vendredi 21 janvier 2011

A Day in the Remarkable Life of Eric Cantona*

I detest alarm clocks. They are agents of conformity. My day begins at the whim of the birds. I may have a meeting at 9am, which I will miss if the birds do not beckon me from slumber. My contract with the Cosmos acknowledges this possibility. Equally, I am often visited by pigeons or a solitary sparrow at six o'clock, as the sun is rising. I ask, 'Why have you woken me? There is nothing I must do today.' The birds' response is always the same: 'Eric, today, you must live.'

I detest showers. Does the lion shower? Does the mighty polar bear shower? No, instead I bathe in rain water. In Manchester, I could bathe every day; in Provence, once a week. Here in New York, I have a penthouse with guttering which channels directly to my bathroom. Truly, it is magnificent.

Each morning, I drink at least six cups of black coffee. I detest milk. It is the very essence of blandness. As a new-born infant, I would recoil from my mother's teet, and reach instead for a small red beaker of pastis. When I think of that beaker, I weep.

For me, no two days are the same. If I look at the mirror and see a painter, I will paint. If I see a poet, I will write poetry. Several times, I have seen an armadillo. Those were black days.

My creativity knows no bounds. I have recently written a sonnet about Steve Bruce (a beautiful man) and a comic opera based on the life of Catherine the Great.

My role with the Cosmos will not interfere with my artistic output. On the contrary, I see myself not only as Director of Soccer but also as Artistic Director. In both capacities, I will shun convention: Cantona is an auteur. That is not to say that I am incapable of learning from others. I intend to establish an ambience that draws on both Manchester United's Carrington training ground and The Factory, where Warhol cultivated the talent of mon frère d'une autre mère Jean-Michel Basquiat, among others.

Of course, I do not compare myself to visionaries such as Ferguson or Warhol - nor to great footballers like Pele or Zidane. I see myself as a force unrestricted by métier, a modern Da Vinci. The question is not, 'What is Cantona?' The question is, 'What is Cantona not?' Or perhaps, 'What is not Cantona?'

I have a passion for lunch. My favourite dish is cassoulet; a stew with duck, goose or pork, and beans. Not your baked beans. I detest baked beans. They taste of the degradation of the human spirit. At lunch, I drink wine and toast my good fortune and that of all who have been touched by Cantona.

Afterwards I study my reflection once more. Perhaps now I see an actor and so I must act. I stay a while in front of the mirror and recite Molière or practice my impression of Des Lynam. It is getting quite good.

I will spend tea-time with my players, just as Sir Alex did with me. Here in New York, however, we will drink "java" (black, of course). I will endeavour to make every single one of my little cosmonauts feel like a million dollars. That, incidentally, is my daily wage.

My passion for dinner is even more intense than my passion for lunch. I have made love to dinner; I have stared at dinner, not daring to violate it; I have eaten dinner.

The evening is my most violently creative period. In December 1992, after an exhausting yet invigorating match for Leeds against Sheffield Wednesday, I returned home and immediately fell into a trance. 36 hours later, I regained consciousness to find a portrait of Gary McAllister daubed in blood on my living room wall. Whose blood it was, I have no idea. In the evening, it is simply impossible to resist the impulses that drive me.

And finally to bed, the theatre of dreams. I dream of art, I dream of Phil Neville and always I dream of the red beaker.

*As I like to imagine it.

mardi 18 janvier 2011

Paris's Black Sheep

Despite its youth and a relatively meagre haul of silverware, Paris Saint-Germain FC is regarded as one of the great institutions of European football. The capital's other club, the imaginatively named Paris Football Club, was established in 1969 - a year before PSG - but was quickly eclipsed by its precocious sibling. While PSG has grown into a slick, commercial enterprise, Paris FC has roundly failed to fulfill the ambition of its founders.

In the two decades after 1945, Paris became something of a football hotbed: Red Star, Olympique de Paris, Racing Club de Paris, CASG and Stade Français all competed among France's elite. Ultimately, such abundance proved unsustainable as playing talent and public enthusiasm (and thus revenues) were diluted to the extent that by the end of the sixties, no Parisian team remained in the top flight. In a bid to rectify the situation, a dynamic group of industrialists and administrators conceived Paris Football Club. Their aim was to publicise the benefits of physical exercise and provide a boon to civic pride by uniting the city's erstwhile football enthusiasts under a single, dominant banner.

