symptom of wider social problems and it’s hard to blame the majority of Franco-Algerians, much less the Algerian team, for it. For the far-right, of course, it is proof of the innate savagery of Algerians and of how much they hate France. This is the same far-right that hates the French national team and whose chief rag Minute had as its headline ‘voyou’ (thug) after Zinedine Zidane’s head-butt on Marco Materazzi in 2006. Few people in France took so much pleasure in that defeat as the likes of the Front National, Bloc Identitaire and the far-right student organisation Uni.

A number of the French-born players on the Algerian team previously represented France at underage level but changed allegiance when the opportunities for the senior team became scarce. Algeria was one of the main associations to lobby for the change in FIFA rules to allow players to change countries after youth and under-21 level –– a sensible ruling, which has opened the field of international players up to many who might previously have had their paths blocked by an overabundance of talent (even a playmaker as brilliant as Johan Micoud had the misfortune to have his international career stunted by playing at the same time as Zidane). Much has been made of the September 2001 friendly between France and Algeria at the Stade de France, which was abandoned when Algerian fans invaded the pitch with France winning 4-1. It was notorious too for the shameful abuse of Zidane, the man whom most Franco-Algerians rightly revere. But that is half a generation ago at this point. True, there have been times since then, like friendlies at the Stade de France where the Marseillaise has been booed by French-born fans. It is something that has appalled most French people though the mostly teenage fans would say they did it just as a means of barracking the opposition. There is a gulf in understanding, something players such as Zidane and Lilian Thuram did their best to address in statements. This year, the tricouleur has also been conspicuous among jubilant Algerian fans, and most get behind France, and its Franco-Algerian talisman Karim Benzema, with equal gusto.

Often the gauche exuberance of youth can seem far more threatening than it is –– such as when a fairly non-malicious pitch invasion halted a pre-World Cup friendly against Romania in Geneva, prompting Halilhodžić to angrily call for the invasion to stop over the stadium PA (it did soon after). The convoys of beeping cars and scooters that drive through French towns and cities after Algerian successes can be a nuisance to some (particularly French people unused to loud exhibitions of joy) but it’s hard to begrudge those kids the kick they get from it (and Algerians or Maghrebins are far from the only communities to celebrate like that) especially when I know that Irish fans, both at home and in the diaspora, are just as boisterous in their celebrations. The look of joy in the face of friends, colleagues of Algerian origin and my building’s Algerian concierge also make the beeping horns at 3am all the easier to tolerate. While it’s unlikely to happen, if Algeria overcome Germany in the last 16 on Monday, it could set up a date with France in Rio the following Saturday. Should that happen, I don’t think I’ll be getting much sleep that night.

Posted by Oliver Farry

You can follow Straight off the Beach on Twitter @S_ot_B and on Facebook.


 Suárez’s Bite and Zidane’s Headbutt

Last night Luis Suárez bit Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini in Uruguay’s important match. It seems clear already that it will be one of the events of this World Cup which will remain in cultural memory the longest, and the immediate reactions to the biting incident on social media were particularly extreme. The key reactions I observed were comparisons of this incident to Zidane’s famous headbutt in 2006 (see for example here), and a sense of deep disgust at the idea of biting someone (to take a prominent example, Alan Shearer described the action as ‘disgusting’, but the words ‘Suárez’ and ‘disgusting’ will bring up endless results on Twitter’s search function). I want here to suggest some reasons why these may have been the two main reactions and how they are linked. Before beginning though, it’s important to stress that these are not the most important issues surrounding the incident. Most importantly it confronts us with the question, ‘Why does Suárez biting someone affect his marketability as a club footballer, and status as a player of international stature, so much more than the fact that he has racially abused other players?’ This piece will attempt to answer why this incident had such an affective charge; sadly the answer to why its affective charge is more potent than that of racism is probably more simple – that our culture, and particularly the big business of club football and its consumers, is still marked by racism. But it will also suggest a way in which Suárez’s racism can be thought of in relationship to his biting.

