Sky Blues Blog’s very own culture vulture Barney Pell returns to offer a second round of genial insight into his intriguing world as a Sky Blues supporter living in France.
In this edition of View from Abroad, Barney ponders the perception of English football from his new home, and pops (metaphorically) across the border to Belgium to explore its sky blue links.
By Barney Pell
Anyone used to watch James Richardson’s Football Italia on Channel 4 in the 90’s? Cult viewing, and a rare example of our media’s interest in foreign domestic leagues.
In this piece, following in Richardson’s urbane and intrepid tread, I want to look across the Channel too. Not to Italy though. Appetisingly, I propose we check out where some of our Belgian Sky Blue stars of recent years came from and what they have since become! In doing so, it turns out we are afforded a small glimpse of life…
Us and them
I was originally motivated to pump these words out by a sense of guilty imbalance between English attitudes and those on the mainland. Simply put, they’re more interested in us than we are in them. I’ll take France as an example, before pushing on with Belgium afterwards.
Every weekend, French subscription channel Canal+ offers its viewers four or five live Premier League games and a great deal of complementary promotional hoo-ha. There are panels of experts before, during and after the games, highlights packages aplenty and even a Premier League-focused magazine show on Saturday nights called Match Of Ze Day. Marcel Desailly, Christophe Dugarry and David Ginola are expert summarisers to this day.
It has to be said, with so many French players past and present in England’s top flight, this is the most familiar of foreign leagues to the French football fan. Our ambassador on the French small screen has been for many years now Darren Tulett, a Sussex-born sports journalist who created Canal+’s MOZD in 2008 before moving to the competitor, BeIN Sports, a Qatari-owned newcomer active since summer 2012.
In print, weekly magazine France Football has for decades offered a comprehensive and well-written review of football all over the world, not least in England. All the top European leagues and results are published every week, with line-ups, top goal scorers and fixtures alongside. Recently the magazine ran a six-page feature on a typical Saturday in London, with reporters going to pubs, training grounds and matches at Spurs, West Ham, Charlton and Brentford. They talked to French players in these clubs and, as always, these Gallic allotheists drew admiring conclusions about English loyalty, our eccentricity and attachment to tradition.
Although the Bundesliga attracts admiration with its exciting, goalful matches, packed grounds and Franck Ribéry; although Spain invite jealousy with its phenomenal recent success in many sports (and the hope that Sociedad’s Antoine Griezmann will break into les Bleus for the World Cup); although Italy remains a close Latin neighbour with a much more deeply-ingrained football culture than France: none of them truly rivals the Premier League in the French public consciousness.
If the British media show little interest in the French Ligue 1, how much less do they give us any insight into the Walloon scene, otherwise known as French-speaking Belgium? Here in Lille, there is some condescending interest in what goes on fifteen minutes to the east, in Belgium (chez nos amis belges). Through the prism of some Sky Blue heroes, stoic reader, let us venture forth into Coventry’s recent past and have a look at three very different careers.
Cédric Roussel: October 1999-February 2001. A baker’s dozen of clubs.
The only time I got to see Roussel slumping around the pitch was at Hillsborough, in October 1999. Replacing Youssef Chippo after 17 minutes in his second appearance for the club, the big number 31 with sloping shoulders underwhelmed me, considerably.
Strachan picked him up on loan from Flemish side Ghent (known to Roussel as La Gantoise, to Dutch speakers as KAA Gent). Now playing for Royal Racing Club de Waterloo in the Belgian Provincial League’s ‘Brabant’ group (one of the nine regional groups of the Belgian 5th tier), Cédric Roussel has never forgotten playing in England, nor for the Belgian national team, for whom he played 14 minutes in 2003 against Croatia and Estonia. He played for his country at the pinnacle of his career, around the time of his successful season on loan from Wolves to home-town club Mons, where he finished joint-top scorer in the Belgian Pro-League alongside Wesley Sonck, no less.
Since finally leaving England in 2003 (Coventry from October 1999 to February 2001 then Wolves from February 2001 to July 2003), his career has taken him to twelve different clubs in Belgium, Russia, Italy and the Netherlands.
