FIFA World Cup 2018: France's triumph coincides with growing French influence on the tournament

At the end of a month filled with drama, narratives and controversies, the 2018 World Cup truly symbolised the madcap nature of the world we live in. The tournament served up thrilling matches and sensational goals, but there remained a sense of identity crisis on the field of play.

France's national football team players celebrate on the roof of a bus as they parade down the Champs-Elysee avenue in Paris. AFP

France's national football team players celebrate on the roof of a bus as they parade down the Champs-Elysee avenue in Paris. AFP

While the last two World Cups witnessed Germany and Spain champion possession football and take it to another level altogether, the 2018 tournament was all about losing control amid the gush of goals. In fact, since the World Cup expanded to a 32-team event in 1998, the 2018 edition had the fewest number of goalless draws (one), well below the average of five per tournament.

It was perhaps fitting that in the midst of that chaos, the team which showed the greatest control throughout the tournament – France – prevailed.

Former Germany international Thomas Hitzlsperger appropriately summed up this World Cup, noting, "It has been a tournament more about great teamwork than great teams."

Although the tactical frameworks on the pitch lacked distinct patterns to be dominant, there still remained one clear identity about the 2018 World Cup – its cross-culturalism – and unsurprisingly, the flag-bearers on that front were the French as well.

All four semi-finalists – France, Croatia, Belgium and England – had multinational, ethnically diverse national teams, with influences ranging from Africa to the Caribbean islands. That was perhaps the most defining aspect of the 2018 World Cup, but there is another, less-talked-about detail at international football's biggest event – the growing French-born representation.

While the multi-ethnicity of France's World Cup-winning squad has been well-documented, it pales the fact that all but two of them were born in France and everyone is a product of the French system. The French predominance wasn't only confined to Les Bleus. It also had its imprint on other national teams at this World Cup.

As many as 50 players of the 736 that entered the 2018 World Cup were born in France, and a majority of them are products of the French system. Not only the victorious Les Bleus but Tunisia, Morocco, Portugal, Senegal and Argentina also had French-born players in their respective squads.

The French influence at World Cups is nothing new and has been building up gradually since the turn of this century. At the 2002 World Cup, the number of French-born players was fewer than the number of English-born and German-born players and was not far greater than the number of Brazilian and Argentina born players.

That, however, changed four years later as the number of players at the 2006 World Cup born in France increased substantially, while the English and German footprints waned. That remained the case until the 2014 edition saw a German resurgence and 33 German-born players, but it was still dwarfed by France's stamp (45 French-born players) on the tournament.

The same pattern continued into the 2018 World Cup as well with French-born players dominating the numbers. France could've fielded almost five teams at this World Cup going by the huge number of French-born players (50).

A simple glance at the numbers is enough to understand the rising French influence at World Cups. Counting from the 2002 edition, France has been the birthplace of a combined 216 players and head coaches at World Cups, an average of 43 representatives per tournament which is more than any other country. Brazil (148), Germany (147) and Argentina (144) come next.

That France has had 68 more representations than Brazil at the past five World Cups reflects poorly on the South Americans’ reputation as the sport’s famous exporters. Furthermore, it is a sign of how France’s impact has been underrated, which can be somewhat attributed to Les Bleus’ repeated unsuccessful attempts at winning the World Cup since 1998 until this year’s grand ascension to the top.

France’s 2018 glory has brought greater acknowledgement to the country’s unmatched system of producing world class footballers; perhaps understandable since this conveyor belt of a system didn’t really benefit Les Bleus a great deal until it all came together in Russia.

In terms of producing more World Cup players this millennium than any other country in the world, France has certainly left its imprint on the global stage. Thus, it seems apt that L'Hexagone witnessed its national team finally take centre stage in a tournament dominated by the players it produces.


Updated Date: Jul 17, 2018 20:05 PM

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