Both Suárez’s bite and Zidane’s headbutt were particularly striking because they took place outside the normal parameters of play. This is probably true of all fouls – they are interruptions, singularities, events, which disrupt the smooth flow of time within the match. Nonetheless, there is scale of the extent to which foul play takes on the status of a singularity or event which stems not only from how violent the event is, but how far outside the parameters of normal play the event is. Bad tackles act more like temporal punctuation than interruptions to the smooth flow of time within the match. Both Zidane and Suárez’s events though wholly alter the temporal experience of the match, and take on a marked meaning outside the structure of the match as a whole. They are temporally and semiotically superfluous to the game itself. Both incidents involved the head, which though a perfectly legitimate tool in the game, is immediately semiotically marked by its distance from normal play the moment it is used outside normal play, since it is as far away from the foot as possible. * Zidane’s headbutt occurred outside of the current locus of play, whilst Suárez’s bite was superfluous to any immediate object required by the game, and seemingly unprovoked by circumstances in the game itself, in contrast to a punch thrown during a break in play, or in response to a particular situation. Suárez’s object could have been achieved just as easily by a shove or shoulder-barge.

Both incidents then take on a particularly remarkable appearance as events, points of occurrence which take place outside both the normal parameters of play and normal experience of temporality in the game. They can be extracted from the match in order to make and reflect on wider points about the psychology of the players involved, and it is these psychological aspects that I believe make the events particularly fascinating to us, and in both cases, these two are connected with a sense of untimeliness. In his now classic essay on the aesthetics of football, ‘Zidane’s Melancholy’ , the Belgian novelist Jean-Philippe Toussaint suggests that Zidane’s headbutt in response to a perception that ‘the hours seem leaden, longer, slow interminable’, and that the act was, ‘a final flight from the finished work’. The act, in Toussaint’s terms, becomes not only an untimely event in the context of the match, but an untimely event in the context of Zidane’s whole life, an act of radical rebellion against the slowing down of all lived experience: an escape route in a space with no exit.

There can be no similar admiration for Suárez’s act, though in some way it follows the same temporal logic. Perhaps, at first glance it seems to be similar, but lesser, since Suárez was nowhere near the end of his career, an act born of the frustration of a stalemate at a point that demands winning, an attempt to re-enliven dead time. But this was not what it was, the affect it invokes though is very different: disgust.

When Toussaint speaks of the ‘final flight from the finished work’, he is quoting from Freud’s essay on Leonardo da Vinci, and it is Freud who can provide one answer to why Suárez’s untimely act might be found disgusting. Zidane’s act was untimely because it filled empty homogenous time with an instant of excitement, at the end, somehow already beyond the end, in a melancholy space of the afterlife which was for a moment redeemed. On the other hand, Suárez’s act, and biting more generally, is atavistic. It strikes many with the experience of disgust because it reminds them of the orality of their childhood. In his study of the study of the ‘Rat Man’, ‘Notes upon a Case of Obsessional Neurosis’, Freud relates that his patient was once beaten by his father ‘because he had bitten some one’, and that his patient was deeply shocked to learn this because he was ‘refus[ed] to believe that at some prehistoric period in his childhood he had been seized with fury’. It is in this particular instance that a more general cultural disgust towards biting is detectable: it reminds us both of our childhood orality, our erotic love of sucking (on our mother’s breast, or anything else to hand), and our childhood rages. In Dickens’s David Copperfield, that seems to have influenced the Rat Man study, David bites his step-father as he is being beaten, ‘I caught the hand with which he held me in my mouth, between my teeth, and bit it through. It sets my teeth on edge to think of it’.  When David relates this he is speaking as an upstanding bourgeois citizen (as is the Rat Man); as we consolidate our memories in adulthood, memories of this sort disgust us. That is part of our experience of becoming adult subjects in a bourgeois and patriarchal world.

It may well be that Suárez’s act then is a sort of rebellion against the patriarchal authority of the football business that made him what he is, but nor is Suárez some sort of political hero. Yet there is a problematic side in desiring to repress orality altogether. The repression of oral pleasure has historically been part of a project of bourgeois, patriarchal, racism. In the Southern United States, for example, women slaves were punished for pica, for taking pleasure in eating dirt. Nothing like this could ever be said of Suárez’s orality, and perhaps, in this case we are right to condemn it. Here our disgust at his biting perhaps suggests a more general disgust at his behaviour. In the Rat Man study, the memory of biting his father reminds Freud’s patient of his affinity with rats that ‘he himself had been just such a nasty, dirty little wretch, who was apt to bite people when he was in a rage’. Rats, of course, are noble creatures, but the characterisation seems apt for the nastiness of Suárez’s rage, of his attitude towards those without white skin.

* It is incidentally striking that so many languages adopt the English word for football, or, when they do not, such as in the Italian calcio, adopt words explicitly connected to the feet.

