Archive for the 'France' Category

Jun 27 2014

Profile Image of Laurent Dubois

Algeria’s Historic Victory

Filed under Algeria,France,World Cup

For the first time, Algeria moved on to the Round of 16 in the World Cup yesterday. As the game ended, a crowd hoisted a man in a wheelchair up above them to celebrate. Here is what the scene looked like from above in another plaza where a crowd waited out the final seconds of the game.

For more on what this means for Algeria, read my pieces here and here.

Update: after Algeria’s loss to Germany, I wrote this piece mourning & celebrating what they had achieved.

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Nov 17 2013

Profile Image of Matthew Schorr

Deux Perceptions en concurrence de l’immigration en France

J’ai bien apprécié l’autobiographie de Lilian Thuram que les étudiants francophones ont lu la semaine dernière, et je veux ici élaborer sur mon commentaire du 7 novembre. L’autobiographie est un texte d’espoir, un texte qui démontre la possibilité illimitée qui existe en France. Sans doute, Thuram reconnaît qu’il existe certains problèmes et tensions qui tourmentent la banlieue. Toutefois, Thuram conclut que la banlieue est surtout un endroit positif qui est caractérisé par une richesse culturelle, linguistique, et ethnique. C’est très intéressant de contraster cette expérience de Thuram avec celle de Salie, la protagoniste de Le Ventre de l’Atlantique, un livre de Fatou Diome que la section francophone a lu il y a quelques semaines.

8 juillet 1998, l'autobiographie de Lilian Thuram.

8 juillet 1998, l’autobiographie de Lilian Thuram.

Lilian Thuram immigre en France avec sa mère et sa fratrie. Il identifie un manque de compréhension entre des groupes ethniques dans la banlieue qui résulte d’un manque d’espaces communs. Il lamente aussi le fait que les résidents perçoivent souvent une « frontière invisible » (37) entre leurs quartiers et les autres quartiers de la société, qui contribue à une division artificielle qui crée de la suspicion mutuelle. Thuram remarque que les tensions sont accentuées parce que beaucoup de Français qui habitent hors de la banlieue ont des préjugés contre les banlieusards ; ils supposent que les banlieusards sont obligatoirement pauvres et violents. Les tensions déstabilisent la société en créant une méfiance mutuelle alimentée par le racisme et la xénophobie.

Toutefois, malgré tout ces problèmes de la banlieue, Thuram suggère que la vie dans la banlieue est surtout un expérience riche. Comme enfant, Thuram appréciait beaucoup la diversité de son quartier à Fougères, qu’il appel un “kaléidoscope ethnique” (35). Thuram se souvient le multiculturalisme de ses amis enfantins, et son intérêt pour leurs cultures, leurs langues, et leurs patries. Les matches de foot permettaient aux amis de Thuram de développer des relations respectueuses, sans égard pour la race, le statut socio-économique, ou le pays d’origine.

Diome peint une image opposée de la banlieue. Le personnage principal de sa livre, Salie, immigre en France du Sénégal pour essayer de gagner de l’argent pour améliorer sa vie et celle de sa famille. Nombreux Sénégalais croient que « Chaque miette de vie doit server à conquérir la dignité » (30), et ils pensent souvent que la vie en France est glamoureuse et que c’est assez facile d’y gagner une fortune. Les garçons sénégalais sont particulièrement éblouis par la France, et ils perçoivent le football d’être un raccourci à la richesse. Toutefois, la vie de Salie n’est pas la vie de star, et la France n’est pas un paradis pour des immigrés. A cause de sa pauvreté, son statut comme immigré, et son ethnicité, Salie trouve que sa vie en France est dure. Elle regrette que « En Europe…vous êtes d’abords noirs, accessoirement citoyens, définitivement étrangers, et ça, ce n’est pas écrit dans la Constitution, mais certains le lisent sur votre peau » (176). Par conséquent, Salie cherche à dissuader son frère de venir en France. Diome suggère que c’est possible d’avoir une vie épanouissante au Sénégal et que ce chemin est préférable à l’émigration.

Le Ventre de l'Atlantique, un roman de Fatou Diome.

Le Ventre de l’Atlantique, un roman de Fatou Diome.

