‘Black, Blanc, Beur’ referring to the Black, White and Arab players of the French National Team was a symbol of the diversity and integration of cultural heritage as the French State moved into the 21st century after the 1998 FIFA World Cup. 20 years on, another diverse and talented young French side is on the brink of replicating the heroes of 1998. So, is this young French team on the same pedestal as the legends of 1998? Here’s why this French side in 2018 is better than the one in 1998 –
Similarities: France 1998 – France 2018
For those who remember or have watched Aime Jacquet’s French side of 1998, the similarities in the formation of 1998 and 2018 is visible.
Just like Jacquet believed in having a strong defensive foundation allowing freedom for his creative attacking players, Deschamps sets his team up the same way. Who better to set them up like the 1998 side than the captain of that side himself?
Something often forgotten is that the captain of that gifted French side of 1998 was the current French manager – Dider Deschamps. A defensive midfielder playing for the mighty Juventus at the time, Deschamps was the rock of the French midfield just like N’Golo Kante is for the current French side.
Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti make a central defensive partnership comparable and some may say even better than Marcel Desailly – Laurent Blanc. Shouts of ‘Raphael Varane for Ballon D’Or’ have already begun across France and if the Real Madrid man goes on to win the World Cup he would be in with a good shout to claim football’s highest individual honour.
A young Benjamin Pavard at right back is coincidentally similar to the young Lilian Thuram of 1998. Both centre-backs playing as full backs. Both scored one of the goals of the tournament. And both on the brink of big money moves after the World Cup. On the other side, Lucas Hernandez adds the steel and nastiness to the French defence just like Bixente Lizarazu did in 1998.
Paul Pogba plays in the position once occupied by Christian Karembu then playing for Real Madrid stitching play together and Blaise Matuidi shuttles box-to-box adding experience, energy and balance to a right-footed midfield just like Emmanuel Petit did for the 1998 side.
In Zinedine Zidane and Youri Djorkaeff, Aime Jacquet had two of the brightest attacking midfielders in football back in 1998. In Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe, Deschamps has the brightest attacking talents in current day football. Olivier Giroud though limited stitches the attack together as a figurehead just like Stéphane Guivarc'h did for France 1998.
Similar yet better
While Aime Jacquet’s French side were the beacon of hope for a multi-cultural France, Deschamps’ French side is the embodiment of it.
Much has been made of the heritage of the current French squad and much has been spoken unjustly about it. However, what is often forgotten is that these players represent France just as much as any diplomat. These players are the products of a unique football culture that was born in France because of the triumph in 1998.
While the heroes of 1998 went on to fight racism and communalism through their football, these boys celebrate their heritage. They are proud of their ancestry and the suburbs they hail from. They are away from political pressures and are uninhibited in the way they live their life. They respect themselves and they respect each other and are prepared to fight together as a team.
Gregory Pierrot author and professor, sums it up the best in his words to Al Jazeera, "These kids have roots in specific countries and culture [and] are proud of their heritage, and perhaps more importantly, they are proud of one another's heritage. And that is what makes them French; France - the concrete place and the imagined community is where they all meet."