Our last look of the season at French football takes in ups and downs and (tenuous) Sunderland links at both ends of the table …
The poster for Jonny Wilkinson’s Toulon rugby club at the nearby Toulon-Hyères airport gives you an idea of which shape of ball matters most in the area Monsieur Salut calls home. Winners of the Heineken cup in Dublin (against Clermont) and this coming weekend in the French championship cup final against Castres. Wilkinson, who just keeps on scoring match after match, has become a local hero.
But another thirtysomething English sportsman in France has been prominent in the French press. As everyone knows, David Beckham was warmly received for his short sojourn at Paris Saint-Germain and, after neither disgracing himself nor covering himself in glory in his relatively limited playing time, has now retired. Le Journal du Dimanche wished him well but could not resist mentioning that he’d made “only two decisive passes” in his PSG career.
Salut! Sunderland is, of course, a gloat-free zone. We recognise that no mature Newcastle United supporter ever mocked Sunderland after the 7-1 defeat at Everton, 7-2 at Chelsea or indeed 5-1 at St James’ Park.
So, not least in the knowledge that bad results lie ahead for us as well as them given the nature of football, there is no specific intention to rub salt in the wounds of yesterday’s mauling by Jordan Henderson and Liverpool of the Mags.
It is not often that a Sunderland game features so prominently in the French press. Even though the sports daily, L’Equipe, covers the Premier League reasonably well, you can guess which teams dominate their columns.
Today is different. Paolo Di Canio’s exuberant celebration of each goal at St James’ Park gets the generous illustration you see and is then described in full in the text.
Very soon, Steed Malbranque and his mates will kick off for L’Olympique Lyonnais at Stade Brestois.
Sadly, only an 11-0 win would take Lyon back to the top of Ligue 1, but any win would at least put them on equal points with Paris Saint-Germain. (Update: they didn’t score 11, managing only a 1-1 draw)
A booming burst of Hey Jude, the familiar broad Essex smile and a clever flicked pass to helped Ménez set up the second Paris Saint-Germain goal, off the knee of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, otherwise poor to the extent of being whistled at by his own fans, are on French lips today.
But David Beckham’s debut for PSG, big an event as it deemed to be on both sides of the Channel, was not for me the most memorable feature of the Ligue 1 weekend.
Stop press: Dec 2 – PSG lose at Nice – YES!! – while Steed’s Lyon beat Montpellier to go five points clear at the top pending Marseille’s later game …
French Fancies makes a brief appearance amid all the understandable glee inspired by only Sunderland’s second victory of the season. Fans of Steed Malbranque and Adam Johnson, and all who disapprove of moneybags PSG, will like this one …
Today I came across a churlish French report of Lyon’s 3-0 victory over Reims that echoed last night’s debate at the Blackcats list on Sunderland’s 3-1 win at Fulham.
Someone at the list – he is almost always an astute observer of matters SAFC – was saying Adam Johnson had a stinker; OK, not quite that bad, but these are not words of praise, “Johnson was again pretty naff”.
This was the same Adam Johnson whose perfect pass set up Steven Fletcher for the first goal and whose excellent corner found the head of Carlos Cuellar. And we should not mock praise for a player mastering such a basic element of footballing technique; corners are not something we get right too often. And wasn’t it also AJ that had a great shot of his own magnificently saved by Mark Schwarzer?
And so to Ligue 1. I said l’Olympique Lyonnais (OL) offered the best hope of frustrating filthy rich Paris Saint-Germain this season as Montpellier did last season.
The weekend ended with OL top as they brushed aside Reims. Two of the three goals came from fine work by Steed Malbranque, the first a clinical cross from which Gomis scored at the second attempt, his first shot hitting the bar, and the second an exquisite defence-splitting ball to send Lisandro clear.
Time for some more lavish tributes to our resurgent old boy?
Not quite. “Even if he made the decisive pass for Lisandro’s goal, he was not up to his usual standard and made some bad choices,” read the player-by-player assessment at football.fr.
These are the kind alleged “off-days”, Steed’s and AJ’s, that supporters probably learn to live with.
Up in Paris, Rennes were down to nine men for 40 minutes but still beat PSG 2-1. Carlo Ancelotti said afterwards he was not afraid to talk of crisis and everyone who does not support his club probably smiled.
For those who like my occasional updates from the French league, the big news of the weekend was that Paris Saint-Germain and Marseille chose in different ways to reinforce the idea that it is PSG and the rest in Ligue 1.
Salut! Sunderland was happy to report recently that Steed Malbranque, so often impressive for Sunderland, had ended his break from football and won a one-year deal at Lyon, one of France’s top three and the club where he started out.
Like many others who watch French football, I have a soft spot for Auxerre. Not just because I love Burgundy, but because the football team – they were managed for 36 years by the same man, Guy Roux – seemed for so long a stable fixture of the French game.
Tonight I found it in my heart to loathe them, before remembering that even if a team has a big toerag element within its support – fill in the missing letters in M***w**l or L***s or C**d*f* – it is necessarily a toerag club.
With their barrages of tennis balls and toilet paper, a significant minority of Auxerre fans to be known from now on as la racaille or les voyous twice stopped the game against Montpellier. This could have swayed the outcome of the championship since all matches kicked off the at the same time. The effect on Montpellier players’ nerves must have been unbearable.