France's World Cup Nightmare, part two
No, I'm not here just to gloat about the uncanny accuracy of my pre-World Cup post. Rather, I thought my readers might enjoy a quick tour of an issue of le Parisen, a popular daily French newspaper, that was published the morning before the disastrous loss to an admirable South African team last Tuesday. Next time someone asks you how important football is to French people, tell them to have a look at this.
My only regret is that the victory was not enough for Bafana Bafana to qualify for the knockout round.
Just after boarding Delta Flight 220 from Minneapolis to Paris last Tuesday I was offered a free French newspaper by a grumpy flight attendant. Amazed that anything was still free on an American airline, I took it. It was le Parisien, a paper I don't read much because it's, well, too Parisian, but the price was right and I had time on my hands so I took it. Good thing: here's a quick outline of each story appearing on the first seven pages of the paper which, I remind you, is not a sports paper. I would also like to mention at this point that there is plenty of "real news" happening in France right now, including strikes against a controversial retirement age law, the trial and sentencing of a convicted cannibal and an alarming rise in unemployment during the month of May. However, all of this was less important than the following.
- The headline "A Little Dignity, Please!" over a giant photo of three French players jogging in sweatsuits. Included in the long caption is the sentence "Still waiting for Les Bleus to present a decent image of French football."
Top story: "Even a Miracle Won't Be Enough to Erase Everything"
- After the expulsion of Nicolas Anelka and the doghousing of several other prominent players, the author bemusedly wonders if justifiably-beleaguered coach Raymond Domenech will even be able to find eleven players to put on the pitch.
- Still feeling clever, this same author opines that a victory by several goals (what it would have taken for France to qualify for the knockout round) might be a mixed blessing: "It's hard to say what a qualification would bring...something between "Celebrity Women, Season Three and a World Cup final."
- In case of elimination, the story reports, the team will fly home in coach class on an Air France flight that has already been booked. (Incidentally, this happened. I wonder if the other French people on the plane threw peanuts at them for causing them to waste a very expensive vacation in South Africa.)
Bottom story: "The Priority is to Regain Our Honor," such title being a quote from Eric Besson, the Minister of National Identity. The article is an interview with M Besson.
- Eric Besson, recently (in)famous for launching an official inquiry into the idea of what it means to be French, makes the observation that "French footballers have done a disservice to football, to those who teach football and to the image of France as a whole."
- Besson also suggests that the most important thing for this match is to present a good image to the world, regardless of the result. Good point, Eric: now, what are you going to do about Raymond Domenech wagging his finger in the face of the opposing coach and refusing to shake his hand at the end of the match? What could be worse than publicly dissing the coach of the new favorite son of every football fan in the world? You can't make this stuff up.
Note: also found on page two are two inserts, one description of what the French team must do to qualify and another describing how much money the players will make on the World Cup, regardless of whether they win or lose. Trust me, it's kind of a lot.
Top story: "Roselyne Bachelot (the Minister of Sport) made les Bleus Cry"
- This story is an account of the speech made by Mme Bachelot, who flew all the way to South Africa to motivate her team. The first paragraph recounts how she was infuriated that her limo driver abandoned her, forcing her to ride to the stadium in the back of a police car to deliver her motivational speech.
- A quotation from Mme Minister: "French football is confronting a moral disaster. I told this to the players during a very emotional speech. I looked into the eyes of each and every one of them. I told them that it's your children, our children for whom you are perhaps no longer heros. It's the spirit of your careers, of your friends, your fans that you may have broken. It's the image of France that you have tarnished...you dreamed of this when you were children." I don't know about you, but I find that much more depressing than motivating.
- In any case, when asked how the players reacted she replied, "they cried and applauded me."
Bottom left: "Domenech Alone Against Everybody"
- First, we find out that Domenech went to a press conference alone, despite a FIFA regulation that he appear with at least one of his players. As if anyone would've gone with him!
- In perhaps the greatest moment of idiocy in a coaching career full of idiocy, Domenech announces first that "at a certain point there are no words to explain anything: you have to speak with your actions on the pitch. It's up to them (the players) to make the final statement." Then, in classic Domenech doublespeak and refusal to actually talk about football (something he knows very little about), he finishes with "to try and explain anything or make excuses wouldn't make any sense. The French people expect results on the field and nothing else." Yeah...blame the players for four years of mismanagement.
- The best for last: in a freaked quote we learn that Germaine Domenech, the mother of Raymond, would "like to meet M Anelka and give him a mother's point of view." Wow. did they really print that?
Bottom right: "Some Players Didn't Dare Oppose the Boycott"
- Apparently, certain younger players were against the boycott of practice organized two days before the South Africa match in protest of the expulsion of Anelka from the team for insulting Domenech at halftime of the loss to Mexico, but were peer-pressured into going along with it.
- Curiously, in the story it's the agents of several players who are claiming that their clients are actually really good guys and would never willingly participate in such blatant insubordination. Lloris, Valbuena and Gourcuff are the primary beneficiaries of this self-serving largesse. Whatever.