At the same time, negotiations were underway to merge Racing Club with the smaller Stade Saint-Germain. Crucially, the plan was backed by the mayor's office, which also volunteered a loan to the fledgling, which was christened Paris Saint-Germain. PSG would be based in the suburbs: the authorities were less enthusiastic about Paris FC's intention to reside at the Stade Charléty, just a stone's throw from the celebrated Rive Gauche.

So began the difficult relationship between PSG and Paris FC. Like so many sibling rivalries, it was rooted in the accusation of favouritism. PSG had been cast as favourite, consigning Paris FC to the role of the black sheep. Regrettably, as the clubs' respective fortunes have diverged, enmity has given way to indifference.

While PSG today lie second in Ligue 1, Paris FC are hidden in the depths of France's third division, National. Coach Jean-Marc Pilorget cites promotion to Ligue 2 within the next three years as his objective. Modest this may be, but the potential development of Paris FC seems decidedly limited given that attendance to matches throughout France has fallen dramatically in recent seasons - nowhere moreso than at the Parc des Princes, home of PSG.

Still, for romantics, there is an innocence inherent in Paris FC's perennial struggle to escape anonymity. It's surely appropriate that a football club located so close to Paris's literary heart embodies the darker aspects of the human condition, besides the fleeting joy of triumph. In the course of a season, fans of Paris FC can expect to experience joy, anger, disappointment and ennui in equal measure. I'll wager that Sartre would have found more of merit in that than in the happier tale of PSG.

lundi 17 janvier 2011

Rugby. That's R-U-G-B-Y

Mathieu Bastareaud: pretty in pink.

Last night I went to watch a rugby match. Dear reader, such is the misery I am prepared to endure on your behalf. For those of you who didn't go to public schools and don't come from Wales, rugby is a variant of football, designed specifically for the obese. It involves a ball and some kicking, but the ball isn't spherical and is mostly carried. In rugby, there's no such thing as 'hand ball'. Rugby players do tackle but, again, they use their hands - or anything other than their feet.

I'm an open-minded fellow and was keen to sample the atmosphere of the Stade Charléty, permanent home to Paris Football Club* and occasional stomping ground for Stade Français. Since tickets to last night's match versus Leeds Carnegie were available for 5 Euros, I decided to partake.

In fact, the experience wasn't wholly nauseating. I saw plenty of tries and a satisfying amount of violence, all in what marketing people like to describe as a "carnival atmosphere". Stade Français is a club renowned for its efforts to make rugby "sexy" (those marketing people again), which explains the appalling selection of pop music and a kit so garish, it makes 90s goalkeeper jerseys seem tastefully restrained. After the final whistle, as the pink-clad macho men left the field to the strains of Gloria Gaynor's 'I Will Survive', I was reminded that Stade Français is responsible for the Dieux du Stade calendar, which is a favourite among Paris's gay community.

So there you have it. Rugby: baffling, brutal and camp as Christmas.

*More to follow on Paris Football Club.

mardi 11 janvier 2011

Transfer Targets: Sylvain Marveaux

Sylvain Marveaux was a guest of Liverpool at their match against Wolves on December 29th. Remarkably, he wasn't put off. An attacking midfielder who normally plays on the left-wing for Rennes, Marveaux bagged an impressive ten goals last season. Although that form took him to the periphery of Raymond Domenech's World Cup Squad, he wasn't selected and has so far been overlooked by new boss Laurent Blanc. Marveaux might not be fans' dream signing, but his pace and creativity would be a definite asset to the current Liverpool side.

lundi 10 janvier 2011

Transfer Targets: Gueïda Fofana

Gérard Houllier has made no secret of his desire to bring teenage sensation Gueïda Fofana to Villa Park. Fofana captained France to victory at last year's Under 19 European Championship and is unanimously recognised as one of the most exciting prospects in French football. This lad can pass, tackle and carries the ball with the same authority as Patrick Vieira in his pomp. Houllier will face stiff competition from several Ligue 1 clubs - as well as the usual suspects in Spain and Italy - if he attempts to prise Fofana from Ligue 2 side Le Havre.

dimanche 9 janvier 2011

Transfer Targets: Stéphane Sessègnon

PSG's Stéphane Sessègnon is a skillful and dynamic midfielder, often compared to former Parc favourite Jay-Jay Okocha. Signed from Le Mans by Paul Le Guen, Sessègnon was a revelation in his debut season (08-09) with the Parisian club. After an equally impressive second season, his ascent has been checked by injury and a spat with Le Guen's successor, Antoine Kombouaré. The antipathy between player and manager came to a head last week when Sessègnon refused to travel to PSG's training camp in Marrakech. Desperate to leave France, he's an avowed fan of the Premier League and has the attributes to be extremely effective among the English top flight's middle class: Aston Villa, Newcastle and Everton are competing for his signature.

