lundi 4 octobre 2010

The French (Im)Press

Anelka is a charmless moron. Who knew?

Football enthusiasts in France might well lament the quality of their domestic leagues and are certainly entitled to grumble about the national team's summer shenanigans, but in one respect they are blessed. France boasts two of the best sports periodicals available anywhere; the daily L'Equipe and France Football, which is published twice weekly. The history of each is long and illustrious and, appropriately, their tone is closer to that of a broadsheet than a tabloid. L'Equipe covers all popular sports (in France, that means handball and judo as well as football, rugby, tennis etc.) while France Football does exactly what it says on the cover but includes a sizeable section on the Premier League, La Liga and Serie A.

For the purpose of this blog, I buy every copy of L'Equipe and France Football and confess that the former can be a slog on slow news days (think Sky Sports News in print). Nevertheless, both are consistently well written and exert undeniable influence in France and beyond. L'Equipe journalists Sébastien Tarrago and Vincent Duluc were the first to establish the nature of the clash between Raymond Domenech and Nicolas Anelka in South Africa. The paper's editors saw fit to emblazon its front page with Anelka's earthy prose: "Va te faire enculer, sale fils de pute!"* Critics and allies of the squad's original wayward striker have since noted that his punishment would surely have been less severe had the issue remained in house. Once revealed to a public already baying for blood, however, the FFF had no choice but to respond in the strongest terms.

Tarrago and Duluc are among the incumbents of a proud tradition of tenacious, cerebral journalists who have contributed to either France Football or L'Equipe - and often to both. From Camus to Cantona, the French have intellectualised the beautiful game with greater wit and conviction than other nations. It follows that no self-respecting French sports journalist would be without an opinion on, for example, Sarko: thus, one imagines that in their company 'What do you think of Roma's prospects in Europe?' becomes a rather ambiguous question.

Nor are retired players who join the ranks of France's fourth estate employed merely to dispense clichés. World Cup winning left-back Bixente Lizarazu is as measured and incisive on the front page of L'Equipe as he was on the pitch. For France Football, Jean-Michel Larqué - a pillar of the great St. Etienne sides of the sixties and seventies and now a well-known commentator - writes with authority and no small amount of verve.

To conclude, the armchair fan can be thankful that while French football stumbles through one of its darkest periods, the sports press in France is in rude health.

*"Go fuck yourself, you dirty son of a whore!"

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