L’incompatibilité des deux perceptions de l’immigration est frappante. C’est évident que Thuram et Diome ont des rapports très différents avec la France et que la France la signification de la France n’est pas le même pour tout le monde. L’immigration et la banlieue, la destination de beaucoup d’immigrés, sont complexes. Thuram identifie des vrais avantages de la vie dans la banlieue malgré tous les problèmes qui y existent. En même temps, il faut reconnaître que Thuram a atteindre plus de richesse et célébrité que la grande majorité d’immigrés. Par conséquent, sa perception de la possibilité qui existe dans la banlieue n’est pas nécessairement comparable à celle de beaucoup d’autres immigrés, come Salie. Malgré des rêves des garçons sénégalais d’être comme Thuram, son niveau de réussite est extrêmement difficile à atteindre.

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Nov 02 2013

Profile Image of Laurent Dubois

Lilian Thuram’s Autobiography

Filed under France,Thuram

Published in 2004 in France — and not yet translated into English — Lilian Thuram’s autobiography 9 Juillet 1998 is a fascinating portrait of contemporary France and of the world of football. In it, he describes his childhood in Guadeloupe and his family migration to the suburbs of Paris, where he grew up in a project outside Fontainebleau. His descriptions of life in the banlieue are particularly striking because of the very positive representation he offers of these spaces that are often seen in a very negative light. He celebrates the diversity and the community he found there. His stories of his early footballing career, notably his mentorship by Arsene Wenger among others, will interest football fans. And his lucid vision — at once celebratory and cautious — of the impact of the 1998 World Cup on France is one of the most interesting parts of the book. In the comments below, students from Duke’s Fall 2013 “Soccer Politics” offer some translations and analysis of particularly interesting passages from this book.

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Oct 29 2013

Profile Image of Elena Kim

Thierry Henry Flipbook

Filed under France

Je voudrais partager cette vidéo très cool de Thierry Henry que j’ai trouvé  il y a quelques jours, après avoir parlé de lui aujourd’hui en classe. Faites-vous plaisir!

 

 

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Oct 28 2013

Profile Image of Vinay Kumar

La situation continue : l’impôt qui peut “tuer” des équipes françaises

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Comme une suite à ma poste précédente, je voudrais revoir la situation en France avec l’impôt de François Hollande. Jeudi dernier, les meilleures ligues de foot en France ont annoncé qu’ils ne participeront pas aux matchs de 29 Novembre à 1 Décembre en réponse à l’impôt de 75%. Jean-Pierre Louvel a dit que cette grève essaie de « sauver le foot français » et peut continuer si le président n’aide pas les clubs de foot français. Les ligues et François Hollande rencontreront cette semaine. Selon Jacques Vendroux, un commentateur sportif célèbre, les moyens clubs peuvent faire faillite avec les nouveaux impôts.

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Les deux meilleures ligues en France, Ligue 1 et Ligue 2, ont perdu 149 million de dollars et elles perdraient un autre 60.7 million de dollars avec cet impôt. En France, il y a une croissance du sentiment contre des impôts. Étonnamment, le public ne soutient pas les joueurs du foot avec leur grève. Selon un sondage par LCI,  85% des personnes interrogées sont en faveur de taxer les joueurs et 83% des sondés ne croient pas qu’une grève est justifiée. Ces résultats me surprennent parce que j’ai pensé que l’amour du foot vaincrait François Hollande et son gouvernement. Cependant, j’ai oublié la histoire riche des joueurs français et des grèves. L’équipe nationale a perdu beaucoup de respect national et international quand il a fait la grève au Coup du Monde 2010. Le média compare cette situation plus récente à l’incident de 2010. Je trouve la réponse des français très intéressant mais si les équipes souffrent et ne jouent pas bien, je pense que les spectateurs et les citoyens changeront leurs avis.

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Oct 07 2013

Profile Image of Vinay Kumar

François Hollande, des impôts et leurs conséquences pour le foot français

Filed under France,Soccer Business

Dans sa campagne pour le président, François Hollande a introduit un impôt qui taxe des millionnaires à un tarif de soixante-quinze pourcent. Cette loi controversée a encouragé beaucoup de français riches à déménager aux autres pays européens, comme l’acteur Gérard Depardieu.

