As a player he was sophisticated elegance personified, but as an international manager Laurent Blanc is looking decidedly less urbane. Not because of the performances of his charges: his appointment as coach of the French national team on 2nd July 2010 – after unpromising beginnings, including a 0-1 Euro 2012 reverse to unglamorous Belarus – has gradually seen France transformed from the combustible mess that crashed out ignominiously at last summer’s FIFA World Cup in South Africa. Stunning wins on the road in Sarajevo (2-0 against dark horses Bosnia and Herzegovina in another Euro 2012 qualifier) and London (2-1 versus an improving but totally outclassed England in a Wembley friendly) were indicative of a rejuvenated French team evincing considerable tactical intelligence.
The last two weeks, however, have seen Blanc embroiled in a scandal that may irrevocably stain his reputation, and not merely as a coach. Mediapart, a digital newspaper based in Paris’s lush 12th arrondissement, broke a story claiming that the French Football Federation had been discussing the possibility of introducing a strict quota system (<30%) in its national academies which would directly discriminate against any players of dual nationality, almost invariably ethnic blacks and Arabs. In a statement made earlier today, Chantal Jouanno, France’s Minister of Sport and a twelve-time national French karate champion, conceded that while no laws had been broken as no quota was in fact implemented,’The general impression that emerges is really very unpleasant, with innuendoes that very often were borderline tending toward racist‘.
Mediapart quoted Blanc as being ‘enormously bothered’ when players who represented France at youth level later ‘go to play in North African or African teams’, and indeed this ‘leakage’ of dual national players was described as ‘a real problem’ by Jouanno even as she reproached the French Football Federation for the tone in which the issue was discussed. We believe that both M. Blanc and Mme. Jouanno are mistaken in their evaluation for the following reasons:
1. A trickle, not a flood. Very few players with French and at least one other nationality go on to represent a national team other than France if they have any realistic prospect at all of winning senior caps for Les Bleus. Lille OSC striker Moussa Sow, a native of Mantes-la-Jolie who chose to represent Senegal at full international level, is one exception; meaty Tottenham Hotspur defender Sébastien Aymar Bassong Nguena, a member of Cameroon’s 2010 FIFA World Cup squad, is another. But such cases are rare indeed; the personal, professional and commercial opportunities in playing for France as opposed to virtually all other football-playing countries mean this should remain the case for a very long time.
2. Quality. Even if a handful of dual nationals who come through France’s youth ranks ultimately dress up in another’s country’s uniform, their presence in those youth teams is invaluable: since these players are presumably amongst the best in France in their category, it stands to reason they will help those around them develop their full potential that much more than if they were not present. Either way, French football still benefits.
3. Choice. In an increasingly fractious and insecure world, issues such as which national team one supports – or indeed plays for – have assumed an importance far beyond their real significance, with those affiliated to the ‘wrong’ team cast in the role of cultural fifth columnists. Viewing these matters through the prism of individual volition – one person’s choice as to who they root or compete for – is surely a wiser way of approaching the topic; undignified interrogations concerning this subject betray only the questioner’s own anxieties.