Hello. My name is Jason and I am here to convince you to offer up a lusty “Allez les Bleus!” cheer for the French national team in this weekend’s final of the Mens’ World Cup.
This is a lot to ask, because Croatia. You want to root for Croatia. There are so many reasons to root for Croatia! Blessed with a ridiculous amount of midfield talent and the coolest soccer kits in the world (which, sadly, they have rarely donned during the tournament), the Vatreni are here for those who love true underdogs. They’d be the smallest footballing nation to win a World Cup since Uruguay did in 1950, and they’ve already endured three games that have gone into extra time. Should they win, they’ll add their nation’s name to a minuscule fraternity of teams to have hoisted the game’s biggest prize.
France, by contrast, is… not an underdog. They’ve been among the favorites to win this year’s tournament, and while rooting for France isn’t quite like jumping onto the bandwagon of some outright Evil Empire like the New York Yankees or the Golden State Warriors, it’s very much like rooting for, say, the Duke men’s basketball team — a seemingly unfairly assembled collection of imperious talent of the sort that readily wins the fleeting affection of dilettantes who just want to back a likely winner.
So why back this team? Friends, these truly are some sublime footballers.
Paul Pogba is a languid, leonine midfielder who frequently and suddenly erupts with game-altering creativity. His midfield partner N’Golo Kante, who won Premiere League titles in successive years with Leicester and Chelsea, is all industry and instinct, consistently and unerringly playing himself into the most strategically optimal space in order to make the most strategically optimal play. Antoine Griezmann is an absolute charmer of a forward who’s been France’s reliable ace throughout the tournament. And the 19 year-old Kylian Mbappé is simply the most astonishing young player in the world — close the polls, full stop — and this World Cup has been his coming out party. There are kids over the world, right now, practicing this astonishing bit of skill he displayed in the semi-final against Belgium.
When this assemblage of individual talent locks into a collective purpose, these players can be wonderfully fun to watch. But this isn’t the only thing that makes France easy to cheer on.
As my colleague Luke Barnes attested last week, the “true strength” of France “lies not in the prowess of one star player, but in their full-fledged embrace of a multicultural identity.”
Of the eleven-man squad that beat Uruguay 2-0 in the quarter-finals, six were either born outside of France or to immigrant parents. They include Raphael Varane, whose father is from Martinique. Paul Pogba, France’s $120 million-rated midfielder, is of Guinean heritage while teenage superstar (see below for an example) Kylian Mbappe has a Cameroonian father and an Algerian mother.
Rooting for this fantastically diverse French team is a small gesture to humanity and dignity at a time where an open hatred of immigrants seems to tragically be in the ascendancy. Should France prevail, it will be a small kick in the teeth of the fascists of France’s far-right such as Marine Le Pen, who has griped, “When I look at Les Bleus [The French National team] I don’t recognize France or myself.” Yeah. Let’s keep it that way. Liberté, égalité, fraternité, Mbappé.
Here’s one moment from the tournament that fairly well exemplifies the spirit that should ignite a love of this French squad. If you watch the build-up play that transpires in the moments before French defender Benjamin Pavard launches the screaming goal that brought his team level with Argentina in the 57th minute — the goal on which this match turned — you’ll see that it took 14 passes, many of them seemingly aimless, to get the ball to Lucas Hernández, whose speculative cross into the box looked to be nothing special, until Pavard ran onto the ball and torched it.
I think about this goal quite a bit. Nine minutes before it happened, Pavard was the cause of French distress, having lost sight of Argentina’s Gabriel Mercado — playing him onside so that he could redirect a lashing shot from Messi past French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. It was a downcast moment for Pavard, who as the New York Times’ Christopher Clarey noted, was something of a surprise inclusion on this squad.
But the ball still had a path to travel. Borne forward on the decisions made by his teammates, each one yielding its own range of possibilities, it finally arrived on Pavard’s foot, at the moment it had to be there, for the young defender to redeem himself in the most unlikely way.
Soccer is often called “the beautiful game,” and I like to think it’s so named because of how it truly is a metaphor for life — all of its glories, all of its heartbreak. The decisions made in one minute can affect where the ball ends up 30 minutes later, perhaps putting in the right place at the right time after following a circuitous path. All of these wonderully gifted, fantastically diverse French players have followed their own circuitous paths to find themselves one match from glory. This is the inspiration we need right now.
So root for France. They give us much to appreciate, and, as Voltaire once said: “L’ appréciation est une chose merveilleuse: il fait ce qui est excellent dans d’ autres qui nous appartiennent aussi.”
The game really belongs to you. Allons-y!