We need to talk about winning. Because although winning matters, in one way it doesn’t matter at all. And the bit about it not mattering matters a great deal.
We have listened to professional footballers talk glibly about the importance of “winning things” and watched pundits pore over win/loss ratios and trophy tallies for so long that some of us might have started to think that we watch football for the same reasons. But although everyone obviously likes to see their team win something every once in a while, that’s not what keeps us coming back.
The British expatriates who carried football around the world in the latter years of the 19th century, alighting on quaysides in Andalusia, Buenos Aires or São Paulo with a football under their arm and a pair of rudimentary boots in their luggage, didn’t become globe-trotting evangelists for the sport because they were obsessed by winning. The fans who turned out week after week after week after week to watch Rochdale during the 36 years they spent in the English fourth tier without once being promoted or relegated weren’t in it for the glory. And when generations and generations of children have rushed into the street or onto the playing fields to replicate the feats they have seen their heroes perform in the stadium or on television, they have seldom simulated the act of raising a trophy.
Co-commentating for Sky Sports on Chelsea’s 3-1 win at Leicester City on Wednesday night, Gary Neville opined that “no-one remembers” Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle United ‘Entertainers’ because they didn’t win anything. It was a throwaway remark, but as a quick glance at the reaction to what he said on Twitter demonstrated, he was wrong. For all their shortcomings, many people do remember the ‘Entertainers’, and fondly, just as people remember the magnificent Hungary team beaten by West Germany in the 1954 World Cup final or the bewitching Holland side that fell to the same opposition at the conclusion of the 1974 tournament.
“The most eye-catching initiative in his sleek, 20-page manifesto is a proposal to expand the World Cup from its current 32-team format to a super-sized sporting extravaganza featuring 40 or even 48 national sides. Last year’s World Cup in Brazil was seen as one of the most successful tournaments in the competition’s 84-year history, but Figo said it was important to keep growing it for both financial and political reasons. When it was put to him that the proposals could ruin the tournament, he replied: “I don’t think so.””
I sat down for a chat with FIFA presidential candidate Luís Figo at Wembley on Thursday and you can read about our conversation here.
“There’s already one of ours who’s up there [Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa], and I wish him the best. Rémy, I think he deserves something else than Newcastle. I wouldn’t go there. You must get bored shitless in Newcastle.”
– Montpellier president Louis Nicollin on reports linking Rémy Cabella with a move to Newcastle United
“At Milan, they treated me like a king. People were courteous, welcoming and always willing to help. At a restaurant, in France, you sit down and not only do they make you wait for a very long time, but they treat you badly. It was disconcerting, but now I’ve adapted: if someone treats me badly, I treat them badly in return. I’m a real Parisian now.”
– Paris Saint-Germain’s Thiago Silva on the joys of life in the capital
Loïc Féry: “Thank you.”
Christian Gourcuff: “I’m not saying thank you to you [vous].”
Loïc Féry: “So we’re vous-ing each other now?”
Christian Gourcuff: “Yes, yes, we’re vous-ing each other now.”
– Terse exchange between Lorient president Loïc Féry and outgoing coach Christian Gourcuff, caught on camera by Canal+ after Lorient’s 4-1 loss at home to Lille on the season’s final day
“For him to be bad is one thing, but for him to be stupid is something else.”
– Nice captain Didier Digard hits out at referee Antony Gautier after being sent off for handball during a 1-1 draw at Saint-Étienne. He later apologised
“It’s not glasses he needs – it’s a Labrador!”
– Lyon midfielder Clément Grenier to referee Ruddy Buquet after a stormy 2-1 loss at home to Saint-Étienne
“I’m surprised by the unacceptable and immature attitude of Romao, who made vulgar remarks towards [Canal + pundit] Pierre Ménès and me because he couldn’t think of anything else to say after fouling me but insult me. I quote: ‘Go and suck that fat Pierre Ménès.’ Unacceptable.”
– Bafétimbi Gomis, then with Lyon, on a dispute with Marseille midfielder Alaixys Romao
“So then Mr Gomis, about the ‘son of a whore’ and ‘tramp’ that you yelled at me on the pitch yesterday – I should tweet it, right?”