Posted by Tristan Burke

You can follow Straight off the Beach on Twitter @S_ot_B and on Facebook.

Preview 14 – France

When I moved to Paris in September 2010, I noticed that bookshops were full of newly released (and hastily written) titles about the national team. Ostentatiously wrapped in the famous bandeau rouge or red wrapper used by publishers to draw the eye of the potential purchaser, these books attempted to dissect the chaotic mess that had been France’s short-lived stint as participants in the 2010 World Cup. They were the football version of La Débâcle, Emile Zola’s damning indictment of France’s humiliation in the Franco-Prussian War – albeit with Raymond Domenech as a latter-day Napoléon III, and rather more wearing of hoodies and gigantic shades.

France’s South African meltdown in 2010 was, perhaps, not so fundamentally important for the future course of European history as the country’s collapse in 1870. However, just as the loss of Alsace-Lorraine to Germany haunted the French national psyche until 1918, so the apparent humiliation of 2010 has loomed large over French preparations for subsequent international tournaments.

In the run-up to Euro 2012, the Fédération française de football (FFF) was keen to move on from 2010 by promoting an image of unity and harmony among both squad and management. In order to do so, they turned to what was supposed to unite them all, both on and off the pitch – the language and imagery of the French republic. Nowhere was this more obvious than in the ostensibly rather odd launch of France’s new kit (Le Shirt, if you will). Members of both the men’s and women’s squads processed into the riding school of the Garde républicaine in Paris, accompanied by mounted members of the Garde and soundtracked by a sedate, old-fashioned musical accompaniment provided by the band of the Garde républicaine.

(By way of comparison, here’s how the 2010 England away kit was launched – curiously enough also in Paris, but during a Kasabian gig. The boos from miffed/confused Parisians are audible – miffed that someone thought launching an England jersey in France was a good idea, and possibly confused because Kasabian lead singer Tom Meighan had avowed his support for the Republic of Ireland  just a few months before.)

The juxtaposition of national team with the Garde républicaine, who are usually seen accompanying the president of the Republic and politicians, sent out a clear message. The team were representatives of France, and symbols of republican unity. To really ram it home, each jersey had the words Nos différences nous unissent (Our differences unite us) inscribed in flowing script just inside the back collar.

To me, the whole thing smacked of the French republican language of la république indivisible, the ‘indivisible republic.’ The constitution of June 1793, written after the establishment of the First Republic in 1792, opened with the words ‘The French Republic is one and indivisible’, and this language of unquestioned unity has been part of the terminology of republican France ever since.

That said, anyone with a knowledge of modern French history will soon spot the irony of a constitution written in June 1793, just as the revolutionary Terror and the attendant guillotine were really getting going, proclaiming that the Republic was ‘one and indivisible.’ There has always been a tendency among those establishing the various incarnations of the French Republic to insist on a sense of absolute unity even when the country was quite obviously tearing itself apart. As a result, there always seems to be a point when the façade falls.

Arguably, it’s hard to point to a moment in 2012 when anyone genuinely believed in the FFF’s presentation of the national squad as diligent, dutiful représentants de la nation. Even before they got to Poland and the Ukraine they’d had (as Russell Williams has already pointed out) the infamous ‘Nasri smirk’ during the singing of ‘La Marseillaise’. Yet again, France’s run in an international tournament was largely ignominious, with les Bleus crashing out in the quarter finals after a 2-0 defeat to Spain. Rumours circulated of yet more dressing room conflicts, and France’s final game was most notable for Nasri’s sweary post-match outburst to journalists.

As France heads for Brazil, in recent weeks there has been renewed speculation as to whether the squad has been up to its usual conflict-ridden tricks, with potentially lethal consequences for their hopes of success. Didier Deschamps’ decision to leave Samir Nasri out of his squad rapidly resulted in a foul-mouthed Twitter rant from Nasri’s girlfriend, Anara Atanes (‘Fuck france and fuck deschamps! What a shit manager!’) and an equally rapid response from both Deschamps and the FFF, who are taking Atanes to court.

For France, therefore, it seems that remaining une et indivisible and getting through this tournament without an internal bust-up – and in so doing shaking off the spectres of 2010 and 2012 – would be as much a victory as actually managing to win the Cup.

Posted by Laura O’Brien

You can follow Straight off the Beach on Twitter @S_ot_B and on Facebook.

