“Football is about childhood, the love of the game and dreams”
Interview with Nantais journalist and writer Pierre-Louis Basse
Journalist and writer Pierre-Louis Basse, spent a significant part of his career (1986 – 2011) working at the sports desk and presenting cultural programmes at Europe 1, a French independent radio station. Keen on football, he tries to show through his writing how sports or social events “are making history”. Born in Paimboeuf (on the coast near Nantes) this Nantais at heart is the author of a number of books including his latest, Gagner à en mourir ('Win or die trying'), published in April. Faced with the “media circus” of modern football, he identifies a more basic human need, for “failure and passion”.
Why do you dislike modern football?
Pierre-Louis Basse: I still like football. I just think that it has become too important in our lives. It may be a poetic analysis, take it as you wish, but a society cannot live by football alone. It's not possible. Society must live by culture, diversity, interaction and not get its only inspiration from the showmanship of sport. Otherwise it becomes the public games of Ancient Rome. That's the core issue. There are great players, there always have been and there always will be. There are of course great football games, but there are too many of them. This puts our society's priorities back into question. We shouldn't be allowed to think that our modern society lives off this incessant unavoidable football spectacle. That's my opinion.
You praise passion but also failure. What does it refer to regarding football?
PL-B: Failure is something else completely. It's everything that isn't governed by good results, performance or economic benefits. Of course a brand of football that is about money and nothing else can only survive because of good performances and the fact that the losers are completely disregarded. But deep down, football is something else. How did regular human beings became great players? Let's take the example of Johan Cruijff [Dutch footballer that played for Ajax Amsterdam and FC Barcelona in the 1970's]. Johan Cruijff never won a World Cup but who cares? His career was one of both failure and triumph. At the opposite end of the scale we could talk about Lionel Messi. Lionel Messi is a fantastic footballer but he is far too successful. He seems more like a hero from a book than a real-life individual.
Lionel Messi seems to know nothing of the human boundary between success and failure- he always seems to play to perfection...
PL-B: Of course he's an interesting player, no less so because he is phenomenal. But there is something about this that puts me ill at ease. It has nothing to do with reality. According to his trainers, ten years ago this boy was dealing with dwarfism, and today he still has this kind of 'Peter Pan' syndrome. Lionel Messi loves sweets and has a look of concentration when he plays just like a child. It's rather surreal and ties in well with the way we see football today. Again, we are getting closer and closer to fiction. As a matter of fact, lots of journalists comment on football games as well as on fiction and video games. So there is an interesting confusion that is also frightening from my point of view.
PL-B: Yes but it's a team that has never known failure, and a team that only experiences victory is also rather frightening. We could discuss this in detail. It's the relationship between sport, performance and entertainment. Barça or otherwise. It's true that the club interesting ideas on training and teamwork, but oddly enough from my point of view, FC Barcelona is a terrifying model, because it's a model that can can only triumph and never surrender.
You argue that football is everywhere but it is becoming more and more expensive to watch a game in a stadium or to buy a season ticket...
PL-B: Not necessarily, it depends where you look, but for season tickets it's true. In the end it's quite logical, because when the social situation deteriorates, it has an effect. We saw it with English football. They claim to have resolved the problem of hooliganism, but it's just on the surface. But now supporters clash outside stadiums, in bars. It's a way to push away social concerns. But it's true that today's football is becoming more and more elitist. That's the way it seems to be heading, including in France.
Football without the masses?
PL-B: It's about that yes, football without the masses.
Speaking of the masses, what is your point of view on the disgrace of FC Nantes?
PL-B: It's catastrophic that decades of collective work done by José Arribas, Jean-Claude Suaudeau and Raynald Denoueix [different coaches of the Canaris between 1960 and 2001] the training of generations of footballers in La Fosse ['the pit' where players used to train] has been destroyed, has been slaughtered by hyper-capitalism. I call hyper-capitalism this quick economic movement that erases identities. I think it's a shame and it's not being an old man to say that. It wasn't predicted at all and the best example is that results are poor: FC Nantes is stuck in Ligue 2 and won its last national title eleven years ago. Nantes has vanished in terms of football. It must lead to a re-think.
Do you seek solace in other sports, amateur ones, or in other fields?
Where do you find this child-like pleasure of a man searching for history?
PL-B: Not in sport broadcast on television. I only watch one or two football games per year. I find pleasure in books and imagination and from time to time in a sport story like the one in my latest book about something that happened in Ukraine. This is what I like. Not this media circus world of football.