jeudi 28 avril 2011

For Your Consideration

For summer bargains, Premiership clubs need look no further than Ligue 1.

Mamadou Sakho
Gargantuan PSG centre back who's tough, quick and has excellent positional sense. Brings an assurance to Kombouaré's team which belies his youth: Sakho may be a little raw but at just 21 he has time - as well as the ability - to develop into one of Europe's best defenders.

Kevin Gameiro
Thanks to a first-rate scouting network and an astute coach (Christian Gourcuff), Lorient have been able to dig-up, polish, then flog a series of rough diamonds. Most recently, Laurent Koscielny joined the Merlus from Ligue 2 side Tours before switching to Arsenal. Next in line is striker Kevin Gameiro who's bagged 18 goals in 30 league starts this season - having scored 17 last term. Gameiro is slight but fast and tricky, and - for my money - represents a better bet than his principal rival for the golden boot Moussa Sow.

Eden Hazard
Vast reserves of primary resources have been sacrificed in a bid to describe Hazard, in print and online. The hype will have driven up his price tag but - in the grotesque world of football - there are worse ways to blow £20 million.

Yann M'Vila
Hasn't had a spectacular season but one suspects that's how he likes it. The Rennes midfielder has put his elephantine lungs to consistent good use for club and country, displaying remarkable maturity given that his (holding) role is typically reserved for players ten years his senior.

mardi 26 avril 2011

Q: What do Lille and Kylie Minogue have in common?

  • Lille have lead Ligue 1 since January, but doubts persist about their championship credentials.
  • Lille are still top, but Marseille have just two points fewer and a game in hand.
  • Lille remain the most fluent team in Ligue 1, but have won none of their last three league matches.
  • Lille can call on the league's most talented attacking player, Eden Hazard, but he's only scored six goals all season.
  • Lille also boast France's best defender, Adil Rami, but his form has been patchy since he injured his shoulder on international duty against Croatia.
  • Lille's Mickael Landreau and Florent Balmont have both won Ligue 1 (with Nantes and Lyon respectively), but the club itself hasn't won a French title since 1954.
  • Lille's remaining fixture list is fairly sympathetic, but does include home and away matches against fourth-placed PSG.
  • Lille expect to build on this season whatever its outcome, but will have to do so without Rami who has already signed for Valencia.
  • Lille may hold on to their other star performers (Hazard, Moussa Sow and Gervinho), but are equally likely to lose one or two of that trio this summer.

A: Enduring but(t)s.

jeudi 14 avril 2011

French Football Lookalikes

World Cup winner Emmanuel Petit = Olympic gold medallist Sally Gunnell

Lille and Ivory Coast forward Gervinho = Super Freak Rick James

Darren Tulett, Canal Plus' resident Brit = Comedian Paul O'Grady

Raymond Domenech in his prime = Singer-songwriter Jim Croce

Domenech as France boss = Bert from Sesame Street

Marseille and France star Mathieu Valbuena = Ernie from Sesame Street

Arsenal's Samir Nasri = The Eternally Glorious Kim Jong-il

French Class

In England, the nineties gave voice to beta fan: a breed of middle class, university-educated, emotionally developed, family orientated men and women who quite like football but recognise - for the sake of good taste - that it's only a game. Beta fan has always existed, but couldn't previously be heard over the din created by alpha fan.

The Emirates Stadium is beta fan's Mecca. A Gunner, Nick Hornby, was the first to map beta fan's genetic code. If beta fan were to share a half-bottle of Waitrose GOC with any contemporary manager, it would be Arsène Wenger (make that Riesling). Beta fan's favourite player? The supremely urbane Thierry Henry.

The rise of beta fan is associated not only with Arsenal, but with the French. Wenger, Henry, Vieira, Petit, Ginola and Cantona have been totemic figures in an evolutionary period punctuated by the dual triumphs of les Bleus. Indeed, the France sides that won World Cup '98 and Euro 2000 might have been expressly selected to appeal to beta fan. Recall how mature and cerebral the likes of Lizarazu, Dugarry and Thuram appeared in comparison with, say, Gary Neville.

Whatever the gentrifying influence of French managers and players on the sport in England, football in France is - to this day - the domain of alpha fan. Why? The primary reason is financial. Ticket prices are kept in check by the mediocrity of Ligue 1. Central Paris is relentlessly bourgeois and ludicrously expensive, yet entry to the Parc des Princes costs as little as 12 Euros. Well-to-do Parisians steer clear, often professing vague allegiance to a glamorous foreign club (Barçelona or Arsenal) rather than PSG, which is left to the banlieusards, the city's underclass.

As an unashamed beta fan, I'm comfortable with my demographic's increased prominence in England, which extends from top-flight stadiums to the sports pages of every broadsheet newspaper. That said, 105 minutes spent in the Paris or Auteuil stand of the Parc is a refreshingly unreconstructed experience. There, alpha fan is alive and well. Pity about the catering.

lundi 11 avril 2011

The Lingo (Part 3)

Hygiène de vie douteuse
Not specifically a football expression but one often associated with footballers. The translation "suspect life hygiene" isn't particularly elegant but you get the idea. Boozing, womanising, gambling and brawling are - in France as they are elsewhere - the classic threats to a player's hygiène de vie.