Now 36, he’s looking to help RRC Waterloo up into the 4th division and get experience in coaching. He’d jump at the chance to do this at Mons, where everyone knows his name. Mons currently sit abjectly bottom of the 16-team Jupiler Pro-League, Belgium’s top-flight. They could do with something; as could Walloon football in general. With the notable exception of Liège, all Belgium’s best teams are Dutch speaking.
January 2013 saw the most recent change in Roussel’s plans, as he found it increasingly difficult to reconcile playing for his then team (the amateurs of small-town club Manage) and his job in a bakery. Those 4 o-clock starts made him wonder whether it was the life for him, after all. Something had to give, and unusually for the French-speaking world, it was the food that lost out. Belgian baking’s loss is Waterloo’s gain.
38 Premier League appearances, 8 goals; 3 FA Cup appearances, 3 goals; 1 League Cup appearance
Régis Genaux: August 1996-January 1997. Young musketeer cut down in his prime.
Back now to the mid-nineties, when Coventry City could attract internationals at the peak of their powers. As it turned out though, motormouth right-back and hardly-ever-seen number 24, Régis Genaux, had already had his finest hours at Standard Liège, the most successful club in Francophone Belgium. With just four appearances in five months for the Sky Blues between August 1996 and January 1997, he never had the chance to leave much of an impression in English football before moving on to Udinese.
Known to the Belgian football world principally as one of the Three Musketeers of the early nineties (along with fellow Liège youngsters Philippe Léonard and Michel Goossens), Génaux was then a troublesome and headstrong hope for the future. He played 22 times for the Red Devils, his national side. Injury prevented him from going to Euro 2000 and it was three years later that injury finally put an end to his career at the age of twenty-nine. His six years in Italian football between 1997 and 2003 yielded just 51 appearances.
After stints coaching at lower-league clubs La Louvière, Verviers and Seraing, Genaux died of a heart attack in November 2008. He was thirty-five and eulogies were made about his integrity and strong-mindedness. Something we City fans perhaps never had the chance to see.
4 Premier League appearances
Franck Moussa: September 2012 – present. Where next?
I’ll tell you what: if Moussa one day hits the big time, he will have done it the hard way. He may not have heard of Keith Houchen but he certainly knows all about English football. What he made of turning out for Southend United, then for Wycombe, Doncaster and Chesterfield in loan spells one can only imagine.
The starry-eyed youngster from Brussels admits to growing up idolising the French World Cup winners of 1998 and to being an Arsenal fan owing to their French connection. After six years at Brussels giants Anderlecht, he was scouted and persuaded to leave home to become a sixteen-year old in West Ham’s youth set-up. He didn’t make the cut and went to Southend. His story gives us an insight into the courage and drive needed to make it as a footballer, but also underlines the discrepancy between a player’s view of a club and that of the fans.
What can Coventry City really mean to him? As Sky Blues fans we might hope that it feels like a step up from those early years in the lower leagues, but to any disinterested observer, Moussa is still playing in the lower leagues, in a Fourth Division stadium, to boot.
He’ll be off won’t he, to some Championship side this summer? Seems like a lovely lad though.
66 League One appearances, 17 goals*. 8 FA Cup appearances, 1 goal. 2 League Cup appearances, 1 goal. 5 Football League Trophy appearances (figures hopefully correct as of February 6th 2014)
Final thoughts: them and us
Life as seen through three footballers’ careers: a reflective veteran, an obituary and burning young dedication.
Once again, as with my first piece for Sky Blues Blog back in October, it is an artist who must close this meandering column. This time, illustrator and sports journalist François van Damme (from Flemish newspaper De Morgen) has undertaken to describe English football for us. We may observe the Belgian gift for the abstract.
Football is about waves of color belts framed by the shifting offside grid. Two times forty-five minutes, two times eleven identities breaking those belts. English football also shows western society what a religion can be like. It gathers people in the colors of their clubs, families. English clubs with their hardliners making alliances even with foreign clubs to face their common enemies is even stranger.
*or 16 goals: see recent article … and everyone puts “Moussa” -which is incorrect!