WORLD CUP: Taking your soccer seriously

French soccer team bonding earlier this week

French President Nicolas Sarkozy will hold a government meeting on France’s disastrous World Cup exit, after which he will meet the side’s veteran striker Thierry Henry.

We may think that England’s World Cup fate is a matter of national importance, but it pales in comparison to the hysterical navel-gazing that has engulfed France since its team went home without progressing from the Group stage yesterday.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon, Sports Minister Roselyne Bachelot and Junior Sports Minister Rama Yade have been summoned to meet pocket-striker Nicolas Sarkozy, in order to discuss the team’s dismal performance – dissension in the ranks, uninspiring management, dreary play on the field…and a 2-1 defeat by their obviously Fourth Division South African hosts.

You can see the point of Sarko wanting to talk to Thierry, as without his superbly palmed goal in Dublin, they might not have got to SA in the first place. Perhaps Sarkonaparte wants to put Henry in charge of training future French sides in the art of God-Handing rivals – or maybe Monsieur le President thinks Henry’s acting ability (he’s been in more commercials than any other French player in history) would come in useful for teaching advanced penalty-area diving.

The British are second only to the French in dissecting their problematical sports performances, up to but not including the solution. The reason France remains in the top position for this sort of flagellation is that, not having entirely dumbed the Nation down, the debate turns into more than showing cartoons of the manager as a turnip or some other vegetable.

In France, the question posed is, “What is wrong with French culture and its youth when our obviously superior team can be beaten by the likes of minor-league nations?”

This is where the President has missed a trick in my view: for the intellectual soccer brain sans pareil is, without doubt Monsieur Ooo-Aah Cantona. I’ve spoken to Eric, and I understand he is awaiting Nico’s Blackberry call. His answer will be:

“We must follow the ships that are leading the race, and watch what they throw over the side. Only then will we know what to do”.

Parisian sources suggested today that this is a clear allegory about the abilities (and shortcomings) of national coach Raymond Domenech. This may be an opportunity for Fabio Capello, once he goes overboard after the semi-finals.