It’s Human Nature

I think anybody who saw France’s capitulation to Spain can agree that Florent Malouda, a footballer who is to footballing what Adam Mars-Jones and Philip Hensher are to novel-writing, should have made at least some effort to pick up Xabi Alonso as he burst forward to get on the end of Jordi Alba’s cross and score the first goal of the evening. ITV’s Jamie Carragher took very little time to highlight Malouda’s utter disinterest in shoring up his side’s flimsy defence during the half-time punditry, and – had I been born in Dijon rather than Darlington – I’d be pretty adamant that the Chelsea something-or-other should never pull on the bleu ever again. That said, I was astounded by Roy Keane’s contribution to the analysis. He began in typically Keanian spirit, saying somthing along the lines that any professional should have internalised the idea that tracking back when one’s team is in trouble is a fundamental part of the game. However, this swiftly turned into generalisation. ‘It’s human nature,’ he blurted, in his (arguably reasonable) concern to make sure that Adrian Chiles knew what he was talking about.

Is it ‘human nature’? There’s a Marxian approach to Darwin that says the wrong elements of Origin of Species were emphasised in Victorian Britain, as ‘competition’ was elevated above ‘mutual aid’ in an effort to naturalise certain basic principles of industrial capitalism. Certainly, evolutionary science might do well to play up the theory that we’re hard-wired to help each other out rather than to snipe, undermine, and generally look after our own ends. It might serve as a corrective to lunk-headed Mail blog commentary about ‘common sense’, at least, and we might begin to put to bed timewasting hair-splitters such as ‘altruism is really just another form of selfishness’. However, Keane – who I’m normally a big fan of – got under my skin tonight. The implication wasn’t that providing assistance to those in need of it is an inherent human trait, I think – it was that football-mindedness is something we’re all secretly given to. It was a claim for the game’s universality based in its alleged similarity to lived experience which, to me, demeans football’s particularity, cutting away the aspects that make it different from other team sports.

The claim that football is somehow a pure analogue of human experience in general doesn’t work for me. It might serve as a pathway into broader concerns, but its inital spark lies in its difference rather than in its similarity. By that, I mean that it produces a skewed image of what-we-do-the-rest-of-the-time which serves as a vantage point onto the everyday: that’s to say that modernist poetry or painting offer more valid points of comparison than realist fiction or drama. Every attempt to make football into a simile for day-to-day life falls short somehow, and I’d be willing to bet that we’d turn our backs on it pretty fast if a point-for-point metaphorical exchange was possible. Of course, social factors are huge influences on how football is played in a given location, but these are the starting points of tactical trajectories rather than objects of unimpeded mimesis.

By Joe Kennedy

You can follow Straight off the Beach on Twitter @S_ot_B and on Facebook.

Tagged ,

The Lost Art of (Defensive) Midfielding

Yesterday, while watching an entertaining collection of mostly off-the-ball incidents involving Danish former Everton and Real Madrid midfielder Thomas Gravesen, I began to consider the importance of controlled aggression in football. It became clear to me that Gravesen, in his both his physical and ‘banteresque’ exchanges with other players, was involved in a strategy of shadow throwing and exaggeration that one is more familiar with in wrestling or pantomime than in modern football. That evening, the Netherlands struggled against Germany, but failed to reach the violent nadir of their performances in World Cup 2010 – especially the final when the inarguably talented but weirdly boring Spain team ground out a win in a game reminiscent of some Christians trying to play keepie-uppie against a team of extremely hungry and irate lions with a penchant for self-loathing.One persuasive narrative to emerge from that night: the Netherlands were seen as anti-footballing villains while Spain were conquering heroes.

There’s little doubt that a rare strain of ultraviolence was embodied by that Holland team, but was that final really the night when, symbolically at least, a non-contact, packed-midfield brand of tiki-taka football was crowned? And, if so, where does this leave the defensively-minded midfielder who’s motivated not only by a desire to turn defence into attack by breaking play up through tackling and distribution, but also – see Gravesen – to turn the course of a game through psychological jostling, cumulative pressure and, yes, the occasional physical attack?

