Monday, June 21, 2010

Whatever: A French Perspective on French National Team's Implosion

I've translated an article by Simone Capelli-Welter, a regular contributor to So Foot. It's a fantastic piece, and in it you can hear an all too familiar frustration with the drama, the hysteria, and the contradictory flows of media discourse on such implosions.  This an unauthorized translation - but I am so sick of ESPN/CNN's stupid reporting on this story that I couldn't help myself:
With the events that have rocked the world of its football team, and with the event that soon will not occur, France can return to its favorite activity: saying everything and its opposite, and, above all, anything whatsoever.

Above all else, France will heap the sum of its bitterness on its football players.  Guilty, guilty of course. Of earning too much money to live and think like pigs, of being arrogant, evil, of being rebellious, and perhaps for being blacks, Muslims, and for coming from the projects. The whole country is doing poorly, and we have someone to blame. Our football players.

Sociologists, politicians, population experts, anachronistic panels, Chantal and Monique, all will be asked for their opinions, their expert words, they will be persuaded to derive from the tale of a football team the whys and wherefores of a country which obviously is looking for answers. A clash of civilizations, a spoiled generation, a team of thugs, and so forth and so on. We have Finkielkraut, one example among many who talk of playing like gentlemen...And good football players? France has emptied his bag, and seems ready for whatever. [See this Europe 1 interview with the conservative and controversial Finkielkraut, in which he speaks of Anelka as thug, and the team as the "spoiled generation". Finkielkraut is infamous for his anti-immigrant statements - among his inflammatory remarks, he called the French national team, "black, black, black" - a reference to the "black, blanc, beur" anthem for the postcolonial make-up of '98 side, which itself reappropriated the nationalist "blue, blanc, rouge" of the French flag.]

And we have the opposite, the contrarian brains who must swim against the current to register themselves as pro-Anelka, pro-Domenech, pro-propaganda. Don't jump on the bandwagon, sure, but then to take the defense of a weak, incompetent or...screw it. Today, with the World Cup in full swing, France will say anything. It is reduced to declaring that the dramas of its football team are much more entertaining than the coolest TV series. We console ourselves as we can. However, this posture, adopted by many supporters of L'Equipe de France in order to avoid losing face, puts its finger on something essential. At the moment, the France football team is actually performing. As the parody of itself, finally, that it should be. The team is making its own fireworks.

By dint of playing a poor game and refusing to explain it, the players and their coach  gave instead a letter to the people, who leaped at the chance to talk about this something else, since it must to continue to talk about its football team no matter what. The ethics of its organization, its money matters, its social side – with so little to offer on the pitch, the team is scrutinized from all angles, every angle, in all its forms. Inevitably, this little game can’t be out-grown. Ours is like any football team in the world that has endured this treatment. Players will return today to face the press. Maybe, but everything works against them if they should turn back and focus on what they are supposed to do, which is no more and no less than to defend France on the football field.

There is still a game in this World Cup, but that fact is now incidental. Players of the French team are too busy looking for their traitor; the people of the federation are too busy looking for their parachute; the football world is too busy looking for its scapegoat, and the country, its sin. Reactions will not stop coming. Some will be violent, most will be stupid, and all will be out of proportion. As happens when France loses (Euro 2002, Henry's hand, etc..). As happens when France wins (1998, France black, blanc, buer etc.). France loses her head. France cannot lose, France cannot win, France does not understand football. Fortunately, though, the game goes on. - Simone Capelli-Welter, "La France du Foot" from So Foot.
And that is as good a lesson in the very French art of ambivalence as you'll find anywhere. On the other end of the affective spectrum, Ribery's rather moving appearance on Téléfoot - "People will say anything." "We been terrible, we haven't sweat in our shirts like one should." "I am speaking from my heart, and we are hurting."


  1. Nice translation and cheers for bringing it my attention. I felt better for reading it. I just would've preferred if that last setence had started 'Malheureusement'. They and their officials should be banned from international football for two years for bringing the game into 'sal' disrepute!

  2. We move so quickly to find moral/spiritual explanations for the outcomes of a game that is determined by kinetic outcomes.

    The "mental" is over-emphasized by athletes and coaches because there are large periods of time in which one cannot acquire new skills, drill, or build strength.

    Accounts of all games are so abstract that we can project completely different stories onto a series of events and none of them will be contradicted by any particular fact we may find.

  3. A telling glimpse into a "successful" football nation that "loves" its football. When we achieve this level of misery about the sport will the United States finally have embraced it?

    I do enjoy the world weariness: "... it must continue to talk about its football team no matter what." The artistry invoked to say, in myriad variations, that a team is rubbish reminds me of Anna Karenina: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

  4. pepgaetc. - I think the "Hereusement" of the last sentence was sarcastic. Must have been, as the entire article was soaked in it.

    Great comments!

  5. Where's the original article, s'il vous plait? Envoyez-le moi via Twitter a @sim1ontharun. Merci!

  6. Thank you for translating this piece. I too feel troubled and annoyed by a lot of the coverage of this off-field drama in France, including the NYT jumping on the bandwagon to report wide-eyed on the 'racial tinge' of the discourse. You think, NYT? It takes you aback that a phrase like "the scum generation" gets thrown around so casually.


Feedback? Let me know what you think. Just an FYI: all comments posted to this blog are recorded, whether I publish them or not. I do not publish generally hateful comments - whether they be directed at me or at players and teams or other readers. I appreciate reader feedback, especially from those whose contributions add nuance and complexity to the story.

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