Francois Hollande campaign meeting in Toulouse

En ce qui concerne le football, ces impôts sont très importants. En avril 2013, le gouvernement a dit que des équipes du football françaises deviendraient soumis aux impôts. Ces nouveaux impôts inhibent des équipes françaises parce qu’elles doivent payer des impôts plus hauts que des autres équipes européennes. Par conséquent, des équipes françaises ne peuvent pas attirer le talent parce qu’elles ne peuvent pas payer leurs joueurs comme les autres équipes.

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Cette situation est très intéressante pour la France parce qu’elle juxtapose deux choses que les Français adorent : l’égalité et le football. Le socialisme de François Hollande ont obtenu le soutien de la majorité comme l’écart socio-économique entre les riches et les pauvres continuent à élargir. Cependant, l’exode des riches de la France est un grand problème pour l’économie et la croissance.  Le football, le sport le plus populaire dans la France, est aussi important aux Français. Les supporters n’aiment pas que leurs équipes soient défavorisées parce que des équipes françaises représentent leurs villes et leur pays. L’impôt coûtera 82 millions au foot français et mille salariés seraient concernés en France. Le président du Ligue de Football Professionel (LFP), Frederic Thiriez a dit que l’impôt serait “la mort du football en France.”

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Nous verrons si le football gagne dans cette situation!

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Oct 03 2013

Profile Image of Becca Fisher

Est-ce que le foot est vraiment quel que chose qui unifie?

9782253109075-GMadické est le jeune demi-frère du narrateur, Salie. Tout au long du livre, il est obsédé par le football et le joueur Maldini qui joue pour l’équipe d’Italie. Il pense constamment à la vie en Europe, plus précisément en France, à cause de Salie. Il croit fermement à «l’herbe est toujours plus verte de l’autre côté.» Il pense que la vie de Salie en France est si parfaite, même si elle essaie de lui expliquer autrement. Elle est dans une position très difficile parce qu’elle est née au Sénégal, comme Madické, mais vit en France. C’est le ventre de l’Atlantique qui les sépare. Elle pense que la France est oppressive, misérable et solitaire, tandis que Madické et les autres villageois pensent que la France est un paradis. Salie est enracinée partout et à la fois exilée tout le temps. D’autre part, Madické est enraciné au Sénégal avec toute sa famille, l’amour et le soutien.

Madické représente les étrangers qui idolâtrent France. Malgré tous ses défauts expliqués par Salie, il refuse d’admettre les imperfections de la France. A la fin du livre, comme Madické mûri, Salie lui envoie de l’argent pour démarrer une boutique. Il se rend compte que son rêve de jouer au foot était enfantin et il devient satisfait avec sa réalité. Même si il décide de rester au Sénégal, il reconnaît les différences de cultures et peut-être leurs implications.

Cette relation entre Salie et Madické met en perspective beaucoup de choses. Il démontre l’exception culturelle qui existe en France et le rôle qu’elle joue en ce qui concerne le problème de l’intégration. En France, tout le monde semble être heureux avec la façon dont ils vivent. En tant qu’étranger, il est difficile de ne pas seulement comprendre ces différences de culture, mais aussi devenir une partie d’une nouvelle. Je pense que cette “exception culturelle” est l’une des choses qui rend l’immigration en France si difficile pour Salie. Si elle avait immigré dans un pays dont la culture était plus similaire au Sénégal, il aurait été plus facile. Cela représente aussi la difficulté de l’intégration en général. Même si cette histoire est particulière à la France, elle peut être généralisée à immigrer n’importe où. Les différences de «langue», la religion et l’éducation posent des difficultés d’assimilation.

