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Soccer Empire

Soccer Empire: The World Cup and the Future of France

Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    Soccer Empire
    Book Description:

    When France both hosted and won the World Cup in 1998, the face of its star player, Zinedine Zidane, the son of Algerian immigrants, was projected onto the Arc de Triomphe. During the 2006 World Cup finals, Zidane stunned the country by ending his spectacular career with an assault on an Italian player. InSoccer Empire, Laurent Dubois illuminates the connections between empire and sport by tracing the story of World Cup soccer, from the Cup's French origins in the 1930s to Africa and the Caribbean and back again. As he vividly recounts the lives of two of soccer's most electrifying players, Zidane and his outspoken teammate, Lilian Thuram, Dubois deepens our understanding of the legacies of empire that persist in Europe and brilliantly captures the power of soccer to change the nation and the world.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94574-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VIII)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. IX-X)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. XI-XII)
  4. PREFACE: Scoring Spirits
    (pp. XIII-XX)
  5. Introduction: The Language of Happiness
    (pp. 1-22)

    In 1953, at the age of seventeen, Smaïl Zidane left his village in the French colony of Algeria, heading north. He traveled to Paris, where he found a job at a construction site in Saint-Denis, a suburb famous for an abbey church that houses the tombs of generations of French kings. Unable to find lodging, he spent the winter nights on the ground near where he worked. He remembers the day he received his first paycheck: “I experienced the first real happiness I had since arriving in France. That day, I didn’t feel the cold anymore.” He sent most of...

  6. ONE A Beautiful Harvest
    (pp. 23-46)

    Three hundred fifty million people tuned in on 16 November 2005 to watch “paunchy men pulling pieces of paper out of bowls.” At the headquarters of F.I.F.A. (the Fédération Internationale de Football Association), lots were being drawn to determine which group each nation that had qualified for the 2006 World Cup would be in. The fate of teams, and of their fans, lay in the balance, for if a team ends up in a particularly competitive group—commentators always dub one group of teams the “group of death”—their chances of making it out of the first round of play...

  7. TWO Caribbean France
    (pp. 47-71)

    “Life tastes like honey,” the football star Marius Trésor announced in a 1978 song. “A child of the islands,” he was “born under the sun” in Sainte-Anne, Guadeloupe. In 1935, fifteen years before his birth, football players in his town founded a team called Juventus de Sainte-Anne (after the legendary Italian team), bringing together students and workers from a local sugar refinery. Trésor played on the youth squad of the club. In 1964 Juventus de Sainte-Anne won a tournament among teams from Guadeloupe, Martinique, and French Guiana, then traveled to metropolitan France to represent the Antilles in the French Cup...

  8. THREE Crossings
    (pp. 72-96)

    “You are, great Trésor, our ebony and our gold,” the French writer Patrick Demerin wrote in a tongue-in-cheek 1986 prayer for Marius Trésor. Demerin was seemingly unaware that for many Antilleans these words would call up powerful memories. Illegal slave traders sometimes referred to their human traffic as “ebony” and sometimes exchanged gold for people. For Demerin, though, Trésor was a literal treasure on the football field. “What do we have to worry about? / When our adversary attacks / Your foot always drags where it should.” The prayer ended, like those written for other players, with a new form...

  9. FOUR Roots
    (pp. 97-117)

    “Shitty country, shitty blacks, shitty skin,” the Bulgarian star striker Hristo Stoïchkov muttered to the French player Marcel Desailly during a 1996 game. The two teams, and the two players, were facing off in the group stages of the European Cup of Nations in a tense match. In 1993 Bulgaria humiliated France with a 2–1 defeat that ended the country’s bid to qualify for the 1994 World Cup. If they won again, they could stop France from moving on in the European Cup. Stoïchkov hoped to provoke Desailly, who had been shadowing him throughout the game. An effective defender...

  10. FIVE Two Goals
    (pp. 118-132)

    “We’re not going to give an inch!” Lilian Thuram told his teammates as they waited to walk out onto the field. They were about to play a World Cup quarterfinal match against Italy, a reunion match of sorts. Seven of the French players—including Thuram, Zidane, Desailly, and Deschamps—played in the Italian leagues. Being professionals in what is often considered both the greatest and the toughest football leagues in the world had clearly strengthened their game. “We love Italy, and we all had friends on the opposing side,” writes Desailly, “who would remain friends no matter the outcome.” But...

