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More than just a rivalry

Latest update : 2008-03-26

Just as French President Nicolas Sarkozy meets with British Prime Minister Gorden Brown, so do France and England face off in football for another chapter in an historic rivalry.



France and England face off Wednesday night in the Stade de France for the second time in eight years for a friendly match on the fields of Saint-Denis. The last match was in 2000 (1-1). But observers, as well as the players, knew that there was nothing at all friendly about the match. On these playing fields, the two adversaries looked upon each other poised to fight.


Monday, at Clairefontaine, training camp for the Blues, Nicolas Anelka –one of the many French who played in the English Championships of the exalted premier league – states, “The France-England matches are never friendly.”


According to Darren Tulett, an English journalist for Canal Plus, “The English are historically ill-disposed to thinking of this as a friendly match.” Vincent Duluc, journalist for the sports daily l’Equipe, has a more tempered view. “these games are a chance for these great nations to meet and see how they measure up.”


For the French team, this will be the final step before the European Championships (June 7-29, 2008, in Switzerland and Austria). And it will be one more chance at redemption against these rivals after their defeat (0-1) at their last friendly match Spain in Malaga.  Without Thierry Henry or Patrick Viera, they will have to put all their faith in their coach – Raypond Domenech – who is pushing the match to his wit’s end.


William the Conquerer


For the English, which has rested on the laurels of star players like Beckham or Gerrard, they will now have to test their mettle with the new coach, Italian Fabio Capello.  Capello entered a locker room that was more fodder for magazine readers than for fans of English football.


This friendly match is just one in a long line of matches fraught with hostility, rancor, jealousy, defiance, and mistrust.


The English are still sore about the Norman Conquest of 1066, led by William the Conqueror,   who seized the English crown. Darren Tullet remarks, “It was the first French victory overseas, and they’ve never forgotten it.” The French, after all, still celebrate the heroism of Joan of Arc, who crossed swards with the English in the final years of the 100 Years War. (1337-1453)


Then came wars of commerce, navy, land. The French and English finally achieved peace with the accession of Louis-Philippe to the French throne in 1830. Queen Victoria paid two trips to France, in 1843 and 1845. But it was not until 1904 thath they signed a proper treaty between the nations, putting an end to the centuries of war.


French Flair v. English pragmatism


On Thursday, at Emirates Stadium (the new playing field of the Arsenal Gunners), President Sarkozy and Prime Minister Brown won’t mention all this historical bother.   They’ll speak of sports, football, victory.


That is, the victory of trainer-manager Arsen Wenger, who arrived in 1996, and under whose auspices the London club returned to the ranks of the Premier League. They will speak also of the victory of Thierry Henry, a French player who became legendary at Highbury.  He is the best scorer in the history of the Gunners (226 goals).


Are the English jealous? Tulett says, “Of course they’re jealous of ‘French flair’; however we are surpassed in the area of pragmatism.”


Since the saga of ‘king’ Cantona of Man U, the French have found the English teams an obstacle. The heart of European football is now in the English court. The proof?  Among the eight ball clubs in the quarter finals of the Champions League, four are English.  None are French.


But, as Tulett reminds us, among these four clubs (Man U, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal), only nine players were English in the final eleven played in the initial cut before the quarter finals.


As for France and England on Wednesday, Duluc says, “I don’t think the rivalry will be as bad as before, given the end of Bosman (the abolition of the quota system), which caused an explosion of transfers in the content. The rivalry is weaker.”


Date created : 2008-03-26