– Lorient midfielder Mathieu Coutadeur suggests Gomis is no angel himself
“The atmosphere on the pitch? The French were too arrogant, as usual.”
– Sweden Under-21 player Kiese Thelin after his side eliminated their French counterparts in an Under-21 European Championship play-off
“A coach is above all someone who works in the technical domain. And there are coaches who don’t coach, like Laurent Blanc at Paris, where it’s [Blanc’s assistant] Jean-Louis Gasset who takes care of it. I don’t like this model. A coach who doesn’t control the pitch, as far as I’m concerned, is not a coach.”
– Christian Gourcuff
“I passed my coaching exams. Mr Gourcuff passed them 30 years ago. He should take them again and see that the job has evolved.”
– Blanc responds
I spoke to my friends at Sportsnet’s Soccer Central podcast about the opening round of Premier League fixtures, Louis van Gaal’s defensive problems at Manchester United, the battle for number-one status at Chelsea between Thibaut Courtois and Petr Čech, and Tony Pulis’s abrupt departure at Crystal Palace. You can listen here.
From post-match brawls and Twitter spats to weather vanes, broken televisions and Justin Bieber, Football Further proudly presents its seasonal compilation of the year’s best French football quotes.
“People have a good image of me. It’s not these tramps who are going to tarnish my image. They should stop lying to the French people. It annoys me that people talk about ‘your image’. My image is great in France. When I’m abroad, I don’t even talk about it. But in France it’s just these people, these parasites.”
– Patrice Evra on his friends in the media
“I go to talk to the referee. At that moment, the delegate blocks me and pushes me towards the referee. As a result, I touch the referee with my back. It happened exactly like that. I didn’t push the referee.”
– Leonardo‘s not entirely accurate account of his encounter with referee Alexandre Costa after Paris Saint-Germain’s 1-1 draw with Valenciennes in May. It ultimately costs him a 14-month suspension, effectively forcing him out of French football
“This year we’ve lost lots of players, as always, but we’ve lost something very important: the pillars of Valencia, players like [Roberto] Soldado, David Albelda or Tino Costa who talk in the changing room. Now there are lots of boot-lickers who don’t say things to your face. That’s why things aren’t going well between me and Đukić.”
– Adil Rami explains why his relationship with Valencia coach Miroslav Đukić has broken down. And is promptly frozen out of the squad
“There was an altercation that I wasn’t involved in. My goalkeeping coach, Fabrice Grange, was surrounded by a load of people who were pushing him. Jean-Michel Aulas arrived – I don’t know why. All I did was push him back. He says that I hit him in the back, which is scandalous. If I’d done that, he wouldn’t have been able to do an interview with Canal+ three minutes later.”
– Saint-Etienne goalkeeper Stéphane Ruffier rejects an accusation from Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas that he punched him during a tunnel scuffle after a heated derby du Rhône
“And what’s the other one called, Screwdriver? Rolland Screwdriver. All he does is talk.”
– Evra again, unwittingly rechristening manager/pundit Rolland Courbis ‘Rolland Tournevis’
“After the Euro, the media attention was very difficult to digest. I’d say that it ruined my season a bit. Everyone talked to me about it. I handled the situation badly, I accept that. I should have given a mea culpa. I shut myself off and, with hindsight, I realise that I was wrong.”
– Samri Nasri reflects on Euro 2012
“If I had to do everything again, if I had the possibility to relive exactly the same life, I’d do it, I’d want the same one. I’d do everything the same. It’s beautiful, all the same. I’m happy with what I’ve experienced up to now.”
– Éric Abidal on his battle with liver problems
“Above my mantelpiece, in the living room. My wife’s prepared everything.”
– Asked where he would put the Ballon d’Or trophy if he won it, Franck Ribéry reveals that he’s barely given it any thought at all
“When the coach told me I was playing, I said: ‘We’re going to Brazil.’ It doesn’t matter how. If I’d had to score with my hand, the ball would have been in the back of the net.”
– Mamadou Sakho, who scores two goals as France overturn a 2-0 first-leg deficit against Ukraine to book their place at next year’s World Cup
“I’d never seen such an atmosphere at the Stade de France. It was a beautiful moment to experience, all those people behind us, the flags, the chants. From the hotel to the stadium we felt that force pushing us.”
