It has now become officially fashionable – that is to say permitted by the BigClubCentric sportswriters – to regard defence as a proper part of playing football.
Our regular look at French football – illustrated by a photo borrowed from the PSGmag.net fan site – considers the racial quotas scandal – and comes clean on another dodgy prediction …
Lille football club – LOSC Lille Métropole if you must – are very nearly the Ligue 1 champions in France after winning 2-1 last night at Saint-Etienne (who else remembers when Dominique Rocheteau played for them?
It puts them seven points ahead of Marseille, who have a game in hand but a markedly inferior goal difference.
Only a remarkable collapse in their final three games, from which five points would suffice, would stop Lille winning the title for the first time since their previous championships on 1946 and 1954. As in 1946, they may also win the double, the Coupe de France final against PSG coming up on Saturday night.
And my apologies to Marseille for casting a curse on their title hopes for the second time in three seasons. On the morning OM blew their chances by crumbling at home to Lyon two seasons ago, I had a 2,000-word piece on the sports pages of The National, Abu Dhabi, dealing at length with their revival after 16 years in the doldrums. And only last week, when they briefly went top of Ligue 1, I predicted that they would go on to stay there. Oh well.
Meanwhile, the hot football news in France is the sports minister’s clear statement that Laurent Blanc, manager of the national side, was innocent of any improper behaviour in the affair of the racial quotas. For those new to the subject, the Q word was used by the French Football Federation technical director François Blaquart when a meeting of coaches last November discussed the issue of schoolboy hopefuls who were trained at FFF expense only to go on to represent the North or sub-Saharan African nations of their family origins.
Another edition of French Fancies and another irresistible pop at Bordeaux. And vote for Salut! Sunderland in the EPL TALK Club Blog awards by clicking here …
No football manager, or anyone else for that matter, should have to complain that his 16-year-old daughter was made to suffer verbal abuse from some low-life “fan” or “fans” during a match, the episode distressing or worrying enough to cause the girl to leave the stand at half-time.
So for that, Salut! Sunderland offers sympathy and support to Jean Tigana, until last night the boss of les Girondins de Bordeaux. And we’d add that we have absolutely nothing against him in any case, since he was not even at the club when the events involving Sunderland AFC occurred.
That is where sympathy ends and gloating begins. Bordeaux 0 Sochaux 4, all the goals coming in the first half, indeed the first half an hour, is a deeply satisfying result that adds a little spice to the weekend’s other gratifying scoreline of Bolton 1 SAFC 2.
This old clip, starting with Eric Roy waltzing through the Chelsea defence to set up Niall Quinn’s first goal in that 4-1 hammering of too long ago, seemed as good a way as any of illustrating a quick look at events in French football over the weekend.
The team Eric now manages, Nice, who therefore qualify for Salut! Sunderland support in the way Paraguay and Ghana did in the World Cup. came back from the long trip to Brittany with three points after an excellent 2-1 win over Lorient. Loïc Remy, for whom each game is described as probably his last for Nice (Marseille have joined the clubs wanting him but Spurs look favourites) got the winner.
Luke Harvey believes the one-match ban on French players for their playground tantrum in South Africa is both ineffectual and, by punishing the (possibly) innocent, unfair. The truth remains confused: the French sports minister spoke of the bullies and the meek but players who have spoken publicly insist everyone was up for the strike with no good guy/bad guy split. Picking his way through a murky story, Luke finds it in his heart to wish Laurent Blanc well …
Laurent Blanc’s first move as manager of the French national team was a serious statement of intent. The entire 23-man squad who represented the country so poorly in South Africa would be dropped for the next match. That’s every single player, even the ones who didn’t get a chance to set foot on the pitch during the disastrous campaign …
Now it could be said that everyone was as bad as each other, that no one disembarked the coach to train on that dark day in French football history. Yet the claim could also be made that a player such as Mathieu Valbuena, young and barely capped, is highly unlikely to go against the status quo as Messrs Evra, Ribery, Henry and Cisse sat with sullen faces and folded arms in their childish protest at Nicolas Anelka’s dismissal from the national squad.
French football is in an appalling state. It was bad enough, following the Thierry Henry handball, even before the team reached South Africa. Once they got there, the rot really set in, from the awful performances to Anelka’s foul-mouthed rant, from the players’ revolt to the manager Raymond Domenech’s disgraceful refusal to shake the hand of his South African counterpart. But wIll the sidelining of Domenech and a single match ban on the striking players make everything all right? …
Even I am beginning to tire of hearing about the rotten state of French football. But comments posted here recently prompt me to reflect on the latest developments.
The millionaires’ mutiny in South Africa was a shameful but logical extension of the self-centred, scowling arrogance of the modern game.
France, Tuesday: Bordeaux went out of the Champions’ League tonight, beating Lyon 1-0 but losing 3-2 on aggregate. Salut! Sunderland allowed itself a small cheer as it said farewell to the pantomime baddies of winemaking country …
Last summer, Salut! Sunderland decided to have a spot of fun at the expense of the French champions Bordeaux.
Not because we felt les Girondins deserved no credit for the superb run-in that brought them the Ligue 1 title last season. Not because they haven’t got good players and an enthusiastic, if smallish, band of spectators. And not because they continually found room, if mainly as a sub, for David Bellion, known at Sunderland for long, exciting runs that ended with the ball hoofed into the Wear.
