Photo: FRANCK FIFE/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
Just How Good Would France Be if Every French-Born Arab Player Opted to Play for Les Bleus?
World Cup

Just How Good Would France Be if Every French-Born Arab Player Opted to Play for Les Bleus? And another puzzle: How is Laurent Blanc still coaching—anywhere?

By Photo: FRANCK FIFE/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

France won its match against Switzerland handily. The team played a fluid, beautiful and dominant game. Benzema scored one goal and assisted another, which takes his tally to three goals in two games, and it really should be four since the own goal should have been given to him. France has probably won the group. The only mystery left: How is Laurent Blanc still coaching? I know it’s only PSG, not a real club, but really.

After the scandal of the team in the 2010 World Cup, the newly appointed coach of the national team, Blanc, and the French Football Federation (FFF), decided that they should limit the number of African and Arab youngsters from entering the French soccer academies to only 30%. He was taped saying that those players did not share “our culture, our history,” citing the world and European champion, Spain: "The Spanish, they say, ‘We don't have a problem. We have no blacks.'"

Yikes!

The relationship between France and its "foreign" players, Blacks and North African Arabs, has always been troubled, particularly with Algerians. This article from 2010 gives a good account of the historical context of the football relationship between Algeria and France.

No one needs to be reminded of racism in soccer, the xenophobia, the nativism, and yes, nationalism. What surprised me is that the French still have so many issues with their team. This is the team that triumphed over the fascist Le Pen in 1998, the Black, Blanc, Beur champion of 1998, the multicultural team led by the exquisite Marseille-born Zinedine Zidane. He was so good, fans baptized him Zizou, an utterly French nickname (Abou el-Zouz would be the Arabic one!) All for one and one for all, Viera, Henry, Desailly, Thuram, Lizarazu, Pires, and Blanc.

Oh, well.

Now, there has been a lot of talk in this tournament about immigrants and where they’re playing. France leads the way in the number of French-born who play for other countries, twenty-six, fifteen of whom play for Algeria. The feeling among many in the FFF is that too many players who can claim dual nationalities go on to play for other nations (hint: Algeria).  One wonders where the French team would be without Pogba (Guinea), Sakho (Senegal), Matuidi (Angola/Congo), and Benzema. Do they have the right culture, the right history?

This isn’t the place for a discussion about the consequences of colonialism, immigration policies, or what makes a player a national of a country. What I am interested in is Blanc as a coach. If you play for him at PSG, say Matuidi, how do you feel about having a coach who believed you’re not up to par "culturally?" PSG wants Pogba, but can Pogba play for him?

How is that man still coaching?

A couple of years ago, Karim Benzema said, “If I score I’m French...if I don’t, I’m an Arab.” This is from a French-born son of French-born parents.  What will it take for him to be fully French? Maybe if he scores two goals to win the Final.

Rabih Alameddine is a novelist. His most recent is An Unnecessary Woman.

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