  11. SIX Two Flags
    (pp. 133-153)

    “There’s a murderer!” Zinedine Zidane shouted in the middle of the night. His father, Smaïl, worked as a night guard at a local supermarket. “From midnight to eight in the morning,” Zidane remembers, “I didn’t sleep. I had horrible nightmares. Sometimes I woke up shouting, and everyone in the house could hear me.” But Smaïl never had any problems at the store, where he got along well with his coworkers. “He’s Maghrebin,” explains Zidane. “He could have had problems with others. But it never happened. He respected everyone, and everyone respected him.” For Zinedine, Smaïl remains a model. “He’s a...

  12. SEVEN La France Métissée
    (pp. 154-176)

    Throughout France people rushed out into the streets in mass celebration. “It’s a victory for all of France!” one television commentator joyously announced. A journalist reporting from the Champs-Elysées—where 1.2 million gathered that night—tried to describe the scene. She was surrounded by wild cheering, and beer and champagne flew through the air. Marcel Desailly, watching the scene from the studio, jokingly complained that his after-game plan—“[to] go have a drink at my favorite bar on the Champs-Elysées”—had been ruined. The television commentators tried to find a historical comparison for what was unfolding. Some said it looked...

  13. EIGHT An Unfinished War
    (pp. 177-197)

    Seventy-nine minutes into the game, with France leading Algeria 4–1, Sofia Benlemmane decided it was up to her to prevent defeat. A football player on a Division 1 women’s team and an employee at a telecommunications company, she was a citizen of both countries on the field. But the flag in her hand was Algerian, and she held it tightly as she jumped over the barrier between the stands and the turf. She landed behind the Algerian goal and ran into the middle of the field. The surprised players stopped and watched, while security guards on the sidelines hesitated...

  14. NINE Reconciliation
    (pp. 198-213)

    At the end of the war most of the F.L.N. players stayed in Algeria, some of them in government positions, others as coaches or team managers. Seven of them joined the Algerian national football team, which F.I.F.A. officially recognized in 1963. In their first years in international competition they did well, defeating Czechoslovakia and West Germany in early games, and in 1965 played the Brazilian team in Algiers. In the next few years, however, the team did poorly, and most of the F.L.N. veterans went on to other things.

    After a short stint in Switzerland, Rachid Mekloufi returned to France...

  15. TEN Burn
    (pp. 214-240)

    It’s tough to be a car in France. For starters, you are probably small; you have to be in order to fit into those tiny parking spaces. It’s reasonably likely that, at some point, your rearview mirrors will be ripped off by a passing motorist when you park in a narrow street. And, to top it off, the most common form of protest in France involves burning you to a crisp. If you are alone at night, or your driver fled at the sight of a group of young men surrounding you, your last minutes will go like this: First,...

  16. ELEVEN Coup de Boule
    (pp. 241-266)

    “God is back!”

    Thus announced an ebullient Thierry Henry when he learned that Zinedine Zidane was returning to the French team. Zidane had long resisted the entreaties of the French coach, Raymond Domenech. But something happened one night at 3 a.m.: “I suddenly woke up, and I spoke to someone.” Who? Zidane at first wouldn’t say. No one, not even his wife, knew who it was. “It’s an enigma,” he later said, but “don’t look for the answer, because you won’t find it.” Zidane spent several hours “alone” with the voice he heard, and during that time he made the...

  17. Epilogue: Returns
    (pp. 267-274)

    “I intend to go to Algeria, to find my roots, the land of my parents.” That, Zidane explained a few days after the World Cup final, was what he would do with his newfound freedom. Now that he would no longer be under surveillance, “watched and observed” by the public, he was going back to “real life.” He wanted to plunge himself into Algeria: “I want to live it,” he said. In September 2006 Zidane returned to Algeria for the first time since he was a boy. The Algerian government and people greeted him with as much pomp and attention...

  18. NOTES
    (pp. 275-312)
    (pp. 313-316)
  20. INDEX
    (pp. 317-329)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 330-330)