This is a healthy collection of essays on French football/soccer clearly from the days of some of France's greatest triumphs in the sport, when they won the double of the World and Euro Cup, 1998 and 2000.
We do have here, anything from straight-forward historical articles to artsy or poetic pieces such as the epic on Z. Zidane. The study is still rather precursory but the book running almost 300 pages still makes for a good read.
I must say, while I am here, a poetic piece on Zidane does not excite me too much but at the same time, it would be good to remember that "football poems" are a big deal in Europe. We Americans have our own "Casey at the bat", so we are not ourselves exempt from this phenomenon. Still, a definitive study on ZiZou has not been penned in the English language and it would have been nice to have gathered more insight. Actually, a book with good information on Zidane himself during his Juventus years is in the book How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization about how Zidane wearing his winter cap and carrying his duffel bag looks like so many Northern Africans one might see in France.
There are some excellent insights to the French psyche in sport, supposedly we'd always understand that finishing 2nd is not good enough, well, runnersup do mean a lot to the French which is probably in part why you can see "multiple winners" in the Tour de France, not only a winner of the whole bicycle race in general but additional winners as well, "King of the mountains, "time trialists" and so on. I believe this is a healthy attitude, when we see a shootout in a soccer game, no team actually won the game, they are only deciding a result from little more than a lottery and when one looks at some winners of the world cup, 2nd place isn't too bad because chances are a shootout, a refs bad call or something else may have determined the outcome.
Henry's handball excepted, "Les Bleus", the French National Soccer team has generally been a white knight of international football, unjustly denied in 1982 by the foul play of their opponents, the Germans, they may well have been the best team and went on to win the 1984 Euro Cup. Covered as well are some other international triumphs such as the 1986 shootout win by France over Brazil. France has chalked up such victories over the Samba Boys in '86, '98 and '06, now, I may exaggerate the importance of those wins but at times, it seems they are the only team able to defeat Brazil with any sort of regularity in Europe at least and other teams which I doubt can match that feat probably breath a sigh of relief each time the French do it and knock the giants out of the big tournaments. That alone makes their feats among the most monumental in the sport. Though we know Henry's play as bringing the game into disrepute vs. Ireland Republic, the World Cup has long been a haven for under-handed tactics to prosper and at times, the Champions League "can" be similar as well. It was a delight to every true sporting fan to see France climb to the #1 position in the Fifa rankings after their triumph over Brazil and others and stay there for what seems the longest time, the good guys finally win. They are still large benefactors of that era. Though most would say Zidane is after Pele and Maradona as greatest all-time players, history will be the final judge.
Most of the World Cups won by Italy or Germany are heavily tainted with unsportsmanship play, just research the so-called Miracle of Bonn story of the 1954 World Cup. It would be 'sour grapes' if the Hungarian players asserted the Germans doped, that they only had vitamin C shots and perhaps that is true in spite of players suffering and coming down with Jaundice but it is very clear that the Hungarians were denied a valid goal that was ruled as offside as video evidence has shown. Also, one of the German goals surely did come with obstruction to the defense but that is the way of the game. Against teams that have marred the World Cup so much, Germany and Italy, France should be proud.
Obviously here, we have the big French connection to the Premier League of England, especially back in the day of the publication of this book as Fabien Barthez (former Manchester United goalkeeper), Marcel Desailly, Emmanuel Petit, David Ginola are all subjects, more names than I really know, Didier Deschamps, etc.. One can also read about Eric Cantona, considered a legend at Old Trafford whether warranted or not along with the roles reversed an Chris Waddles travails in the French league. In this vein, if one really is interested in the French leagues, Full Time: The Secret Life of Tony Cascarino is a fine read as well about how the Irish National Player, having problems in the Premier League , went on to France for a stellar career, Tony's career in Great Britain was up and down shall we say.
Marseilles triumph in the Champions League, youth academies, scandals, geography such as chapters on the cycling hub of France, St. Etienne, coaches such as Wenger, Ultras who I may be wrong about but seem much less signficant than the role they play in other countries, all have their chapters along with some great French players of the past such as Platini, clearly one of the greatest ever. If there is one fault of the book it would be a lack of information B.P. "before Platini", Just Fontaine, Jean Pierre Papin, Wisniewski and Kopa along with the 3rd place finish of 1958 which could have been covered also, I mean few teams will ever defeat Germany or West Germany 6-3, let alone in the World Cup. Likewise, the gold winning LA Olympics French team should have been discussed more. France is a 'multi-sport' country, cycling, rugby, basketball, skiing, handball being popular along with soccer versus some European nations where soccer is virtually the only sport. In light of this, this books is well-presented. Pictures lack but that is no problem, how many pictures of Zidane, Platini do we need to see?
From Lourdes to St. Etienne, "I say a little prayer for you."