From Polish miners to an inspiring generation of Algerians… How did immigration contribute to the glory of French football? | sports

Immigrants have left – and still do – a great influence on French football, which gained most of its fame and culmination from immigration, starting with Polish miners, to an inspiring generation of players of African and Arab descent.

Writer Nils Adler mentioned in a report published by “Al Jazeera English” that France, which was crowned the World Cup for the first time in its history on July 12, 1998 – after defeating Brazil with its big stars: Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Roberto Carlos, 3-0, in the final of the “Stade de France”. Paris – owes this crowning to a battalion of players of multiple origins, led by Algerian star Zinedine Zidane, who scored twice in the 1998 World Cup final and led the Roosters for the first time in history to the podium of the World Championship.

Immediately after the final whistle, hundreds of thousands of French fans flocked to the Champs-Elysees to celebrate this victory, and soon the famous Parisian landmark “Arc de Triomphe” was decorated with the image of the player Zidane, who had great merit for this coronation.

Zidane is the son of working-class Algerian immigrants who settled in Marseille, and was part of a team that included players of Armenian, Ghanaian, Senegalese and other nationalities.

Zidane (centre), originally from Algeria, led France to the 1998 World Cup (Getty Images)

After the French national team won the title, the French media described this achievement as an example of successful integration, and the newspaper “Le Monde” stated that this national team is “a symbol of diversity and unity in France”, and French President Jacques Chirac described it as ” colorful team.” ; It is the same team that won the European Championship “Euro 2000” just two years later.

A semblance of fusion

The writer pointed out that despite the positivity surrounding the success of the French national team, ethnic tensions soon began to show again. These victories between 1998 and 2000 were a source of embarrassment for the far-right National Front party, whose leader – at the time – Jean-Marie Le Pen had previously claimed in 1996 that the French national team was “artificial”; Include a large number of non-white players. Later, he described the national team members as “unworthy” actors, and that they don’t even know the words of the French national anthem. In 2000, 36% of respondents to a French poll said they thought there were too many players of foreign origin in the national team.

In this regard, Timothy Maymon, a sports journalist interested in French football, said: “We thought that the successes of 1998 and 2000 would be the last episode of this sensitivity, because then we would play together and win together as one team and forget the question of property.” But it soon turned out that it was just a “mirage” and that the national team would later be used for political purposes in every discussion about the immigration problem, even though it was actually immigration that made French football better. He added: “The far right in France often repeats the saying (there are no white players in our national team). The truth is that if we had only depended on white players, we would not have won the World Cup twice.”

In addition to the national team, the awarding of the Ballon d’Or was also the scene of the influence of immigration on French football. Four of the five winners are not of French origin, including: Raymond Kopa, the legendary Real Madrid midfielder, who comes from a family of Polish immigrants, Michel Platini of Italian descent, and Zinedine Zidane and Karim Benzema, who are of Algerian descent.

The writer mentioned that the current France national team – now competing at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar – is another example of the impact of immigration on French football, as most of the players in the starting line-up have Guinea-Bissau roots. , Cameroon and others.

A history full of ethnic diversity

And Nils Adler shows that the relationship between French football and immigration dates back to the first half of the twentieth century, when clubs such as “Lance” and “Saint-Etienne” were formed mainly from mining communities of Polish and Italian immigrants. Among those players: Stéphane Dembeki, who holds the record for most goals scored in a professional game in France, after scoring 16 goals for RC Lens in a 1942 French Cup match.

At the 1938 World Cup – which was held on its soil – France introduced the first player of Senegalese descent born in “French Guiana”, namely Raoul Diagne, a multi-talented defender nicknamed “The Black Spider”. In the same year, Larbi Ben Mubarak – born in Morocco – moved from the Moroccan Casablanca to the French Olympique de Marseille, scoring 10 goals in his first season.

In the 1950s and 1960s, players who migrated from French colonies and protectorates in the Maghreb region of North Africa began to strongly influence French football. Among them was the Algerian Rachid Makhloufi, who, after winning the French league in 1956-57. with Saint-Etienne, selected for the French national team at the World Cup. But he, along with many French players of Algerian origin, fled to Algeria during the liberation revolution, and played there with a team formed by the National Liberation Front.

In the early 1970s, France began to restructure its football system after a decline in performance. The result was a top-notch academy system that recruited and trained young players, many of whom grew up in neighborhoods with large immigrant populations.

During the following decades, many players emigrated from former French colonies to represent the French national team. Among them was: Amadou Tigana, the famous midfielder – born in Bamako, Mali – and in the 1990s and 2000s several notable players of immigrant origin established themselves in the French national team.

Multiple identities

Maimon reports that during successive waves of immigration in the 20th century, French clubs accepted immigrant players with varying degrees of affection. Marseille, for example, has a long history of immigration, especially from Italy in the early twentieth century and later from Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, a port city located on the southern coast of France.

According to Maimon, that influence was – to a great extent – Olympique de Marseille, and you can feel it in the stands of the stadium; There is no place for racism among the masses. On the other hand, other clubs suffered from the problem of racism among fans; Such as: Paris Saint-Germain, which was founded in 1970, and has long fought against hooligans and racists, to the point of preventing them from entering the stadium. The Paris stadium became a hostile place for black players. Earlier, Patrick Vieira, a former French midfielder of Senegalese origin, said of him: “I have to think twice before stepping foot on this pitch again.”

A mixture of whites, blacks and Moroccans

After the success of this generation of black, white and Maghreb players that led them to the World Cup, France had a turbulent few years, including a player crisis during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

But after a narrow defeat in the final of the European Championship “Euro 2016” to Portugal, France came back and won the World Cup in Russia 2018 again.

As 20 years ago, the French national team was a meeting place of different races; As 17 of the 23 players in the team had another nationality, including star Kylian Mbappe, who was born to a Cameroonian father and an Algerian mother, and was voted the best young player of the tournament. Another player who stood out at the tournament was Paul Pogba, a Muslim of Guinean parents who, like Mbappe and many other players in the team, grew up on the outskirts of Paris.

In the international media, the success of the multi-ethnic French national team was widely followed and in most cases praised. “Africa won the World Cup,” joked US-based South African comedian Trevor Noah on The Daily Show. His comments prompted a sharp reaction from French ambassador Gérard Araud, who addressed him, saying: “By calling them an African team, you seem to deny that they are French after all,” adding: “This thing – even in jest – perpetuates (the ideologies of ) who claim that being white is the only definition of being French.”

The writer pointed out that the football successes of immigrants from the second and third generations are not limited to the French national team; Instead, it has spread to other teams, as 28 players – born and trained in France – are participating with their national teams in the current World Cup.

With France advancing to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, it is hoped that the success of its multi-ethnic team will help ease ethnic tensions, which have been further inflamed during the presidential race. However, days before the start of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, French newspaper Le Canard published a cartoon depicting Qatari footballers as terrorists, which sparked outrage on social media, as it was seen as a kind of open promotion of racism and “Islamophobia”. .

At the current World Cup in Qatar, the French national team finished in a group that included Tunisia (along with Denmark and Australia), a team that includes many French-born players in its squad. Such as: Naeem Al-Sleiti and Wahbi Al-Khazri.

In the meeting between the two teams in the third round of the first round, the Tunisian national team – reinforced with ten French players – managed to beat the 2018 World Cup champion with a goal from Wahbi Khazri, who scored – on Wednesday for the past – his third goal in two appearances at the World Cup.

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