No, it was all because the preposterous Bordeaux chairman, Jean-Louis Triaud, who really should stick to winemaking, aided and abetted by his hitherto blameless manager, Laurent Blanc, chose to insult Sunderland AFC. It was their punishment, imposed on us for trying to bring the Bordeaux striker, Marouane Chamakh, to the infinitely superior Premier League.
Who are Sunderland? Where did they finish up in the Premier? Chamakh can go, but only to a big club. These were the words on les lèvres bordelaises. Trouble was, no “big club” at the time especially wanted him. Worse, a glance at the history of Bordeaux and Sunderland showed both had six top flight championships (admittedly, in our case, from long, long ago!). A glance at more recent history showed that the relatively small city of Sunderland had an underperforming team drawing average home gates of 40,000; Bordeaux, self-designated as part of the European elite, struggled some weeks to get above 30,000.
Tonight, I settled down in France to watch the second leg of the Lyon-Bordeaux Chanpions’ League quarter-final. It was 3-1 at Lyon, to the home team. And Lyon began the return in far more positive mood than opponents seeking to overturn or match a two-goal margin.
For long periods, Bordeaux seemed to have one key tactic: fall over often and theatrically enough to get Aly Cissokho sent off. It was good cut-and-thrust stuff of the sort we saw in our Championship (Ligue 2 to the French) promotion seasons, and eventually Bordeaux bustled enough to grab a goal, courtesy of a wicked deflection.
They proceeded to fall a lot, hustle a lot, dive a lot and occasionally threaten Hugo Loris’s goal (he even had to pull off a Craig Gordon-style save near the end, from Wendel’s powerful header). It petered out with a bit of Lyonnais keep-ball in the Bordeaux half.
But in a way the result did not much matter. A run of bad results has seen Bordeaux lose the French league cup final against Marseille, slip from number one position in Ligue 1 and now join Manchester United as Champions’ league also-rans. What we saw tonight was frantic but uncultured. And though the top four in France may be a little better than we thought it was, it is still Fulham/Everton/Villa, not Chelsea/Man United or even poor, Messi-struck Arsenal.
Even so, Salut! Sunderland thought it was time for a cesser-le-feu. Our hostilities against Bordeaux, or rather its president and – to a lesser extent – manager, have run their course. It’s been fun, but we need to liberate a bit of space down the left-hand sidebar.
And in any case, who needs Marouane Chamakh when we’ve got Darren Bent?
* Caricature of Chamakh from our electronic friend and (presumably disconsolate) Bordeaux fan Kamini-le-ouf. See his Flickr pages at this link.
Kamini knows Salut! Sunderland sympathises with his fellow fans, pleased as we are to see M Triaud with a little egg on his face.
Colin Randall treads difficult domestic territory, braves the disapproval of a French wife and two half-French daughters and, setting himself up as judge, jury and La Cour de Cassation, finds two of the above guilty as charged …
Not every Englishman is a BNP thug who steams through French railway carriages singing: “If it wasn’t for the English, you’d be Krauts.”
We don’t all subscribe to the “lovely country, shame about the people” jibe – though I actually heard it recently on the lips of my French barber (a necessarily short encounter). Some of us even marry ’em, Frenchwomen that is not the barbers.
But what are we to make of the behaviour of three Frenchmen, clues to whose identities appear in the headline? Two are easy to guess; the third is largely unknown in England unless you support Sunderland and therefore feel that Jean-Louis Triaud, president of the Girondins de Bordeaux football club, is a cross between arrogant oaf and prize clown.
Until the Marouane Chamakh farce began, we had nothing against Bordeaux. Liked the city (though not too much), loved the (overpriced) wine, respected Laurent Blanc’s championship-winning achievements, albeit in a relatively weak league. Mais zut alors! M Blanc and his equally blank president have sorely tested our patience, and the entente cordiale …
In deference to the French half or, rather, third of its name, Salut! Sunderland had lately suspended hostilities against Bordeaux, hostilities aimed not so much at its fans* as at its arrogant, hard-of-thinking management.
But the latest outburst from the French champions’ president Jean-Louis Triaud cannot be overlooked. Having first claimed, along with the Bordeaux manager Laurent Blanc that Sunderland was not a big enough club to sign Marouane Chamakh, he now says the deciding factor was Lilian Laslandes’s “depressing” spell on Wearside.
We’ll get onto Chelsea in a minute. First, though, be aware that Laurent Blanc has been up to his idiotic tricks again, saying Marouane Chamakh could go only to a “big English club” and no such club is there for him. We are no longer chasing Chamakh, according to Bruce (though I see he has already scored three goals for Bordeaux in their opening two Ligue 1 games), but the jibe is aimed at Sunderland. Consider our likely attendance tomorrow night against Chelsea, compare it with the pathetic 32,000 who watched the first Bordeaux home game and then work out which is the bigger club.
So we made a great start at the Reebok, and could not be mentally more ready for tomorrow night. Most bets will nevertheless be on an away win. David Millward*, lifelong Blue, ducks the issue but agrees that this could be Chelsea’s year for the title. Here is how he answered our questions …
There’s been plenty of backing for Chelsea as champions this season. What do you say?
Logic says this could be true. Much depends on whether Ancelotti is a Hiddink or a Mourinho. First signs are encouraging. He has not mucked about with the side. The game against Manure showed they have not lost their competitive cynicism and, from a distance, Ancelotti looks like Hiddink – little grey haired fat man in a suit.