'The Football Players' by Henri Rousseau, 1908
Football in France is rubbish. Don't get me wrong: for generations, the national team has provided a great deal of drama - as well as spasmodic excellence - and French players continue to enliven the elite leagues of Europe. But Ligue 1 (the French 'Premier League') does not belong in that category. Of course, Olympique Lyonnais have enjoyed considerable success in the Champions League, as have Marseille, and under Laurent Blanc, Bordeaux also became a force to be reckoned with. This season, no rival will relish an away tie at Gerland or Marseille's Stade Velodrome. But Lyon lie 17th in the league, Marseille sixth, and Bordeaux 13th having lost Blanc (to the France job) and two pivotal players, Gourcuff and Chamakh.
While Gourcuff joined selfsame Lyon (the previous sentence offers a clue about his impact so far), Chamakh followed the likes of Diaby, Sagna and Clichy to Arsenal. A cynic might suggest that Chamakh's transfer was inevitable since Ligue 1 has become little more than a feeder league for Europe's wealthiest clubs. A realist might agree with that cynic...
If I'm so down on football in France (though not necessarily French football - there's a difference), why write a blog about it? Well, I live in Paris and feel guilty if I spend the weekend in Irish Pubs keeping tabs on the Premiership in the company of Andy Gray. I could do that anywhere. Therefore, I've made the masochisic decision to renounce English football and follow French: this means that on October 3rd, rather than settling down with a Guinness in front of Chelsea - Arsenal, I'll be drinking coffee in a bid to stay awake through Lille - Montpellier or PSG - Nice. I may even explore the murky depths of Ligue 2 and National - think of me as football's Jacques Cousteau.
I'm exaggerating the difficulty of my challenge. After all, it's still football and it will give me the opportunity to assess the talent in Ligue 1 before Arsène Wenger next opens his cheque book. I'm confident that there's a new Zidane, Henry or Makelele learning his trade at a French club and I want to be the one to tell you about him. What's more, football here has more than its fair share of characters. I will delight in introducing you to a selection of the weirdest players, managers, chairmen, fans and assorted football folk in this wonderful hexagon.
There you have it. My objective is simple: identify and extract the most interesting elements of football in France and deliver them to you.