In Defense of the French Players

June 21, 2010 § Leave a comment

[in re-reading this, I realized that this might the most militantly left-y post I’ve written about sports, if only subtly. So, uh, I dunno what to make of that. I don’t disagree with it, though.]

So if it wasn’t such an eye-bleedingly easy prediction to make, I would look pretty prescient.

32. France a dysfunctional crowd with a certified batshit-insane coach who inspires little to no confidence in his players. Get ready for an Implosione Magnifique y’all.

But that eye-bleeding-ness, let’s talk about that. Now I know that for all the US analysts and radio hosts who are forced to create an appropriately blustery and bullshitty “take” on things that this performance by the French is “astounding” and “the collapse of one of the sport’s giants”*, but anyone who has kept up with international soccer knew that this team was terrible. I mean anyone. Let’s establish some facts:

– This is a team that, since the 2006 World Cup final, has lost to Scotland. Twice.

– Here are some players that Domenech chose to leave home: Lass Diara, Benzema, and Julien Escude.

– He included Abou Diaby. /facepalm

– They needed an artfully-placed handball to beat Ireland and make the cup.

– Other cited facts about Raymond Domenech. First:

The French coach, probably uniquely, and definitely bizarrely, admits that his team selection is influenced by astrology. Shortly before the last World Cup Domenech (Aquarius with Virgo rising) claimed he had problems with Robert Pires because Pires was a Scorpio, who always worked against Domenech’s interests.

Domenech denied he selected teams on the basis of the zodiac but added, “all parameters have to be considered and I have added one by saying there is astrology involved”.

Second:

It is fair to say that Domenech has few fans among French sports fans. This was highlighted at last week’s ATP Paris Masters when he was roundly booed when his face came up on the big screen. He had taken along several players with him and they also did their manager no favours by having a good giggle. Take a bow Thierry Henry.

Ireland’s Richard Dunne spiced the whole affair up, too. “You can see the reaction of the people at the tennis, when they put his face on the big screen. The whole place just booed him and his own players laughed at him.”

That was from last fall.

*In a fit of petulant ignorance, I chose to listen to Fox Sports Radio for more than 20 consecutive minutes. I know: shame on me. Anyway: John Fricke and Jim Bowden: STFU. About most things, but especially about soccer. Thx.

So, if we keep level heads for a second, we are looking at a team that has now had a full 6 years of a leader who ignores players’ requests, a team that’s success was a mere mask to a decline in quality French players (don’t tell me that the ’06 team was par for the course, Domenech hid behind Makelele and Zidane), and a 2010 qualification campaign that has been terrible. Hardly a rosy picture.

So forgive me if I hear and read all this outrage at the players and interpret it as little more than blather. The French national team was not a pristine ship  that was scuttled by a bunch of petulant sailors. It was an already-sinking ship, one ruined by a bloated administration and an (I think actually) insane* Ahab of a captain. So before any of us just pile on, what have you done in the past when you ran across an abusive coach or leader of a sports team? I doubt I’m the only one who first went above the coach’s head, and when that didn’t do anything, looked for a different team or just simply quit. Abandoning ship is hardly the same as sabotage.

**I don’t use this phrase too often or throw it around too casually as I’m someone who comes from a family with a history of it. I really think Domenech has some kind of compulsion or delusion issue.

It’s been injected into the American sports culture for so long that players are supposed to be the pliable clay under the hands of a steely-eyed coach. Bobby Knight, Woody Hayes, John Wooden, Gene Hackman, Samuel L. Jackson, Vince Lombardi, and Denzel Washington are in every modern-era sports fan’s vocabulary. There is no way to victory but to bow to their will. In fact, what would be considered cruel or possibly even criminal behavior on the part of an adult is often considered “character building” if the abuser has a short-sleeve button-down shirt and a clip-on tie. There’s been a romanticization of sports’ Pattons, one that elides over the awful behavior of some of these men and instead chooses to focus on the glittering trophies and victory parades.

Well I’m calling bullshit. These French players aren’t just privileged athletes who must bow to the whim of every French citizen or administrator, they’re men who have the right to their labor and for whom they use it. While they might’ve received their prowess through a genetic lottery (unlike all of the people with 140 IQ’s who earned their smarts, right?), they have as much right to amenable work conditions and fair treatment as the next employee.

By all accounts Domenech has been a buffoon, treated his team terribly, and not brought many great results from his management. One of his assistants had to be restrained from attacking Patrice Evra. He and his staff are asses. If they are allowed to have the press and to cut players that fail to satisfy, the players should have equal right to withhold services from those that fail to satisfy them.

I stand with the players.

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