– Captain and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris
– So often the scourge of the national team, L’Équipe takes its cue from Ali G with a simple one-word headline the day after the match
I put on my posh podcast voice to speak to Sportsnet’s Soccer Central podcast about Laurent Blanc’s winning formula at Paris Saint-Germain, Olivier Giroud and Arsenal, Frank Lampard and Chelsea, and David Moyes’s tactical conundrums at Manchester United. You can listen here.
“LONDON — Former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson launched his new autobiography on Tuesday, lifting the lid on his relationships with stars including David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo, Roy Keane and Wayne Rooney.”
My AFP report on the launch of Alex Ferguson’s forthright new autobiography can be found here.
From AVB to Zlatan, Newcastle to Donetsk, Football Further is proud to present its third annual compilation of the year’s best French football quotes.
“Yesterday, I make one tackle and all everybody speak about is this tackle. Nobody speaks about the 50-yard pass that kills [Florent] Balmont and causes a red card for ‘im.”
– Replete with some elaborate eyebrow-waggling and a healthy dose of Gallic shrugging, Joey Barton‘s attempts to ingratiate himself with the Marseille media become an instant YouTube classic
“Eden Hazard’s English is catastrophic. I asked him: ‘Are you happy with your transfer?’ He said: ‘I don’t understand!'”
– Romelu Lukaku on his new Chelsea team-mate
“It was the feeling I had with the coach. He said he trusted me, but he didn’t let me play. He said I was too young. He said: ‘Your time will come.’ It didn’t come. Even though he’s had a 25-year career and despite the fact he’s the boss, my objective was to play … I’m impatient. When I want something, I’ll do anything to get it.”
– Paul Pogba crosses Sir Alex Ferguson, and lives to tell the tale
“The only thing I miss is in the changing room. I can’t understand all the jokes and it’s frustrating. French is more difficult than I thought. I’m trying to take my lessons very seriously. I listen to them for at least half an hour each day. The other day I watched a film in French, with English subtitles. It was Ne le dis à personne [‘Tell No One’], which was a great film. I’m going to do it again.”
– Joe Cole may have left Lille with a sub-GCSE level of French, but he is now a leading authority on the films of Guillaume Canet
“I could become a doctor!”
– Abou Diaby tries to put a positive spin on all the medical vocabulary he has acquired during his time in and out of the Arsenal treatment room
“I accept that you can ask questions about his sporting performances … But when I hear that he could be dangerous for the concept of the group, I feel like we’re trying to bring a wolf into the sheep pen. He’s been a part of the group since the start. He dropped out due to injury and then loss of form. Don’t make him out to be a wolf, because he isn’t one.”
– Laurent Blanc tells the media not to cry wolf after handing Yoann Gourcuff a place in his preliminary squad
“Shut your face! Shut your face!”
– Samir Nasri celebrates his goal in the opening game with England by thanking the gentlemen of the French press for their support
“There was a bit of a slanging match in the changing room.”
– Olivier Giroud lets the cat out of the bag about the row that erupted after France’s shock 2-0 loss to Sweden
“Go fuck yourself! Go fuck your mother, you son of a bitch! There, now you can write that I’m badly brought up.”
– Such a nice boy, that Samir Nasri – lashing out at a journalist following Les Bleus‘ quarter-final elimination by Spain
“We’ve told them to be vigilant and not to say anything that could hurt the group.”
– French Football Federation press officer Philippe Tournon, prior to the tournament, on the instructions given to France’s players about how to handle the media
“Roberto Mancini’s side, runners-up in 2011, needed only to match United’s result at Sunderland to claim the title but as stoppage time arrived, they trailed 2-1 to Queens Park Rangers and United were 1-0 up. Džeko equalised, and with United’s players anxiously awaiting news on the Sunderland pitch, Agüero drove in a 94th-minute winner — drawing a memorable cry of “Agüerooooo!” from Sky Sports commentator Martin Tyler — to deliver City from the huge shadow cast by their cross-town rivals.”
I’ve written a review of the year 2012 in English football for AFP, and you can read it here.
I caught up with my friend Dan Levy last week, to talk about France’s chances at Euro 2012 on the France 24 podcast. We discussed France’s friendly victory over Germany, the likely composition of Les Bleus‘ starting line-up at the tournament, and Laurent Blanc’s stand-off with the French Football Federation over their unwillingness to offer him a new contract. You can listen to our conversation here.
