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What do the French think of the U.S. national team?

By Jeff Maurer 

Soccer is one of the only areas where Americans suffer from an inferiority complex. We don't have a World Cup trophy, and we haven't really come close. We don't have players starring on the top teams, and we don't have a league that draws elite players in their prime. But we want all these things, and we're getting closer. Twenty years ago, it took a sun-obscured miracle goal to get us into the World Cup, and now we're slightly disappointed with an exit in the round of 16. David Beckham, Thierry Henry, and Rafa Marquez all play in the States, and Landon Donovan could make the 18 for all but a few clubs in the world. We're moving steadily forward. But has the world noticed? Are we getting any respect? Or are we like Joe Pesci in Goodfellas, still the little kid with the shoe shine box in many people's eyes?

In France for the first time in my life, I decided to find out what the French think of us...soccer-wise, anyway. I thought this would be a good test: soccer is one area where the French feel superior to much of the world. Correction: one area where the French feel superior to much of the world WITH CAUSE. Obviously, in order to accurately represent the opinions of the entire French populace, I would need to undertake a study using the most rigorous and sound academic methods. So I talked to three dudes at a bar.

From left to right: Maxime, Vincent, Roman, and me trying to pass for college age.

On the night of France's more-dominant-than-it-sounds 2-0 win over Luxembourg in Euro 2010 qualifying, I found a Parisian soccer bar near the Sorbonne and tried to pass for both French and college age (i.e., put a sweater over my Springsteen t-shirt). I struck up a conversation (in English...I wanted to ask questions more provocative than "where is the library?") with three Frenchmen: Maxime, Roman, and Vincent, all 21, all students in Paris. Like most Parisians I've met, they could not have been nicer. Without much provoking, they offered up generally positive and frankly objective opinions of the US national team. There was no cultural chauvinism: they gave the American team a fair shake. They had seen all three US group games in the World Cup: the hard-fought draw against England (Maxime: "You played very well. You were one of the better teams in the World Cup."), the controversial draw against Slovenia (the group assessment: it was a goal. The US was robbed.), and the last-minute win against Algeria (Roman: "the difference between the American team and the French team is that the US fights to the very end."). In general, they were impressed with the US team's energetic play and never-say-die attitude. They rated us at about the level of European teams such as Sweden and Portugal (Vincent: "2010 Portugal, not 2006."). Roman said something that is pretty difficult to disagree with: "The US is below England...even though England are crap."

And what American players are getting respect in France? One: Landon Donovan. All three brought him up without prompting. All three said they would be happy if their favorite club team (Paris Saint-Germain for Maxime, Chelsea for Vincent, and Arsenal for Roman) signed him (thought Vincent and Roman weren't sure that he'd make the starting 11). Jozy Altidore also made an impression on them (Maxime: "He's big and he's strong"), though they had trouble remembering his name.

And what about the prospect of the US rising to become a world soccer power? They all felt it was inevitable, though they were less than enthusiastic about the idea. Not because of any animosity towards the US, though; they're just a little tired of the US winning everything. "The US wins at basketball, tennis, the Olympics," said Roman. "Let the smaller nations win something every once in a while."

Still, three out of three Parisians agree: the US will be a soccer world power some day. I asked them which would happen first: the US winning a World Cup, or a man walking on Mars? All three agreed: an American World Cup trophy will come first (what??? Don't they remember that Bush's wildly popular plan to go to Mars is what catapulted him to a second term?). I then upped the ante by asking them which will come first: a World Cup trophy for the US, or a raised retirement age in France (the age is currently 60. Yes, 60. That's not metric years, either.)? Vincent thought the retirement age would rise first, but Maxime and Roman thought the US team would be world champions before that happens. Of course, given the intensity of the old-school, red-banner-waving protests that gave most of the city an impromptu day off today, that might not be saying much. But it's something to build on.

I'll file part two of three in my "what do foreigners think of us?" series on Sunday or Monday. Next up: Germany. And yes: I will ask them about the Torsten Frings handball.

By Box Seats blogger  | October 13, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Jeff Maurer  | Tags:  U.S. National soccer team  
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Comments

Landon Donovan could never play for Chelsea or Arsenal.

That said, cool post. I know this was centered on America but I hope you also asked about the no goal on Lampard this past year, as well as the Frings no call.

Posted by: GFisher1 | October 13, 2010 11:37 AM | Report abuse

Great job, Jeff Maurer! Out of curiousity, did they discuss the Henry handball?

Posted by: schmegegge | October 14, 2010 10:10 AM | Report abuse

Landon Donovan could never play for Chelsea or Arsenal.
-----------------------------------------------------

Of course not. He's Everton true-blue, through and through.

---

"The US wins at basketball, tennis, the Olympics," said Roman. "Let the smaller nations win something every once in a while."

----

If you run into Roman again, you might point out that there are no American men's players ranked in the Top 10 worldwide -- Roddick sits at 11th -- and except for the Williams sisters, there are no American women ranked in the top 50(!!) women players worldwide. The days when Americans won a lot at tennis are over. Also, we're having a lot of trouble winning at golf, too, now that Tiger's in the tank. These days, there are a lot of Africans, Jamaicans, etc, winning track events, and Americans aren't so good at the field events now, either.

Hell, we can't even crack the finals of the World Baseball Classic, and that's supposed to be our national pastime. The French have all those high-speed trains, a Metro that goes everywhere, and all that good food and wine. They don't even have Tea-Partyers going on about cities that under Sharia law. Let us have our World Cup. We need it more than they do.

Posted by: fischy | October 14, 2010 10:38 AM | Report abuse

Mais où est la bibliothèque??????

Nice stuff, Jeff. Really enjoying your blog posts here.

Posted by: gasdorian | October 14, 2010 10:52 AM | Report abuse

Smaller countries win at skiing, bobsled, and speed skating. That should be good enough for them.

Posted by: I-270Exit1 | October 14, 2010 11:50 AM | Report abuse

Sounds like you found a couple of Anglosnobs.

Je déteste ces sales snobs Anglais.

What's the matter? You're too good to support Besancon Racing?

Posted by: salecanard | October 14, 2010 4:47 PM | Report abuse

the French can still feel superior about soccer?

Posted by: msbond | October 14, 2010 5:53 PM | Report abuse

Fischy - your slip is showing. I'm pretty sure the French are complaining just a bit about parts of their cities coming under sharia law. They just banned the veil, didn't they?

Posted by: j01usna | October 14, 2010 9:14 PM | Report abuse

US track and field is in a much better position now than it was 8 years ago, fischy. The team has more depth than any other country and is continuing to improve in all field events and distance events while.

Posted by: sitruc | October 15, 2010 7:18 AM | Report abuse

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