Applied to football, I don’t really have any nostalgia. I have memory, I have a football culture which I also regret that it is so poorly shared. Not many people today know footballers from before 2000, or even 2010, whereas in England, Spain, Italy or Germany, history is much better defended. French football culture dates back a lot to the 1998 World Cup (victory of the France team), with a real confusion between football culture and culture of victory. We don’t grow…
Applied to football, I don’t really have any nostalgia. I have memory, I have a football culture which I also regret that it is so poorly shared. Not many people today know footballers from before 2000, or even 2010, whereas in England, Spain, Italy or Germany, history is much better defended. French football culture dates back a lot to the 1998 World Cup (victory of the France team), with a real confusion between football culture and culture of victory. We don’t grow up in the habit of paying homage to players of the past. Personally, I find that I am called a little too often to write obituaries for alumni, when this should be a sensitive subject for any sports journalist. That said, we must recognize that the environment is much more violent for young journalists than it was for us.
As a leading analyst, how would you describe the evolution of football today?
I think the game itself has evolved quite well, with less violence, more speed and more technique. The rules also go in the direction of the game, such as for example the prohibition of the back pass to the goalkeeper. There is sometimes an incredible aestheticism and it is collectively exciting. I invite people who say « football was better before » to review the matches of the 60s.
Around the field, however, it is more complicated. We clearly feel that the organization of football is fragile. European sport has always been based on a pyramid system that makes all stories possible. This means that for the moment, we can still start from the very bottom to arrive at the very top. But we can clearly see that the confiscation of wealth by the richest clubs weakens this pyramid. They do not want to allow others to compete with them. If we arrived at a closed league, it would be a disaster. There, I think I would stop being interested in football. I hope that the resistance of the fans, as we saw in England, will last.
“Teams like Bordeaux or Saint-Etienne also owe their relegation to their supporters”
Is there precisely a rupture between the supporters and their clubs?
I think the supporters have changed too. When we see the past French season, we cannot say that they have all had a positive impact on football, on the spirit of football, or on their own clubs. We have gone from virtual violence to real violence. Teams like Bordeaux or Saint-Etienne also owe their relegation to their supporters. We finally have the impression that the bond between the supporters and their club is not so important. As a clan, they feel more important than the team and the club. They believe victory is their due and no longer accept defeat. As for the loyalty of the players to their shirt, considered weak, it should be remembered that that of the old ones came quite simply from the fact that they had no choice. There was no transfer window every six months and, until the 1970s, the full-time contract did not exist.
Is the English league, which you know well, really more attractive than our Ligue 1?
Post-Covid football has radicalized certain behaviors and there have been incidents with fans this year in England, when there were none at all. But next to that there is a much better staging of football than here. It is better produced in England with a better studied position of the cameras, because the emotion is privileged. You always feel like you’re closer to the action. In France, we often have very wide shots that allow you to see the tactical animation, which delights all the strategists in the room. But you don’t see the sweat and the effort. What I like when I go to England is to be in a country where football is important to people, where the link is strong between a community and a club. The match is not necessarily a family celebration, but it is a community celebration. Finally, it is the country where the best players in the world play.
“We would like sport to have virtues that the rest of public life does not have”
Do you think football is still a popular sport?
Yes, even if the gap between the standard of living of the supporters and that of the players has increased further. In the 1970s, footballers earned around 30 times the minimum wage, whereas today we are closer to 400 times. However, identification remains possible because most players come from working-class neighborhoods. Still, we can be disturbed by the cynicism and greed of this environment, by the role of the agents…
You will cover this year your 10e World Cup. Does the passion remain intact?
I am someone who works with rituals. In the same way that I like the series, football is for me a soap opera that is renewed. We journalists are inside this soap opera whose characters we meet on a daily basis. So I never get tired of it, especially since I have the chance to see the best of football (1) and I think it’s a good life to spend your time going to see football matches in the whole of Europe. I always like to take the train to cover meetings. I liked it at 20 and I still like it at 60. I still love this sport because I can tell the difference between the turpitudes of this environment, which my job leads me to deal with, and the beauty of the game. I’m not blind or on the fringes of the world, but the whole continues to fascinate me. I’m still so excited going up the stairs to a grandstand and wondering what’s going to happen on the pitch. Of the 80 matches that I cover per year, there are of course about ten times when I tell myself that I am tired, envying the colleagues who have been playing basketball for 30 years at the Team and who have never been cold. (laughs).
Playing in Qatar and in winter, what inspires you?
It fascinates me enough to see a World Cup in winter, because we are used to events in summer with tired players. I want to see if it will change anything in the game to organize it in the middle of the season. As for the Qatar destination, we would like sport to have virtues that the rest of public life does not have. We would have to hold our noses for sport while for everything that is cultural, we are encouraged to go there. Of course there are a lot of things about Qatar that bother me, because it’s not a democracy, but I find it amazing that it only bothers people for one month a year, every four years.