Comme nous avons parlé en classe, le foot est souvent considéré comme un rassembleur entre les différentes cultures et les immigrants. Il offre un langage commun et l’intérêt mutuel. Les règles sont assez régulières et le jeu n’a pas besoin de beaucoup de ressources. Mais, le foot est un peu préjudiciable à la relation entre Salie et Madické. Salie essaie très fort de rester en contact avec sa famille parce qu’elle se sent isolée et triste en France. Quand elle appelle pour parler avec Madické sur la vie au Sénégal, il veut seulement des mises à jour sur les derniers matchs et joueurs. Très tôt dans le livre, il devient clair que la différence et la distance entre les cultures provoque le foot d’être une grande source de tension entre Salie et Madické. C’est un sujet difficile à analyser car nous ne sommes dans aucun de leurs positions. Les deux, Salie et Madické, sont justifiées dans leur intérêt, mais malheureusement ils ne sont pas dans le même page. Peut-être que ce n’est pas le jeu de foot lui-même qui crée la distance et la tension entre les deux personnages, mais le foot souligne leurs différences de caractère et est donc considérer d’une façon négative. Mais à la fin du roman Madické est capable de se rendre compte que peut-être son obsession était injuste et un peu ridicule. Le jeu de foot est fascinant et c’est intéressant de voir comment il est capable d’affecter tant de gens de différentes façons. Cela aurait pu être n’importe quel autre sport ou un hobby que Madické et Salie n’étaient pas d’accord, mais dans ce cas il était de foot (dont je suis sûr, n’était pas une coïncidence). Comme nous l’avons expliqué en classe et dans African Soccerscapes, l’Afrique continue de se tourner vers la France et l’Europe comme les fondateurs et les idoles de ce sport. Ce livre est capable de démontrer ça à l’aide de Madické, qui représente le Sénégal, et Salie, représenter la France. Cependant, Diome est également en mesure d’intégrer les effets positifs et négatifs de cela aussi.

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Sep 09 2013

Profile Image of Jarrett Link

Struggles of the Frenchmen

Patrick Viera. Thierry Henry. Zinedine Zidane. The list goes on and on, but these are a few of the more recent bastions of French football that have brought glory to the streets of Paris and the beaches of Marseille, players who were widely considered to be some of the world’s best. Viera’s power and guile coupled with Henry’s wit, agility, and clinical finishing dominated the Premier League at Arsenal, while Zidane dazzled fans, opponents, and teammates alike while climbing to global superstar status at Juventus and Real Madrid, the most storied clubs in Italy and Spain respectively. A World Cup victory in 1998 and Euro Cup glory in 2000 marked the peak of modern day French football. Euphoria stemming from those victories was ephemeral; a disastrous 2002 World Cup, which saw France finish bottom of their group, was cause for warning. The following two snapshots, however, best capture the inception of their decline:

 Zinedine-Zidanes-headbutt-002

Although France may have vaulted back into relevance during the 2006 World Cup, in part made possible by Zidane’s emergence from retirement, the renowned midfielder’s vicious, albeit provoked, head-butt of Marco Materazzi shown above rather succinctly quelled any momentum they may have gained by reaching the finals against an Italian side in Berlin, Germany. Since that moment in time, the French national team has underperformed while being marred by such controversies as Henry’s deliberate handling of a ball, directly responsible for preventing the Republic of Ireland from World Cup qualification while booking the French side’s tickets to South Africa, the dismissal of Nicolas Anelka from the team during a dismal 2010 World Cup performance, training boycotts, further suspensions to stars such as Samir Nasri, Jeremy Menez, and Yann M’Vila for various immature infractions, etc.

Today, France is on the verge of a critical World Cup qualifying tie with UEFA lightweights Belarus. Although not entirely pivotal in terms of securing second place behind a dominant Spanish side, but more so as a morale boost, the French team is desperately in need of a resounding victory. Les Bleus will likely dispose of the last place team in UEFA’s Group I, but France’s goal drought is more than concerning. Real Madrid striker, and France’s number 9, Karim Benzema has not scored an international goal in 14 months, while the team itself has failed to score in 479 minutes—more than five games. These stats are astounding from a team that fields the likes of Franck Ribéry of Bayern München, recently named 2012/2013 UEFA European player of the year, Samir Nasri of Manchester City, the aforementioned Karim Benzema of Real Madrid, and various other stars that are more than capable of turning the tide of any game.

Perhaps there is more unrest in the player ranks. It would not be the first time a French team failed to fulfill its potential due to an unruly dressing room. Or maybe the players have failed to grasp debutant manager Didier Deschamps’ footballing philosophy. More alarming is the prospect that Deschamps’ philosophy could well fall short altogether. Club success, at Olympique de Marseille in Deschamps’ case, of course does not automatically translate into triumphs at the international level. Tomorrow’s game against Belarus will provide some limited insight into these issues. Whatever the problem is, France needs to start scoring goals if it expects to compete in UEFA’s second round of World Cup Qualifying, which includes eight runners up from the first round of qualifying, likely talented sides such as Croatia, Greece, Sweden, and Montenegro, among others.