NB: The podcast was recorded before news broke that Éric Abidal requires a liver transplant operation, which is likely to compromise his chances of playing at Euro 2012.
“PARIS — With around 50 players leaving France for the Africa Cup of Nations this month, Ligue 1 clubs are having to juggle their resources in order to keep their seasons on track.”
My latest piece for AFP, on the different methods employed by Ligue 1 clubs to cover for players absent at the Africa Cup of Nations, can be read here.
“PARIS — David Beckham may have elected not to sign up for the Paris Saint-Germain revolution, but new coach Carlo Ancelotti’s remit — to turn PSG into one of the world’s biggest clubs — remains the same.”
My latest feature for AFP analyses Carlo Ancelotti’s arrival at PSG and looks at his likely impact on the club’s transfer policy and the team’s tactical approach. You can read it here.
“They say it’s because I’m a sexy boy. The English are crazy!”
– Yohan Cabaye, on the ‘Dreamboat’ nickname bestowed upon him by Newcastle’s fans
“Behind the ‘big guns’ like Chelsea or Manchester [United], there’s also Sunderland or Wolverhampton. French players who are used to getting on the ball end up watching it fly over their heads for 90 minutes.”
– Marseille sporting director José Anigo has some words of advice for any budding Ligue 1 talents dreaming of plying their trade in the Premier League
“If you want us to just stick it in the box like I’ve seen Stoke City do, you’ll have to change the coach. I forbid it.”
– Rennes coach Frédéric Antonetti shares his thoughts on the football doctrine advocated by Tony Pulis
“Without wanting to be unkind, it’s difficult when there are only four of you defending. Sometimes you feel like you’re on your own. When you watch Barça, everyone defends – even Messi!”
– Laurent Koscielny feels a bit exposed in the Arsenal back four
“Sometimes I tell jokes and Joe Cole and I look at each other and we’re the only ones laughing.”
– Vincent Enyeama on the language barrier in the Lille changing room
“Bon match pour… my team – mon équipe – et… I’m very happy!”
– Ambushed by Canal+’s touchline reporter Laurent Paganelli, Joe Cole has a stab at his first interview in the language of his new homeland after Lille’s 3-1 win over Lyon
“Once again I’m attacked by Jean-Michel Larqué. I hope with all my heart I don’t end up like him after my career, but there’s no chance of that because I’m not an idiot.”
– Saint-Etienne goalkeeper Jérémie Janot has a pop at 63-year-old television pundit Jean-Michel Larqué, who had criticised him for letting in two late goals at Lens
– Aly Cissokho’s considered response to a supporter who told him to “go and join Arles-Avignon” during a Lyon training session in April
“Although the score was already 3-0, he’d been taking the piss out of us with the ball for a few minutes, dribbling past his opponent and then waiting so he could dribble past him again. It’s a lack of respect. Even his Lille team-mates said he was going too far.”
– Nancy captain André Luiz takes a dim view of Eden Hazard’s showboating
“Marseille come up to Paris to fuck PSG!”
– Microphone in hand, match-winner Taye Taiwo gets a bit carried away during the Coupe de la Ligue post-match celebrations by leading the OM fans in a chorus of one of their favourite chants
“It was a good response to people who don’t know football. It’ll make them shut their big mouths.”
– Modibo Maiga relishes his brace in a 3-0 defeat of Toulouse after stumbling into the viewfinder of the Sochaux boo boys
“At that moment, I told myself that they’d gone mad and didn’t realise. Today I know that I was wrong: they knew exactly what they were doing. They even closed the curtains on the bus to hide themselves from the cameras… With hindsight, I see them above all as a bunch of thoughtless brats.”
– Raymond Domenech is still struggling to let go of the 2010 World Cup
“Critics will be quick to point to the absence of a creative central midfielder in United’s ranks, and Ferguson could have been forgiven for casting an envious eye at Basel’s bustling Xherdan Shaqiri as he made raid after raid into United territory on Wednesday.”
Read my analysis for AFP of the task facing Sir Alex Ferguson following Manchester United’s Champions League exit at the hands of Basel here.