Yesterday was the UEFA Eurocup quarterfinal match between World Champions Spain and underdog France in a game that was dominated by a Spanish win of two nil. The Spanish with their tiki-taka style of football played beautifully and won rightly so. In a sport that more often than not punishes losing by stifling creativity, Spain’s marriage of beauty and efficiency is a visual gem and reminds me why this game is closer to a choreographed war-dance than the multi-billion dollar industry it has become.
Back in 1998 when the French crowned themselves World Champions I was ten years old—it is the first World Cup I remember watching. That winning team was not only memorable for it success on the pitch but also for the many ethnic minorities which were part of that team: Bernard Lama of French Guinean descent, Patrick Vieira of Senegalese descent, Marcel Desailly of Ghanaian birth and origin, Youri Djorkaeff of Kalmyk and Armenian descent, Thierry Henry, Lilian Thuram and Bernard Diomede of Antillean descent, Christian Karembeu a native of New Caledonia, David Trezeguet of Argentinean descent and of course Zinedine Zidane—the son of Algerians and a ballerina with Pointe shoes for soccer cleats. In my heart that winning French team stands in diametrical opposition not only to the sterility of money-driven soccer but also to the ugliness of fascism, right-wing extremism and racism that has hijacked the sport and European society. In Europe’s temples to that sport it is not uncommon to see Nazi flags and fascist salutes; monkey chants and bananas are regularly hurled at African and Latin American players from the stands. Days prior to the opening of the Eeurocup –held in Poland and Eukraine—Sol Campbell, ex Arsenal and England national team footballer, warned fans against attending: “Stay home and watch it on t.v. Don’t run risks or you might come back in a coffin.”
In 2006, at the World Cup final between Italy and France, French football legend Zinedine Zinade delivered a jackhammer of a butthead to Italian defender’s Marco Materazzi’s chest. We all know what happened next. But who today remembers the fires that had recently been put out in France while Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry—that “black shit” as the coach of the Spanish team, Luis Aragones, had called the French player—and company battled the armor-plated catenaccio? French youth—most of them the unemployed sons and daughters of immigrants—had taken to the streets of France to protest the controversial bill, ironically entitled "Loi pour l'égalité des chances" ("Equal Opportunity Law"), a bill that would have made it easier for employers to fire worker under 26 years of age during the first two years of employment therefore compromising job security and impeding employees from legal recourse in case of sexual or racial discrimination.
But back to soccer….
On the eve of that infamous final far right French politician Jean-Marie Le Pen proclaimed that France didn't recognize itself in its players because they were almost all black and because its captain, that Arab, didn't sing the national anthem. The vice president of the Italian Senate, Roberto Calderoli, echoed this, stating that the French team was made up of Negroes, Islamists, and Communists who preferred the Internationale to the Marseillaise and Mecca to Belen.
But back to soccer….
No less than one hundred years ago Europe dismembered Africa, the Antilles—the Global South for that matter—to quench its hunger for human flesh and natural resources, a cannibalism that has led to the accumulation of wealth and economic prosperity that has maintained Europe at the helm of power, perhaps only second to the United States.
But back to soccer…
Today the sons of those born from the throes of European colonialism, those offspring of blood and fire, are some of the best players in the sport, who every now and then commit the crime of marrying a capricious ball to their feet and take her for a dance. Many of them have given Europe not only its economic wealth but also some of the biggest trophies in the history of human sport and for that they are received with sneering and howling.
But back to soccer…that today England battles the catenaccio….
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