A look into how immigration has given France its great soccer players.

The French World Cup Win and the Glories of Immigration


Those of us who have spent a surprising chunk of our lives rooting for—supporting, as they say in Britain—Les Bleus, the French national football team, have to feel a special exultation and delight in seeing them win the World Cup. Whether or not they gave their best performance against Croatia, they were certainly the best team in the tournament: the one with the most élan, the most entertaining players in their prime, the most creativity available at the most crucial moments.

To the pleasure of seeing a fine team playing well and winning, a pleasure deepened by the many rough bumps that Les Bleus have known along the way—not least the loss in the final of 2006, when a clearly superior French team, rooted in the anchor of Zinedine Zidane and the harpoon of Thierry Henry, lost to an Italian team that took Machiavellian stratagems to victory—one can add the pleasure of having your favorite sporting team also act as the living refutation to one of the least sportsmanlike people on earth. I am referring, of course, to Donald Trump, whose views on immigration and Europe, loudly brayed out last week on his visit to the U.K., were neatly devastated by the excellence and the teamwork of the diverse French squad.

The French team, now the finest in the world’s most popular sport, is entirely dependent for its greatness on immigration, on the extraordinary things that only a cosmopolitan civilization can achieve. The hybrid nature of the roster is already famous: the great and absurdly entertaining teen-ager Kylian Mbappé, who at various moments seemed to be playing another game at another pace from everyone else, comes from a mixed Algerian and Cameroonian background. N’Golo Kanté’s parents came from Mali; Paul Pogba’s are Guinean. And it’s not only the players who come from obvious post-colonial backflow who are part of this story but the many other players who hold myriad identities. Lucas Hernández, who played so crucial a role in victory with his nimble crosses, was born in Marseilles but was brought up in Spain and has always competed on a club level there, which did not prevent him from playing a beautiful role for France, or from celebrating as loudly as anyone else.

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