(above, France’s Domenech in a snapshot that would inspire the creation of Vice’s “Do’s & Don’ts” feature)
“Support for the national team is partly conditional and opportunistic,” writes the Guardian’s Thomas Fourquet, hours before France’s Group A encounter with Uruguay. Despite a World Cup victory in 1998 and a triumph at Euro 2000, “maybe more than in other countries, the national team is used by anyone with a soapbox and an agenda or an axe to grind, much to the players’ dismay.”
The winners of 1998 were touted as “black-blanc-beur” (Black-White-Arab), as if racial tensions in France could be fought with a motto. Then, defeats and a dramatic change of mood towards French Muslims brought about a backlash. In 2005, prominent intellectual Alain Finkielkraut dismissed the French team as “black-black-black” in an interview with Haaretz, reviving the far right’s old gripes. The loyalty of French-Arab supporters was also questioned. Here’s what the mayor of Marseille had to say about the celebrations following Algeria’s win against Egypt: “We rejoice that Muslims (sic) are happy with the result but when 15,000 to 20,000 of them flood the CanebiÃ¨re [in Marseille] waving the Algerian flag and not the French one, we don’t like that.” It’s as if the French team were being held accountable by some on a promise it did not make in the first place: to unite the country and transcend differences.
Most fans don’t really care about that. Another, more serious gripe is the players’ image as mercenaries. The Sports junior minister, Rama Yade, has criticised the France staff’s “lack of decency” for choosing a “flashy” hotel in these times of crisis. It takes some nerve to say that, a few months after lobbying (unsuccessfully) against the suppression of a tax exemption for professional footballers, but it reflects the national mood if Le Monde is to be believed.
With this in mind, Raymond Domenech is but the icing on the cake. Clueless, obnoxious, rigid, provocative, inscrutable, he’s been acting not like someone who doesn’t care, but like someone who really longs to be hated. Otherwise, why would he propose to his girlfriend on national television, minutes after a shameful exit from Euro 2008? (It seems that he’s still waiting for an answer.) Perhaps someday he will be revered as a Dadaist provocateur, the man who exposed the circus that is modern football. For now, he takes centre stage as the sad clown.