The fervent embrace of the star by a community in dire need of a hero is noteworthy as racism rises across the world. The star’s cold-shouldering of Macron after France’s defeat in the final too is being seen as an image of Black defiance…
DOHA: When Adrien Rabiot, who was not at full fitness after his bout of flu yet plugged the holes in the French midfield all evening in the final, was taken off four minutes from time and replaced by Youssouf Fofana, it marked a strange moment in the French line-up, and football’s history.
Because, with the exception of their captain Hugo Lloris in goal, all other French players on the field were black.
It was probably the first such occurrence in a World Cup, and a final at that. No African team has played at this top-most level of the game, yet France were carrying a unique marker for race and equality, even if it was purely on footballing terms.
Even before the first-half was over, Deschamps substituted two senior players in Olivier Giroud and Ousmane Dembele. It looked like the hand of a defeated coach, throwing in the towel as Argentina appeared to be cruising with a two-goal lead.
Then the second set of substitutions, in the 70th minute – Camavinga and Kingsley Coman for a subdued and largely ineffective Theo Hernandez and Antoine Griezmann, and thereshuffling of the formation – was genius. France roared back into the game almost immediately, setting up a finale for the ages. The fear remains how the shrill right-wing in France will react to the close defeat that the Les Bleus eventually suffered.
Indeed, in the build-up to the final, there were those would point out the origins of each player in starting line-up – even the white Griezmann, who is of Portuguese descent – claiming that they were not French enough. This was another blow to the French idea of ‘Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite’ as is enshrined in their founding principles.
And this despite the national team being one of the most complete in the modern game, brimming with talented third-generation immigrants from France’s African colonies, players who were all born in France and learnt their football in the arrondissements of Paris.