Jeremy Robsondescribes how the early departures from the 2010 World Cup of the two finalists from 2006 illustrates a wider phenomenon
So, both France and Italy have stumbled at the first hurdle and failed to qualify from their respective groups.
This is significant because since the Mexico World Cup of 1970, only six nations have contested the final in subsequent tournaments, Brazil and Argentina, from South America with Italy, France, Germany and Holland representing Europe.
Of those six only the Dutch have failed to win in the finals failing against the host nations in successive tournaments, in Germany in 1974 and four years later when Argentina were the home nation.
It is very unusual to see the previous finalists go out of the tournament at the group stage, although the French achieved such ignominy in Korea in 2002. For both of the previous tournament’s finalists to fail to qualify from the group may be unprecedented.
If some of the “old guard” of international football hasn’t already fallen, and it’s arguably too early to make such a prediction, then the new pretenders are clearly on the steps of the palace.
Football fans are accustomed to seeing the same nations providing the spice of real competition when the tournament reaches the knock out stage. This may not last for too much longer. There is a danger that this tournament or the next one in Brazil in 2014 may well become the first genuine World Cup.
The world has changed and so has the tournament. There are some fundamental explanations.
Inter Milan won the Champions’ League without a single Italian in their team. Sully Muntari who featured in that final could barely get a game for his national side which struggled in their group.
English club sides prior to this season at least were almost monopolising the final four places in the same competition, although with few Englishmen in their squads. The Italian and English leagues have always attracted top talent from overseas, with the Scudetto having a long history of players from all corners of the globe, and was always more cosmopolitan than the top division in England.
Italian football is an anomaly in this simply because they are THE successful international side of the last four decades that has always had a highly competitive league which has benefited from international importation of playing talent.
Brazil doesn’t as they are a major exporter of talent, as are Argentina and also Holland. France has a fairly pedestrian league which fails to attract much fan support apart from one or two teams from major conurbations.
The German league has never appealed en masse to top international talent, although Bayern Munich and one or two other top clubs are trying to buck that trend. Spain, the perennial under achievers in world football (other than their success at Euro 2006) have a hugely competitive, successful league system which critics would argue provided the main explanation for their comparative lack of success.
It seems that to be successful, a nation has to be able to successfully export its product to the most competitive leagues to be successful in international football. The world is shrinking and whilst a competitive domestic league may have been a prerequisite to success at international level it appears that this is no longer the case.
The successful period of French football which could all to easily be forgotten in the wake of recent unsavoury incidents was built on a squad of players who had gained a wealth of experience in other leagues. French football exports its stars, but replaces them with hungry and ambitious talent from places like Senegal, Algeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast etc as well as from its huge immigrant population.
Such was the depth of the talent pool in France that hugely talented players with family connections to “emerging football nations” chose to represent the land of their forefathers, and vice versa of course.
The French have had an embarrassment of riches and have been able to include some of the finest footballers that the continent of Africa has ever produced. Marcel Desailly, born in Accra, Ghana, Zinedine Zidane, from Algiers, Patrice Evra, born in Senegal, Steve Mandada the Conglose born goalkeeper, Florent Malouda, from French Guyana, to name but a few.
Add to that the likes of Cisse, Trezeguet, Diaby, Viera etc and it should become patently obvious to anyone that the French national team of the last decade or so would have been as anonymous as it was during the 1960s and 1970s before the impact of mass immigration from dependent territories lifted the profile of the national team to household names throughout the world. Holland benefited hugely from the talents of Gullit, Rijkaard, as well as a host of others, in similar way to the French.
The success or rather lack of it among the African nations competing at this World Cup has been rather disappointing. It will be interesting to see whether the emerging talents over the next decade from what were French depended territories decide to opt to play for the likes of the Ivory Coast, Mali, Algeria etc, in increasing numbers. Imagine a Zidane at the top of his game playing for Algeria the other night. England could have been drowning their sorrows with the Italians tonight.