Whatever Franck Ribery, Karim Benzema and Sidney Govou did or did not get up to after tiring of all those discussions on Molière, Voltaire and Baudelaire with young Zahia Dehar, there are still football issues to decide in France …
Forget (for a moment) the sex scandal. Forget Thierry Henri’s outrageous handball against Ireland (and at least Ribery & & co have taken the heat off him ahead of South Africa).
What about Ligue 1, top and bottom? For the first time in several years, the French top flight has produced some worthwhile football this season. Lyon stand a reasonable chance of overturning Bayern Munich’s one-goal lead to reach the Champions’ League final – though I was not impressed to hear their players blame their unthreatening performance in the first leg on having had to reach Germany by coach insttad of air – and Marseille look like winning their first really serious trophy in 18 years.
Actually, Marseille did win the French league cup – and Salut! Sunderland is delighted to reopen its feud with Bordeaux long enough to record that they were the losers – but the French league cup is even less coveted than the English one.
The Ligue 1 title is what matters at the Vélodrome, and down on the Vieux Port, and only a catastrophic run-in can now stop l’OM winning it. Auxerre are surely not capable of scoring six more points from the five remaining games than Marseille. C’est gagné, whatever the mathematical purists say.
I had better be right this time. Last season, on the strength of a superb run, I offered a 2,000-word article to The National in Abu Dhabi on the renaissance of Marseille. It took over the first three pages of the sports section – on the very day that Lyon spoilt the party by winning at the Vélodrome to hand Bordeaux the chance, gleefully taken, of snatching the championship from under Marseillaise noses.
It’s just not going to happen again this time. The five-point gap at the top, and the identity of the second-placed team (sorry, Auxerre), will ensure that nothing goes wrong. Didier Deschamps can practically dig around in the cellar for some fine champagne.
But what about the bottom? Not many Salut! Sunderland readers will care too much who accompanies Grenoble in their descent. I don’t hold with the idea of having “second teams”, except that mine would be Sunderland Reserves. I look out with interest and even occasional concern for the results of other clubs, but lose no sleep over what those results mean for them (and I have certainly lost sleep over SAFC).
So it will not cause me any great anguish if Le Mans go down. It’s my wife’s home city, but beyond knowing where the ground is, she wouldn’t be able to tell you a thing about the football club. Being dragged there every other week by her dad when she was a child did for any possibility of an interest in the game.
But I’d love to see les Manceaux somewhere get out of trouble. They, too, beat Bordeaux recently, to give me another reason to quite like them. They also won away at Valenciennes last weekend and grabbed a draw against Montpellier.
Sadly this run has come all too late. It’s as if Pompey or Darlington had suddenly won two and drawn one of their last three games. Nothing’s going to change, with Le Mans still nine points short of safety.
But my ideal finish to the French season would be for them to win all five remaining games and pull off that miraculous escape. I will then toast Le Mans with a tot or two from the last bottle of eau de vie from my ate uncle-in-law’s farm, and raise a glass of pastis to the champions Marseille.
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