As a completely biased Arsenal fan, I say Deschamps should include in-form Olivier Giroud in his starting XI. This listless French side is desperate for change. Utilizing both Giroud and Benzema in a 4-4-2 could prove fruitful, as Giroud’s hold up play, ability to win headers, and neat flicks and touches ideally would dovetail with Benzema’s running off the ball. If that doesn’t work, Les Bleus can always call on the classic covert handball to goal strategy. It worked for Maradona:

hand-of-god

and Henry demonstrated his best impression. Not ethical by any means, but where would the beautiful game be without a little controversy?

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Mar 20 2013

Profile Image of Laurent Dubois

The Blood of the Impure

This Post was originally published at Football is a Country. My thanks to them for permission to cross-post.

The French national anthem, La Marseillaise, is, if you think about it, a pretty nasty song. It dreams, in one of its more memorable verses, that the “blood of the impure” will “irrigate our fields.” It’s a rousing anthem, to be sure, and I myself can frequently be heard humming it to myself in advance of a match being played by Les Bleus, or as I ride my bike or do the dishes. I’ve found that it’s sometimes hard to find a French person (at least if you hang out, as I do, with too many intellectuals), who can actually sing it without irony. And yet, over the past 26 years, the question of whether a particular subset of French men – those who play on the national football team – sing the Marseillaise under certain conditions has been a rather unhealthy obsession in France (we’ve blogged about it before, when Kinshasa-born flanker Yannick Nyanga sobbed uncontrollably during the anthem ahead of a rugby match vs Australia last year).

We are now being treated to what feels to me like Act 467 of this drama. Karim Benzema, as anyone who attentively watches French football matches knows, doesn’t sing the anthem before matches. In a recent interview, asked why, he answered in a pleasingly flippant way: “It’s not because I sing that I’m going to score three goals. If I don’t sing the Marseillaise, but then the game starts and I score three goals, I don’t think at the end of the game anyone is going to say that I didn’t sing the Marseillaise.” Pushed further on the question, he invoked none other than Zinedine Zidane who, like Benzema, was the child of Algerian immigrants to France – and who also happens to be the greatest French footballer of all time, and the one to whom the team owes its one little star on its jersey: “No one is going to force me to sing the Marseillaise. Zidane, for instance, didn’t necessarily sing it. And there are others. I don’t see that it’s a problem.”

Ah, Karim, but it is a problem, don’t you see? In fact, your decision about whether to vocalize or not, as you stand in line under the careful scrutiny of cameras, about to enter into a hyper-stressful and aggressive sporting match during which your every action will be dissected and discussed, is an unmistakable sign about whether or not the true France will survive or alternatively be submerged in a tide of unruly immigrants and their descendants.

Notwithstanding the fact that, as Michel Platini has noted, in his generation no footballers ever sang the Marseillaise, and that “white” footballers – even the Muslim Franck Ribéry, who at best mutters a bit during the anthem but is much more enthusiastic in his pre-game prayers to Allah – are rarely if ever asked this particular question, even so some will continue to insist that your choice not to sing is a window onto your disloyal soul. As the Front National explained: “This football mercenary, paid 1484 Euros per hour, shows an inconceivable and inacceptable disdain for the jersey that he is lucky to be able to wear. Karim Benzema does not “see the problem” with not singing the Marseillaise. Well, French people wouldn’t see any problem with having him no longer play for the French team.”

Some genealogy is in order here. In 1996, Jean-Marie Le Pen first levied this accusation against the French team. France was playing in the European Cup, and playing well. But he was a bit disturbed by something he saw: an awful lot of them seemed, well, not really to be French. “It’s a little bit artificial to bring in foreign players and baptize them ‘Equipe de France,’” he opined. The team, he went on – with blithe disregard for the bald falsity of what he was saying, since no one can play on the French team who is not a French citizen, and nearly all of the players had in any case been born in France – was full of “fake Frenchmen who don’t sing the Marseillaise or visibly don’t know it.” When pressed on these comments a few days later, he lamented that while players from other countries in the tournament sang their anthems, “our players don’t because they don’t want to. Sometimes they even pout in a way that makes it clear that it’s a choice on their part. Or else they don’t know it. It’s understandable since no one teaches it to them.”  [For more on this, see Laurent's excellent book, Soccer Empire -- Ed]

The response to Le Pen’s 1996 comments was immediate and resounding: everyone, or almost everyone, called him an idiot. Politicians, pundits, and journalists all piled on, falling over themselves to denounce his comments and declare their love for the French team. In fact he managed to do something rather extraordinary with his comments, pushing a group of athletes – most of whom would likely have never made public political statements about the questions of race, immigration, and identity in France – to become activists of a kind.

