Soccer Empire: The World Cup and the Future of France

Soccer Empire: The World Cup and the Future of France

Soccer Empire: The World Cup and the Future of France

Soccer Empire: The World Cup and the Future of France


When France both hosted and won the World Cup in 1998, the face of its star player, Zinedine Zidane, the son of Algerian immigrants, was projected onto the Arc de Triomphe. During the 2006 World Cup finals, Zidane stunned the country by ending his spectacular career with an assault on an Italian player. In Soccer Empire, Laurent Dubois illuminates the connections between empire and sport by tracing the story of World Cup soccer, from the Cup's French origins in the 1930s to Africa and the Caribbean and back again. As he vividly recounts the lives of two of soccer's most electrifying players, Zidane and his outspoken teammate, Lilian Thuram, Dubois deepens our understanding of the legacies of empire that persist in Europe and brilliantly captures the power of soccer to change the nation and the world.


When the referee blew his whistle much of the globe fell silent. An estimated three billion people watched as the final game of the 2006 World Cup tournament began. the bar in Paris where I was sitting had been loud with conversation moments before. Now we turned as one toward the giant screen set up in the back, hypnotized, suspended in time.

I had followed the first part of the World Cup tournament in Michigan, where the faithful gathered in a university cafeteria to watch the games. Hundreds of Korean students, decked out in red and playing drums, showed up for one game. a handful of Ghanaians draped in flags braved nasty looks from U.S. fans as they cheered their team to victory. Many, though, arrived to watch without a deep commitment to any team. Part of the beauty of the World Cup is the freedom it gives us to choose sides. Especially as the tournament goes on and teams get eliminated, fewer and fewer people can actually root for a home team; most fans have to adopt one. They might opt for a powerhouse like Italy, Argentina, Germany, or Brazil, or lean toward a lesser-known team on an unexpected run, like Senegal or South Korea.

Sometimes the choice is infused with deep meaning and makes a statement about who we are. Sometimes it is just the expression of a fleeting affinity. in the film The Great Match a Touareg in the middle of the Sahara insists that those who surround him to watch the 2002 Brazil-Germany final on his television must root for Germany rather than Brazil. His reason? the good working relationship he once had with a German visitor. the West African migrants in the group are dismayed and refuse to follow the command; they see Brazil as their team. They’re not alone: for decades, in a world of soccer (or, football, as it is called in most of the world and as I will call it here) that is still largely dominated by European professional and national teams, Brazil has carried the hopes of Latin America, Africa, and the Caribbean.

I’ve long rooted for another team: France. Though my name is as French . . .

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