The growing aestheticisation of football, fed by a speed-reading of Barcelona’s fluidity crossed with fantasies of a Harlem Globetrotters-like touch of anti-gravity showiness (Krusty the Klown: ‘they were using a freaking ladder for gods’ sakes’) has perhaps blinded many to the successes of teams more fundamentally grounded in supposedly traditional footballing strategy: put a big lad up front, get it out to the wings and kick anyone who goes towards your goal. For some reason, Real Madrid and Stoke City spring to mind. Barçelona’s efforts to experiment with these ‘sorts of players’ haven’t been hugely successful: Ibrahimovic was a notable failure while Mascherano came in an aggressive, hard-tackling midfield mentalcase but is now someone who slots into defence when one or other of the favoured centre-backs is crocked. The logic of Barça under Guardiola dictated that the target man and the hard-man defensive midfielder must be tamed and domesticated in order to play within the system.

Where’s a defensively-minded midfielder (with a penchant for controlled aggression) to go, though? Strange that such a player, who offers a bulwark for defence, a certain kind of gonzo leadership and, at his best, a hub from which the spokes of successful counterattacking play can project, now finds himself unfashionable and unloved. But, then again, these players are always the least praised, and frequently demonised for their excesses: Roy Keane for his career-ending tackle on Alf-Inge Haaland, Gennaro Gattuso for his headbutt on Joe Jordan – Lee Cattermole for, well, practically everything he does whenever he gets on the pitch. (And then there’s obviously Van Bommel, whose reputation precedes him to the degree that when he fails to hack someone down, he resembles Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner, nervously picking around the laboratory in fear of turning into the enormous green anger monster.) To jump away from strictly defensive midfield for a moment, such vilification puts one in mind of another midfielder, though admittedly in a different galaxy from everyone else – both in terms of the quality of the player and the near-operatic tragedy of the excessive event – Zinédine Zidane’s ‘chestbutt’ on Marco Matterrazi in the 2006 World Cup final.

One of the disappointments of Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parenno’s Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait was its relative silence – Zinédine barely spoke apart from (according to my recollection) telling the ref to go fuck himself at one point. If that film presents the art of midfielding as one of quiet contemplation occasionally punctuated by success, failure and inexplicable violence, the Youtube footage of Gravesen (mostly from his time with Real Madrid and set to broad parpy comedy music) shows the industry with which one goes about creating the sort of legend that leads others – both on and off the field – to refer to a footballer as ‘that psycho’.

Posted by Karl Whitney

You can follow Straight off the Beach on Twitter @S_ot_B and on Facebook.

Tagged , , , ,



I expect a tournament with one or two surprises but which will ultimately see the established order prevail. For winners, it’s hard to see beyond Germany. The Mannschaft have been building up a head of steam since Jürgen Klinnsmann’s days in charge at the 2006 World Cup. After being frustrated twice by Spain in past tournaments, they now look a more assured, more streamlined side. Not that they are without defaults though; none of the combinations of Badstuber, Mertesacker, Howedes and Hummels make a fully confident centre-half pairing and they rely on support from the wing backs as well as Khedira and Schweinsteiger in front of them. But going forward, Germany are irresistible, with Mesut Özil now one of the best attacking midfielders in the world. Scoring goals is rarely a problem for the Germans but the wild inconsistency of Mario Gómez can throw up a few problems too. It’s hard to see how Joachim Löw can justify starting him ahead of Miroslav Klose.

Joining the Germans in the semi-final will probably be the Netherlands, who are still as strong as two years ago, while shedding some of the less savoury abrasiveness they displayed in South Africa. Though I have speculated on Spain having a shock early exit, if they get out of the group, they should reach the semi-finals too. A stern test from one of the Dutch or the Germans will probably be the undoing though of a heavily fatigued side. Rounding off the semi-finalists will be Italy, whom I expect to hit the ground running in the tournament, their poor form in friendlies notwithstanding.

The surprise package is likely to be Poland, who have a very manageable group and also some exciting young talent in Robert Lewandowski, Wojciech Szczesny and Jakub Blaszczykowski. They will fare better than co-hosts Ukraine, who have been looking only weaker than ever in the run-up to the Euros and who will need more than home advantage to seriously trouble Sweden, France or England. The French should impress too but they are probably still two years off being a fully formed side. The quarter-finals is likely as far as they will go.

As for Ireland, I am trying not to tempt fate. An incredibly difficult group makes it hard to see how they can advance. That said, I think they will acquit themselves well and, in one game at least, provide more excitement than many people expect. Four points from the three games would be a good tournament, even if it proves to not be enough to get through.