Transfer Targets: Moussa Sow

Lille and Senegal striker Moussa Sow is the league's leading marksman with 14 goals in 18 matches. He's quick, powerful and - currently - clinical. Dig deeper, however, and the stats are less impressive. Sow has scored more goals since summer than in the past two seasons combined. He's young (just 24) and will continue to improve, so should perhaps be judged on present form rather than what's gone before. That said, few French pundits believe he has sufficient quality to make a long-term impression on Ligue 1, let alone the Premiership. Like Hazard, Sow has primarily been linked with Liverpool.

Transfer Targets: Eden Hazard

The marvellously monickered Eden Hazard - who turned 19 this week - has amassed 15 caps for Belgium and been a regular at Lille since 2008, typically playing on the right-wing. Combative despite his size (1.71m/66kg) and blessed with exceptional balance, Hazard is by no means a prolific goal-scorer but can be relied upon to create chances, as his teammate Moussa Sow will testify. Strongly linked with a move to Liverpool, Hazard is also high on Arsène Wenger's wish list and has been eager in recent months to express his admiration for Arsenal. Hazard is undoubtedly the sort of player Wenger likes; whether he's the sort of player Wenger needs is open to question.

Window Shopping

History and the rumour mill both suggest that a number of Ligue 1's stars will be bound for England during the January transfer window. As the likes of Eden Hazard and Stéphane Sessègnon scan atlases ("est Blackpool? Ah, il y a une plage quand même...") and search in vain for their passports, I'll endeavour to produce a profile of the most significant signings before - or shortly after - they occur.

jeudi 6 janvier 2011

Football in France is Still Rubbish

Like flax seeds and the Toyota Prius, Football in France is Rubbish is now endorsed by The Guardian. These are heady days but rest assured, my head won't be turned by the trappings of fame. I haven't forgotten this blog's raison d'être: football in France is still rubbish.
The following link will direct you to 99 other football blogs - a superb way to waste a day or two:

Back to the Footy

So far, Sow good.

Here's a brief summary of the Ligue 1 table as it stands at the season's midpoint. Lille are top with a game in hand and have scored more goals than any other side. This thanks in large part to stiker Moussa Sow, the league's leading scorer with 14 goals in 18 matches. For PSG, Nenê has been almost as prolific, scoring 13 from the left-wing. PSG lie second, a single point behind Lille.

Level with PSG are miserly Rennes - who have scored and conceded far fewer goals than any of their direct rivals - and Claude Puel's resurgent Lyon. Marseille trail Lyon by just two points, suggesting that this season may soon take a familiar turn. Bordeaux complete the triumvirate of recent champions: despite a disastrous start to his time in charge, Jean Tigana has manoeuvred the Girondins into eighth place. Autumn's pace-makers St. Etienne and Brest occupy sixth and seventh respectively.

So close is the title race that a mere five points separate Lille from Montpellier, currently tenth. At the wrong end of the table, Auxerre are victims of their own success, unable to cope with the twin demands of the league and Champions League. Monaco's desperate showing is also a surprise. They're scrapping with Caen and Lens to determine which two teams are relegated alongside hapless Arles-Avignon.

Fixtures resume on January 15th.

mercredi 5 janvier 2011

The Hairy Hackers' Rule Book

Joey Barton would have felt at home on the pitches of Victorian Britain.

I'm currently reading Jonathan Wilson's peerless book on the history of football tactics, 'Inverting the Pyramid'. I could eulogise all day about the author's meticulous research and the clarity of his writing but instead I urge you to discover them for yourselves.

With the exception of Helenio Herrera who twice represented France (despite being born in Argentina and raised in Morocco) and then managed Puteaux and Stade Français before perfecting Catenaccio at Inter Milan, the French haven't played a prominent part in the tactical genesis of the game. That said, I can't resist sharing the following quotation attributed by Wilson to F.W. Campbell, one of the pioneers present at a meeting called in 1863 to formalise the rules of the fledgling sport known as football. High on the agenda, was the legitimacy of "hacking" at an opponent's shins:

'If you do away with [hacking], you will do away with all the courage and pluck of the game, and I will be bound to bring over a lot of Frenchmen who would beat you with a week's practice.'

One wonders what Mr Campbell would have made of Arsène Wenger's Arsenal: French, flimsy and not a decent set a whiskers between them.