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Political struggle won, French star returns to football

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Didier Deschamps will finally be able to reflect on a news conference that was largely uneventful. That seemed unlikely given the timing. French voters delivered a scathing rebuke of the country’s resurgent far right on Sunday. A shocking legislative electionOn Tuesday, the country’s increasingly dynamic soccer team will face Spain in the European Cup semifinal.

Sandwiched in between is the emergence of Didier Deschamps, the French national team coach, who has been the subject of intense scrutiny from the world’s news media. While he is often deliberately elusive, his players are not. In the past month, six members of his team have made their feelings about the French national team’s rise very clear.

Striker Marcus Thuram called on the French to “fight the threat of the far right every day”. Defender Jules Conde expressed his hope that France would reject those who “try to take away our freedom”. His team-mate Ibrahim Konate urged not to hand power to “certain people bent on division”.

So Deschamps might have expected Monday’s exchange to be awkward. Instead, he found himself fielding questions that came with a sense of relief. How fit was Kylian Mbappe? What did he think of Spain’s midfield?

There was only one tense moment. A Swedish journalist asked Deschamps if he could describe his French team as A little boring: After all, they made it to the semi-finals of this tournament without scoring a goal in open play.

“If you’re bored, watch something else,” Deschamps replied. “You don’t have to. We have the ability to please the French with our results. If the Swedes are bored, it’s no big deal for me.”

Compared to the problems the French team has faced over the past month, the entire press conference was a relief. Football is traditionally apolitical, both by habit and inclination. Generally, when asked to comment on anything controversial, the players refuse.

However, most of Deschamps’ squad at this World Cup clearly believe that is impossible.

Thuram Politically active father Ousmane Dembélé, who won the World Cup for France, was one of the first players to speak out. Fellow striker Ousmane Dembélé noted that “alarm bells have been sounded” and called on his compatriots to “unite and vote together.”

Mbappe, the team’s captain and most influential cultural figure, warned of “extremism outside the gates of power” and admitted he “did not want to represent a country that did not align with my values ​​or our values”.

“I want my voice to carry as much weight as possible,” he said as the election approached. “I hope we make the right choice and that we can still be proud to wear the French national team jersey on July 7.”

The message from the players was clear but moderated so as not to be too obvious. This approach did not last long. First round of elections When the results were announced — the day before France played its first World Cup knockout match — the National Rally had 33 percent of the vote, France, the country and the team suddenly faced the prospect of a far-right party dominating the government.

Speaking a few days later, Mbappe made his position clear. “It’s an emergency,” he said. “We can’t let our country fall into the hands of these people. It’s an emergency. We saw the results and it’s catastrophic. We really hope that this will change and that everyone will unite, go to the vote and vote for the right party.”

It is impossible to gauge whether those interventions, or the compounded pressure exerted during the tournament by the players – some of the most visible figures in French public life – had any effect when France went back to the polls on Sunday.

Of course, it will not be like what the French left and the League have done. Forming a united front And withdrew candidates from about 200 districts to avoid splitting the anti-National Assembly vote.

But judging by the reaction to the players’ comments during Euro 2024, their voices matter. France’s far right has long held disdain for the national team. When a multiethnic team led France to its first World Cup title in 1998, Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder of the National Front (which later became the National Rally), dismissed the team as “artificial” because it included too many non-white players.

Eight years later, when France again reached the World Cup final, Le Pen lamented that the country “failed to recognise itself” as the national team was inspired by Algerian-born midfielder Zinedine Zidane and led by Guadeloupe-born defender Lillian Thuram.

Over the past month, Mbappé, Dembélé and others have inspired similar responses from Le Pen’s successors, both ideologically and genetically.

“It’s a bit embarrassing to see these athletes giving lessons to people who can’t make ends meet, who no longer feel safe, who don’t have the chance to live in a neighborhood protected by security agents,” said Rally Nacional president Jordan Bardella, 28. His vice-president, Sébastien Chenu, accused Mbappé of being “totally out of touch with reality.”

Marine Le Pen, Jean-Marie Le Pen’s daughter and the most prominent member of the National Rally, advised “actors, football players and singers” not to “stand up and tell the French people how they should vote.”

“This is starting to become unpopular in our country,” she said. “The French are tired of being lectured and advised on how to vote. This election is a liberation election, and the French want to take back control of their own destiny and vote as they see fit.”

Certainly, that seemed to be the case on Sunday, though not quite in the way Ms Le Pen had hoped.

However, there was an overwhelming sense of “relief” within the French team. As Koundé said Several of his teammates echoed those sentiments on social media: Marcus Thuram congratulated “all those who have stood up to the threat that looms over our beautiful country.” Midfielder Aurelien Joameni described Sunday’s result as “Victory of the people

The political situation is more complicated than that, of course. The sporting situation is not. France will face a strong Spain on Tuesday for a place in the 2024 European Championship final. For the first time in this tournament, many of the French team’s stars have made it clear that they are still proud to carry their country’s flag.

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