Posted by Oliver Farry

Tagged , , , , , ,

Olivier Giroud and France’s Zola Cycle

French centre-forward Olivier Giroud might well be dreading his country’s opening fixture against England on Monday night. While some of Roy Hodgson’s debutants will, like Eddy Murphy’s street punk-turned-stockbroker in Trading Places, be regarding their new status with a kind of nonplussed glee, Giroud approaches the Euros straining under the weight of recent history. Having scored 21 goals in Montpellier’s unexpectedly victorious Ligue 1 campaign, he arrives in Ukraine as the latest in a long(ish) list of French attackers tipped to astonish at the finals of an international competition. His concern will be to buck the trend set by Stephane Guivarc’h in 1998, Franck Ribéry and Karim Benzema in 2008 and most recently Yoann Gourcuff in 2010. All four have proved a serious let-down for Les Bleus at a European Championship or World Cup.

One wonders why France have, of late, stood out in their ability to field players whose performances expose a huge gap between expectation and competitive reality. Some might say that the answer lies in the comparatively low standard of Ligue 1, arguing that it does not provide an adequate test for attackers soon to be tasked with outwitting top-level international defences. Others will point out, with some justification, that each case deserves to be taken on its own merits. Guivarc’h, perhaps, was little more than a foil for the ’98 side’s extravagantly talented midfield, while Gourcuff was a victim of both immature behaviour from senior players and Raymond Domenech’s unique astrological spin on man-management. Nevertheless, it seems that the French fall guy has become a stock character, a stereotype that Giroud is presumably wary of living up to.

As French teams go, Laurent Blanc’s outfit are perhaps less dependent on big names and big promises than their predecessors. Ribéry and Benzema, who have both recovered from their own dire tournaments, are recognised stars now, but Blanc will rely equally on solid performances from the likes of Newcastle’s Yohan Cabaye. With little pre-departure fanfare, the pressure may not be so great on Giroud. There’s also the possibility that he’s found his feet at exactly the right time: prior to Montpellier, he’d bounced between the clubs who seem to inhabit an indeterminate space between Ligues 1 and 2, and few would have expected him to play a key role at the Euros had they been asked last summer. Stealth can be a huge advantage – David Platt’s low-key reputation may well have been what made the Belgian defenders mark him so dreadfully in Bologna in 1990 – and it’s a factor Giroud will have on his side to some degree.

All this, however, taps into a wider issue. Despite their improbable runners-up finish in the 2006 World Cup, France post-2000 have gradually fallen victim to a set of self-fulfilling prophecies similar to those which beset England. Their teams seem to take to the field belaboured with the anxiety that they will somehow disappoint – to recall TK’s excellent formulation from yesterday, they too have aspects of Schrödinger’s team about them. With England, tournament failure seems to resemble seventies farce: in spite of Hoddle/ Keegan/ Eriksson/ Capello’s best-laid plans, there’s always an overseen chink which makes the structure collapse, leaving the manager looking like Frank Spencer or Basil Fawlty. France, by contrast, are coloured with the doominess of Émile Zola‘s Rougon-Macquart cycle. There’s an accumulation of bad blood which seeps into successive generations, invariably devastating – or at least scarring – the young protagonist who attempts to salve the hereditary trauma. Bullied and frozen out by his colleagues in 2010, Gourcuff resembled Étienne Lantier, a young agitator who arguably knew more than was good for him and let his purist aspirations muddy his relationships. Blanc more than anyone has done his best to make sure Giroud lines up against England with a blank slate in terms of the mistakes of the last twelve years, but it remains to be seen whether he’ll make the most of it.

Posted by Joe Kennedy

Tagged , , , ,

Spectres of Graham: Euro 2012 and the trace of Sweden ’92

Yes, there was Italia 90 –

I have hazy memories. 7 years old, local youth club, Italy overcome Czechoslovakia. Do I have enough for more sweets?

England scruffy, Lineker bundled, Pearce disallowed, Wright nods in.

Faint recollections of Oman Biyik, Caniggia, Schillaci.

Platt’s goal v Belgium, Platt’s goal v Cameroon.

But I was definitely  in bed when Lineker put those penalties away.

The reality of the semi-final lost to a thousand replays and rememberings.

– but it was not really mine.

This roundabout poetic guff is a tool to explain that Euro 92 was my first proper tournament.

The sticker collecting was much more serious, developing my knowledge of the continental wheat and chaff. Italy joined Denmark in a bonus section at the back of the album in case the newly formed Commonwealth of Independent States joined Yugoslavia in having their invitation withdrawn.

