When France won the World Cup, in 1998, the cross-culturalism of their squad came into the media spotlight. They set a trend and were the first European nation to win the World Cup, with a squad consisting of players of different cultures. It set a trend and some other European countries, notably Germany winners in 2014, followed the same pattern of multiculturalism. This trend was evident in the 2018 World Cup also. France were not only winners but was one of three semi-finalists who had significant numbers of players with a mixed heritage, sons or grandsons of immigrants. Sixteen of the 23 member French squad belonged to immigrant families.
After France’s second World Cup win there have been needless snide remarks, especially on social media, about their colonial heritage and African empire in the 19th century. Such comments gloss over the basic facts that the children of immigrants settled in France became world-class players due to the excellent coaching systems and youth development in that country. The French training centre in Clairefontaine is one of the best in the world in spotting and nurturing talent for the national team.
During the 1960s and 70s when France did not do well in international football, they started a national coaching centre in Vichy in 1972. This centre was upgraded and shifted to Clairefontaine in 1988. Since then it has worked wonders and players as brilliant as Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry to Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe have developed from this training centre.
Historically immigrants moved to France after the end of the Second World War, when France like England lost a lot of man power. The next wave of immigrants took place in the decade of the sixties when France rapidly industrialised and needed a larger labour force. Many settled in the suburbs of Paris and in Marseille. The children of these immigrants are now part of mainstream France and have taken to football as a means of upward social mobility and have greatly benefited from their excellent coaching systems.
Pictures were also posted about the startling difference in pigmentation of the French team, led by the brilliant Michel Platini which came third in the 1986 World Cup (predominantly white) and the multicultural team that won the 2018 World Cup.
Such observations are also cynical and fail to realise that this is a trend, which has spread to other European countries also, notably Belgium that came third in the 2018 World Cup, four times champions Germany, England and Netherlands.
It must also be realised that multiculturalism and success in the World cup is not a panacea or magic wand to resolve social tensions. The French success in the World Cup were celebrated spontaneously by people of all communities in both 1998 and in 2018. However it did not eliminate racial tensions and Islamophobia in the last two decades. If it can lead to a little more social harmony, then it will be the greatest legacy of the 2018 World Cup and France’s victory.
Ironically, runners-up Croatia were once part of the multiculturalism of erstwhile Yugoslavia, which consisted of Serbs, Croats and Bosnians. But Croatia emerged as an independent nation from the brutality of the Bosnian war in the early nineties.