At last. Something from French football to cheer about, even if it doesn’t amount to that much more than a row of haricots verts …
It won’t matter whether they are used to listening to medleys of self-composed Andy Reid comeback songs, Charles Aznavour’s greatest hits or a spot of gangster rap.
The most refreshing news from French football in months, if not years, is that in future, players from at least two Ligue 1 clubs – the champions Marseille included – have a new rule to obey.
From now on, they are banned from isolating themselves in a iPod world of their own, earphones firmly pushed into lugs, on any official or semi-official occasion – descending from the team coach or an aircraft, say, or when in the presence of supporters.
The initiative seems to have its origins in Brittany, where players of newly promoted Brest face fines if they flout the rule.
The club president Michel Guyot may have been influenced by images of the French World Cup squad when deciding on the policy.
Nicolas Anelka cut a classic brat-in-a-bubble figure on his arrival at Heathrow, inscrutable in shades and earphones following his expulsion from Domenech’s unhappy bunch. That expulsion, oddly enough, had been for being, well, too ready to communicate his thoughts, though he was perfectly within his rights not to want to speak to the press at the airport.
“People are fed up with the practice and the disdainful attitude it demonstrates,” says Guyot. “In future, our players will not permitted to listen to music like this to keep themselves to themselves when in contact with fans.” Yes, he admits, the gesture is symbolic; for all that, he sees it as a useful step towards drawing football out of its ivory tower.
He also points out that Thierry Henry wasn’t attached to an iPod when he called at the Elysée to see Sarko. That showed the player realised there were times when it was correct to show respect for others. In other words, if inapproriate in front of the president, no less so in front of the fans (though I have no idea of Henry’s normal custom in this respect).
Down in Marseille, the president of OM, Jean-Claude Dassier, is on Guyot’s side. No talk of fines there, but he does say players have been told to stop using their music players when in public, to avoid giving the impression they occupy a world apart. “They need to understand that we are living in difficult times and that they, too, should modify their behaviour and be a lot more open to others.”
Not everyone agrees. Up north in the old coalfield town of Valenciennes, hardly France’s most fashionable top-flight club, the president Francis Decourrière is inclined to be more indulgent of players’ whims.
Maybe his lads are listening to stirring miners’ songs from North-eastern England, or an audiobook version of Emile Zola’s classic from the area, Germinal. In any case, Decourrière is all for a bit of respect but sees fining them as moving from one extreme to another. A little implausibly, he suggests that the players are simply trying to enter into their own bubbles as a means of preparing for matches.
Time will tell whether the Brest team think it is worth paying club fines as the price of listening to Breton bagpipe tunes or Alain Stivell harp music. Maybe they’ll comply for now in the hope that the boss will relax the ban in time to allow them to tune in to some sombre, funereal music towards the end of the coming season when they are struggling to stay up.