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The definitive history of modern French football.

Drawing on his 30 years as a football correspondent, Philippe Auclair tells the never before told story of French Football, told through portraits of its greatest figures, the book tracks the team's greatest successes, and failures, through the 20th Century.

But football in France is never just football.

France can safely take its place beside the world's great footballing nations. And yet uniquely in France, the national football team says something deeper about the nation itself.

Enfants de la Patrie (Children of the Fatherland) explores some of the defining moments of France football, and of France itself. Including...

The madness of Olympique de Marseille
The ambiguities of Zinedine Zidane
The execution of the French captain for collaboration with the Nazis
The kidnapping of Michel Hidalgo

What all these stories have at their heart is a question of French identity. The French national team had in large part been defined by immigrant players, from the British students who founded the Le Havre team, to the 1938 team of political refugees, and of course such iconic figures as Michel Platini, Zinedine Zidane and Marcel Desailly - all of these players redefined what the world thinks of when it thinks of France.

This book is a must have for any football fan.

Philippe Auclair has been a correspondent with France Football for over a decade, and is a prolific freelance journalist on both sides of the Channel. He is the author of the award-winning Cantona: The Rebel Who Would Be King, a biography of Thierry Henry, and a bestselling author in his native France. He lives in London.

icon (also ikon) 1. A devotional painting of Christ or another holy figure, typically executed on wood and used ceremonially in the Byzantine and other Eastern Churches. 2. A person or thing regarded as a representative symbol or as worthy of veneration: ‘this iron-jawed icon of American manhood’. So says the Oxford English Dictionary. ‘Zinedine Zidane’ would a tempting addition: ‘regarded…as worthy of veneration’, yes, most certainly. When your face is beamed on the Arc de Triomphe on the night of France’s greatest-ever sporting exploit, of which you’ve been the undoubted hero, how could you not be?

To acknowledge Zidane’s iconic status does not necessarily mean that it was bestowed on him by a nation united in gratitude, as I was recently reminded of in a Parisian cab. Each time I step in one, I ask myself the same question: ‘is that one a talker?’ London cabbies can easily be ignored; it’s just a matter of sliding shut the glass partition and switching off the intercom. No such luck in France, where you have to settle on the back seats, trying to ignore a lingering olfactive afternote; of the canine variety, generally. If the guy wants to talk, he does. If he wants to listen to zouk hits, he will. Satnav has made passenger-bothering easier than ever before, and I haven’t come across a Parisian taxi driver who could do without it for ages. The one I’d just hailed outside my radio station hardly listened to my instructions, as he was too busy keying in (and mis-spelling) our destination. He was a talker nonetheless. And what, whom he wanted to talk about was Zinédine Zidane.

It was a well-rehearsed spiel, one which he’d already tested on an audience of hundreds, if not thousands. It started with: ‘I come from Algeria…’. I was waiting for the ‘but’, which duly came after the expected beat. ‘But I am a Kabyle’. (Kabyles are the indigenous people of the Maghreb, part of the Berber ethnic group, who were subjected to a process of ‘arabisation’ by their Muslim colonizers from the 7th century AD onwards, but have managed to retain their language and their culture to this day). ‘We’ve given a lot to France’, he continued, ‘and I’m proud of it’. He proceeded to reel off an impressive list of people who had enriched our national life. Some say that no less than a third of France’s six million citizens of Algerian heritage are Kabyles. Actors, singers (did you know Edith Piaf had a Berber grandfather?), scientists, journalists, politicians. But ‘Zidane, ah non!, and I’ll tell you why’.

‘Why’ had nothing to do with the Matterazzi headbutt in the 2006 World Cup final, or the vicious stamp on Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed Al-Khlaiwi in France’s second game of the 1998 tournament, or the fourteen red cards the country’s favourite sportsman collected in an otherwise stellar career. It had to do with what my taxi driver called the ‘cowardice’ of a man who’d forgotten where he’d come from. ‘If only he’d spoken!...but he said nothing’. What he meant was: spoken about the bloodbath of Algeria’s ‘Black Spring’, three months of government-sponsored thuggery, rape and violence, between April and June 2001, which resulted in the death of at least 120 Kabyle demonstrators who’d taken to the streets after the murder of a high-school student named Massinissa Guermah in a police station. Marseilles-born Zidane, whose parents Smaïl and Malika both hail from Kabylia, kept his own counsel when asked to comment on the tragedy. This could easily be forgiven in 2001. Zizou was at his peak as a sportsman. He did not wish to see his name and reputation used and abused by opportunistic politicians. He’d refused to be drawn into the Franco-French pseudo-debate about ‘integration’ and ‘communitarism’ after the victory of Les Bleus in 1998, when the whole country – or so it seemed – became obsessed with the fantasy of a new ‘rainbow nation’ (that delusion didn’t last long). Good for him.


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