It was only later that Graham Taylor’s right back problem could be seen as my introduction to pre-tournament injury sagas.

Gary Stevens limps off v Finland to be replaced by the up and coming Keith Curle, a centre-back who would make such a hash of the full-back post in the first game of Sweden 92 that a young David Batty became No.2 in the second. Eventually, Graham Taylor introduced a sweeper system to do away with the nuisance in the third and final group match.

It’s funny what you recall.

1990 had Waddle, Gascoigne, Barnes; 1992 had Palmer, Daley, Sinton. However, at nine years of age it was unbridled support, no pub-based rants about the absence of Peter Beardsley from the passenger manifest of the FA’s charter flight from Luton.

The stultifying dullness of a nil nil draw with Denmark has seemingly expunged most details of England’s opener from my memory. A pre-Arsenal Jensen hit the post (an anticipation of his goal in the final, which gave no hint of his miserable Highbury goal-quest).

France follow. Cantona, Papin, Boli. Home from school. Pearce bleeds, spanks the bar. Nil nil.

It’s all on Sweden. We have to win. They have a new wonder, Brolin, talk of the playground.

Football training means I don’t get home til half-time. The lift home, full of hope: Platt has scored, it’s 1-0.

45 minutes later the tone is set for my England-supporting career. Equaliser, Brolin-Dahlin-Brolin-Brilliant, Alan Smith.

To bring this memoir to a head: with the gift of hindsight England’s preparations for Euro 2012 seem to reflect some of the principal themes of that doomed Swedish enterprise from long ago.

Even the tournament itself has its parallels. Sweden ’92 was the final incarnation of the 8-team, 2 group, straight-to-semis affair. Ukraine/Poland is the last hurrah of the 16-nation bill which so perfectly demonstrates Europe’s depth, offering room for a fairytale or two and only the odd uninspiring group game. (In 2012, Group A seems most likely to give rise to these – although the co-host set-up must take most of the blame for this).

France 2016 and Uefa’s 24-nation grope for broadcast cash promises little but dilution and group-stage humiliations for a tournament that did not need fixing.

Apologies for the tangent, back to England and the vicious 20-year cycle.

For Hodgson, see Taylor.

A manager who beams Englishness, only with a 40-watt bulb. Not an inspiration, but a proven achiever of everything save dizzying heights. A real FA man. Hodgson, schooled in dignified elimination with Switzerland and Finland, would perhaps not appreciate his tactical likening to Taylor, but I can’t help but feel that the same 4-4-2, the same slavish adherence to organisation, the same directness unites them.

And as for ’92 and all that, England once again find themselves shorn of talent. The limited pool has been exposed. Wilshere, Walker, Cahill, Lampard, Bent. They may not be Barnes and Gascoigne but all would be pushing for the first XI. At least they are denied to Hodgson, while Taylor chose to leave some of his more mercurial talent at home.

For the Ox, see Daley. Young pace men, impact wingers, untested. Daley would flop where Owen and Rooney would one day shine. Let us hope Oxlade-Chamberlain can bring some brio to the touch-line. With Downing and Milner for competition surely he will not go the way of Sven-era Walcott.

Roy’s fancy for Carroll doffs a cap to Taylor and Smudger too. Taylor took Shearer (albeit a pre-Blackburn incarnation) and didn’t use him when Lineker needed help. Hodgson must utilise Welbeck: his top-drawer finish against Belgium demands it, as Rooney serves his time for his Montenegrin impetuousness.

There’s a more superficial similarity, too. France and Sweden leer from the trapdoor of 1992’s group stage.

Last time a draw with the French left us needing to do too much against the underestimated hosts.

Now a draw against Laurent Blanc and his increasingly confident team, leaving us – realistically – needing to beat Sweden to escape the possibility of another host-nation banana skin in the final group game, seems as much as we dare hope for.

The one significant difference is that twenty years of frustration have finally matched expectations to reality.

The manager, the players, the fans, and the press do not come into the Euros still giddy from a World Cup semi-final and all those pills.

Rather, having had to swallow 2010 and a very different exit at the hands of the Germans gives Roy and his team the benefit of perspective – he’d still have a job if England get no further than Group D.

However, as a nine-year-old, a group stage exit hurt. Where was my night in Turin?

Posted by Gregg Morgan

Tagged , , , , , , ,