Christian Karembeu – from the Pacific territory of New Caledonia – made a decision. “From that on, I didn’t sign the Marseillaise. To raise people’s consciousness, so that everyone will know who we are.” He knew the words perfectly, he explained. “In the colonies, everyone has to learn the Marseillaise by heart at school. That means that I, from zero to twenty-five years old, knew the Marseillaise perfectly.” But when he heard the song, Karembeu explained, he thought “about his ancestors” – indigenous Kanaks who had been drafted in New Caledonia and died on the battlefields of World War I for France. “The history of France is that of its colonies and its wealth. Above all, I am a Kanak. I can’t sign the French national anthem because I know the history of my people.”

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One of Karembeu’s teammates, the Guadeloupe-born Lilian Thuram, also experienced the event as a kind of political awakening. He made a different choice when it came to the song: he always sang it loudly, and famously off tune, often with tears in his eyes. But doing so was part of a political stance that overlapped with Karembeu’s: in the next years, Thuram became a powerful and potent voice criticizing Le Pen, and later Nicholas Sarkozy, and advocating for acknowledgment, study, and confrontation with the past of slavery and colonialism. In his retirement, he has – in a move that, to say the least, is not the usual path taken by post-career athletes – devoted himself to anti-racist education, and recently curated an exhibit at the Quai Branly outlining the history of colonial and racial representations of “the Other.”

Le Pen’s comments were also a case of spectacularly bad timing. Though France didn’t win the European Cup, a team made up of most of the same players did the unthinkable in 1998 and won the World Cup in Paris. This victory would, in any situation, have been greeted with an outpouring of joy. But thanks largely to Le Pen’s comments – and to the fact that it was Thuram and Zidane – who scored the pivotal goals in the semi-final and final, the event was greeted by many in France as a powerful celebration of a new multi-cultural and multi-ethnic nation. There was an outpouring of comments from all sides that saw, in the team, precisely the opposite of what Le Pen had suggested: a France which, thanks to the contributions of all its different peoples, of all backgrounds, had won a critical victory.

Zinedine Zidane, for instance, reflected on the World Cup victory as a moment of consolidation and reconciliation for him and his family, and more broadly for Algerians and their descendants in France, many of whom waved Algerian flags to celebrate. “There was something very moving about seeing all those Algerian flags mixed in with the French ones in the streets on the night of our victory. This alchemy of victory proved suddenly that my father and mother had not made the journey for nothing: it was the son of a Kabyle that offered up the victory, but it was France that became champion of the world. In one goal by one person, two cultures became one.” The victory was “the most beautiful response to intolerance.” He described the victory as an explicit response to Le Pen: “Frankly, what does it matter if you belt out the Marseillaise or if you live it inside yourself? … Do we have to belt out this warrior’s song to be patriotic?”

It is, perhaps, this Zidane that Benzema was trying to channel in his comments. Of course, they come at a very different time. Zidane could speak from the pinnacle of victory. Benzema speaks in the midst of a long period of relative failure on the part of the French team – the debacle of 2010, the ultimate disappointment of the European Cup last summer, and now an ongoing struggle to qualify for 2014 in Brazil. The current debate about the Marseillaise, too, is haunted by the many controversies surrounding the booing of the anthem during matches pitting France against Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco over the past years. In September 2001, after pro-Algeria fans invaded the pitch during a game against France, Le Pen once again used football as a touchstone for his political campaign, this time with more success. He announced his candidacy for president in front of the Stade de France a few weeks later, explaining he had chosen the site because it was where “our national anthem was booed.” The next year, he made it into the second round of the presidential election, forcing the French to choose between him and Jacques Chirac. The French team mobilized again, with even Zidane urging people to vote against Le Pen.