Top story: "Without Evra and Malouda"
- None. For reasons beyond comprehension the editorial line of le Parisien takes a decidedly pro-Domenech line here, describing the "treachery" of former captain Patrice Evra and Florence Malouda in leading the boycott of Sunday's practice, and describes how the result may just benefit the team on the pitch. I'm thinking Raymond knows somebody on the editorial staff of the paper, because this reads like a North Korean account of the Cold War.
- In a small box story to the right of of the page entitled "a captain already torn up," we are told that this episode could have disastrous consequences for Evra's career: Evra will leave this World Cup psychologically strained, perhaps even destroyed." Right. I'm sure Manchester United is extremely concerned over the mental health of its starting fullback because of his run-in with the worst coach in football history. They're probably happy that he'll be playing less matches this summer.
Bottom story: "Diarra Inherits the Captaincy"
- This bland little piece is flanked by a preview of Tuesday's match against South Africa, which is only remarkable for the incredible weakness of the team Domenech had chosen to put on the field.
Top left: "Thierry Henry, the Ultimate Humiliation"
- In a bizarre attempt to highlight the fall of the French national team's greatest scorer and a hero of France's 1998 World Cup victory, this short piece signals out one of the only players who hasn't made an ass out of himself at the World Cup, despite being continually passed over for playing time by the likes of Gignac and Cissé. I can't even imagine how this made it into the final edition.
Top right: "South Africans Don't Believe They Can Win"
- This article opens with a quote from a South African describing how much South Africans like France and French culture. Thanks for that.
- Then it quotes South Africa's coach, the Brazilian Carlos Alberto Parriera, who daringly goes on record saying that he can't comment on the French team's problems because "it's hard to talk about such things when you're not on the inside." OK, but how is this about the South Africans not believing?
- After quoting a few South African sources who consider qualification for the knockout round very unlikely, the article finishes with the a quote from Bishop Desmond Tutu (I'm surprised the author even knew who he was): "There's no choice but to play the match of our lives. I predict a victory of three or four to zero. But whether we win or not, we've already won the 2010 World Cup." I like that quote...but what is it doing here? Briefly, oh so briefly, at 2-0 I really thought Bafana Bafana was going to do it. Wouldn't that have been sweet?
Page six (that's right, still no non-World Cup news)
Top story: "The Sponsors Stay, But..."
- This is an account of the response of Les Bleus' major corporate sponsors. It's boring and basically says that they're all sticking around, with the caveat that they want to negotiate new performance terms into their contracts.
- The only two interesting things here are the reaction of GDF-Suez, which claims to be ulcéré by the travails of the French national team (I know that "ulcered" isn't really a word in English, but I think you get the picture), and that of carmaker Citroën, who was just about to sign a major sponsorship contract but has now demanded a "week of reflection". Indeed.
Bottom story: "For Laurent Blanc (Domenech's replacement), This Doesn't Change Anything"
- None. More wasted ink. The second part of the story is subtitled "A Significant Housecleaning." Duh...like we thought he was going to keep all the people who made this happen.
Top story: "French residents of South Africa have chosen Bafana Bafana"
- Opening quote, from a French resident of South Africa: "For me, Bafana Bafana represents the hope of a nation, while les Bleus are 'anti-hope' incarnate." I like that.
- This same Frenchman, described vaguely as a 'researcher', continues: "I am ashamed of les Bleus, not of France. I don't share the values of 'money-football', which are the values of a certain France, the Sarkozyist France, the France that I don't like...they have shown the sum of rich egotistical individualists can lead to a collective catastrophe. A little like bankers during the economic crisis." Good stuff! Way to make it political.
- A Frenchwoman continues: "I've seen the eyes of other fans turn towards the ground when I say that I'm French. They think we have a real problem. The whole world is in the midst of a big party and we're insulting each other! I don't have a problem with my country, just with the team that represents it." More good stuff!
Second story: "Zidane Does Not Agree"
- What?!? You have to have to have been in France a while to realize that this headline means "Zinadine Zidane, France's most worshipped player despite the headbutt that likely cost France the 2006 World Cup final, is not in agreement with the players' decision to boycott practice two days before a World Cup match." Whatever...
Third story: "Chamakh Defends Gourcuff"
- Once again, this makes no sense without context: what it means is "Marouane Chamakh, the weasel-like striker recently purchased from Bordeaux by Arsenal, publicly supports his former Bordeaux teammate, Yohann Gourcuff, who is caught up in the self-induced catastrophe that is the French national team in South Africa.
- Not only does the diminutive, guinea-pig-hair-having striker think that his buddy is not responsible for the tumult, but he also doesn't understand why Gourcuff isn't playing more. Right as he may be, I'm still not sure how that's news.
Starting with page seven, we have a bit of actual news...oh, and did I mention that the actual sports section starts on page 17?? There are several more pages of World Cup coverage there.
By the way, the cannibal got 30 years.