We might imagine that there is, somewhere in the Front National office, presumably some kind of little file, or perhaps a handbook, on how to take advantage of various incidents on the football pitch for political gain. And one can predict that, like Benzema, future footballers who – because of the accident of their ancestry – are be suspected of disloyalty by French xenophobes will be asked this same question again and again: “Why don’t you sing the Marseillaise?” They’ll be able to look back to find various ways to answer the question, and indeed will have quite the menu: do you politely offer a “Va te faire foutre!” with sauce Karembeu, Thuram, Zidane, or Benzema? Eventually, one might be able to offer an entire seminar on the meaning and performance of nationalism using nothing but examples from the debate about football and the Marseillaise. The field of French Cultural Studies will eventually acknowledge that Jean-Marie Le Pen has been our greatest friend over the years, a generative thinker without whom we might have little to write about.

In the meantime, on the pitch France will need all the help it can get as they are about to take on reigning World and double European champions Spain. Many fans will probably be open to the players using any form of inspiration they might need in order to score some goals and win this critical game, so that they won’t put us all through the usual torture of dragging out qualification until the last minute. (Remember the hand of Henry?)

Do they want to pray to Allah, Jesus, Zarathustra? Be our guest. Invoke their Ancestors the Gauls, channel the spirit of the founder of the World Cup, the Frenchman Jules Rimet, or call down the West African warrior god Ogun? Fine with us. At the end of the game, as Benzema has pointed out, if they’ve scored three goals and pull off a win, no one will remember what they were singing when the game began.

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Jul 30 2012

Profile Image of Andrew Wenger

Youth Soccer

A football club cannot be successful without cultivating new young talent to supplement older veterans. This changeover is essential to continue moving forward. Clubs all over the world pay particular attention to developing their future stars for many reasons. If a club nurtures its younger players with the correct support and coaching the result will likely be a successful record on the field along with a healthy balance sheet. The prime examples are FC Barcelona and AFC Ajax, where the core of each team has emerged from the depths of their youth programs at La Masia and De Toekomst respectively. The Ajax youth academy is also prized for having filled the Dutch National team for years, and instilling the approach of “Total Football” in players.

Each has different styles to rearing football prodigies, but the goal is the same, to produce players to play for the first team. Ajax looks at their young players as a business investment, giving them everything they need to succeed and pays particular attention to not wearing their young athletes out for fear of losing their capital.  And they certainly should for they routinely sell players they have trained in their academy for millions of euros. Their academy stresses that development and technique is the key to success. Rarely are wins and losses considered when determining which players will make it to the next level at such a young age.

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Barcelona begins enrolling players in their academy (pictured above) at age 7, and they follow a rigorous schedule with little time for unsanctioned activities from dawn until dusk. While Spain and the Netherlands let the football tutelage specifically up to the clubs, France also employs a national training center in addition to club academies. These approaches are time proven to produce world class footballers that save their parent club’s millions in transfer fees. They have a structured plan to develop players and give them all the tools necessary to achieve. The question is, however, whether they give them the ability to live a normal childhood. People will argue that great players were never normal but what about the children who won’t earn World Footballer of the year? One of the costs of the academy system is that the single-minded focus on athletic training can leave players who ultimately don’t make it in the professional world without alternative skills or professional options.

For aspiring soccer players in the United States there is no real equivalent to these structured environments. Athletes are largely left to their own devices to figure out how to succeed. That is what I experienced growing up in Pennsyvlania.

I began my playing career like most young American children — in youth soccer. Seriously, is there a handbook somewhere that instructs all parents to enroll their children in youth soccer? It seems like almost everyone played on one soccer team or another during their childhood. But most won’t remember the team’s name — or the rules of the game for that matter. I, however, found a love for the game and progressed from one local youth select team to the next. First it was a county team, then a regional team, and then my local club team, Leeds United — which later became Pennsylvania Classics.

This is where Zarek and I began playing together at age 11. Although we played many games, it’s not clear to me now how many of them were truly worthwhile. We did a lot of traveling with Pennsylvania Classics and other select teams simply to get more practice and more exposure. I also competed for my high school team for three months of the year. That was a great social experience, but it disrupted my practice schedule with my club team. The other select teams were often apart of the  U.S. Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program. In trying to progress towards the highest levels of the game, we tried to balance playing for these different teams as well as Pennsylvania Classics, but it wasn’t always easy.

Among players, everyone’s goal was to be asked to join the U.S. U-17 Men’s national team residency program in Bradenton, Florida. That program was the only place were you could get a high level of training on a daily basis. The program was modeled after the French Football Federation’s National Institute of Football at Clairefontaine. You could be scouted for U.S. U-17 team with Pennsylvania Classics at any of the number of tournaments we played in or on any of the various Olympic Development Teams. There was no clear path to attain the ultimate goal so we tried to do it all.

U.S. Soccer finally figured out that players, myself included, were playing way to many games with little meaning. So, they created the U.S. Soccer Development Academy Program; a league that has  78 clubs in the U.S. and Canada and  culminates each year with a National Championship game. The “Development Academy” lays out a structured format for all elite players to compete against each other. It also has a set of guidelines for coaching instruction and puts an emphasis on development over winning games. Players are asked to forgo their other commitments, specifically high school soccer. This eliminates the need to play for multiple teams and allows them to concentrate on one avenue for success. At the same time, as Kyle Martino has noted, while high school soccer may disrupt club practices, it does provide an important avenue for social growth. The question is how to balance a pursuit of a professional dream and a normal childhood. Is it even possible?

My team later joined the development academy and saw a marked improvement in the competition. The Montreal Impact Academy is going to field two teams to join this very league in the coming year in the U-15/16 division and U-17/18.  Outside of the MLS clubs with youth teams in the “Development Academy,” there is no direct path for youth players to take to a professional team.

Many MLS clubs are giving their youth players the support and coaching they need but most importantly a clear path to the first team. Youth players can achieve their goal by being offered a Homegrown Contract which allows them to sign for the MLS team without entering the draft. Andrew Lewellmen argues that Homegrown Contracts are the future of MLS as the league looks to capitalize on its investment in youth systems. The Montreal Impact have a very defined youth academy and have already shown that they are willing to sign deserving players to homegrown contracts. Our first team often plays the academy team; this gives them an opportunity to see the level they must attain. The Impact have stated that they modeled their academy off of the famed youth systems in France, Spain and the Netherlands mentioned above  but curtailed it to specifically support the Quebec soccer community. It is set up with soccer schools, U-12 and U-14 teams that compete in the Quebec soccer league. U-16 and U-18 teams that will compete in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy and the U-21 team that will compete in the Canadian Soccer League.  Karl Ouimette is a prime example of progressing through the academy as he is the first Montreal Impact player to be signed to a homegrown contract. Karl signed on June 5th 2012 and he commented that, “Being the first homegrown player is an honor and it is due to all the hard work I did with the academy. It also proves that the academy program trains players to be able to play with the first team.” He has certainly proven that the academy is a strong component of any successful club and specifically the Impact.

The club draws players from other Quebec clubs that have close to 85,000 players. The academy has a full time staff that is focused solely on coaching soccer players. Players in the Montreal Academy system have an advantage because they are seen on a regular basis by the coaches and administration of the first team. This would hopefully lead to a professional contract similar to Karl’s. Montreal is not the only MLS team with a youth system, every other club has an academy in some form or another. Most recently Toronto FC just unveiled their new academy structure that is looking to compete with the NCAA. In contrast I went to college at Duke University and eventually entered the MLS draft. Things may have been different had I had the opportunity to play for an MLS academy team before college. I certainly would have benefited from competing against better players. Though I do agree with Alexi Lalas, I feel that I was able to mature and grow as a person in college and learned to handle myself for the x number of hours that I was not on the field. I also grew considerably as a player. Could I have grown more if I had played in a less restrictive NCAA regulated environment where a prolonged season replicated a professional season? Possibly, but I will never know. I enjoyed my time in college and think it was a beneficial experience for me, not to mention I value my education. Is college for everyone, clearly not. Each player must figure out what is best for them.

There is no right way to accomplish your dreams but it is hard to argue that MLS academy systems and most European academies are giving players the tools necessary to succeed. What you will see is a movement to the MLS academy system and more and more players will be produced from the academies. The question is are all of these academies the correct balance of soccer and life at such a young age? At the end of the day there is no right answer for everyone, each individual is different and will take a different route to achieve their goals. Talent will always be recognized one way or another.

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