Posted in Les Bleus! The Path

Dix-sept The final whistle

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“Tonight, I have the da Díxon identical twins in studio,” Tony, the brunette television personality smiled handsomely at the cameras. “With rumors swirling around a possible coaching stint to Barcelona or Real Madrid, they’ve promised to set things straight tonight.” He turned to the twins. “Once again, congratulations on winning Euro.”

“Merci,” Ray politely replied.

“What is the most important thing you’ll take away from Euro 2016?”

“The fact that we hosted it and the fact that the boys gave their all in front of the people to win it,” Marcus was looking at the LCD screen that was currently showing footage from the Euro final. “I am proud of them.”

Tony nodded. “Over the course of the tournament, we’ve seen a unified France. But what the nation wants to know is what you’re going to do about Karim Benzema and the likes of Aymeric Laporte.”

Marcus shrugged. “Les Bleus is stuffed with quality. If someone retires, then I’ll call them up.” he joked causing laughter around the studio. “In seriousness, I’ll like to have Fekir come back to the team. Laporte is a brilliant player and although Benzema is yet to be found guilty of any wrongdoing, his characteristics are damaging his reputation. I don’t know how many of you noticed, but when he represented France in 2015/16 (briefly), he acted like a diva when his team-mates didn’t pass to him.”

Tony looked at Ray. “Did you notice?”

“Can I just pretend you didn’t ask me that question and avoid answering it?”

Marcus chuckled and pointed at his twin. “He is too nice. I swear Ray is a saint!”

“And he is well liked,”

“Everyone loves my brother!” Marcus reached for the cup of steaming black coffee in front of him.

“Ray, you were making a documentary on Les Bleus. How is it coming along?”

“It’s in the editing stages,” Ray confirmed. “It’s been such a blast to make and I hope France will like it. Going into Euro, France didn’t have much to smile about and they doubted their team. We were still on a security watch when hooligans decided to come here and add to it. Although we’ve won, we’re still a nation in healing. The wounds will go away over time and I think our victory at Euro is part of the healing.”

“Well said,” Tony nodded. “Marc, is there anything you’ll like to add to that?”

“The power of sport is something to behold. In this case, French football. My team did a brilliant job in unifying the country. They gave the people something to believe in when the path seemed endlessly dark.”

“And your antics by the sideline have become legendary,” Tony innocently pointed out.

Marcus laughed. “If I did not do something, I would’ve had a heart attack in the dug-out.”

“Understandable,” Tony made a note on his tablet. “Okay, so I’m going to choose some fans related questions from off our Twitter handle. Is that okay with you?” when the twins nodded, he carried on. “Which match was your favorite during the tournament?”

“Germany versus us,” the twins said in perfect unison causing the television host to reel back in his chair.

“How do you do that?” Tony shook his head. “Tell France why.”

Marcus grinned. “Well, many said we weren’t tested until that match, but I think it’s the other way around. Germany met their match that night. It didn’t matter which team we won against, someone always had something negative to say about Les Bleus, so it was really sweet when we beat Germany two nothing. They might have been better at possession, but we were better at defending, so we had to use all the weapons in our arsenal.

“People need to stop being butt hurt. If they can’t handle the victory of a team they don’t like, then this game isn’t for you. Possession does not win a game. Goals do. I’ve seen Barcelona and Madrid boss possession, only for them to lose to the smaller team with less possession sometimes. And this is football. Unfortunately, the ref was Italian, but in case you’re forgetting, the Italians are not French fans either and I don’t care for them.”

“Ooh, this is starting to heat up,” Tony joked as he looked to move on to the next question. “Lizelle asks ‘That one extra player you would’ve taken to the Euro?’”

“I wish I could’ve taken all my reserves,” Marcus lifted the coffee cup to his lips.

“What do you think about Portugal?”

“They’re stronger and better without Cristiano,”

“Cristiano or Messi?”

“Griezmann,” Marcus replied.

When Tony looked at Ray, the twin simply replied, “Both,”

“Pep Guardiola or Jose Mourinho?”

Marcus blew over his coffee. “None,”

“I’ll sit this one out,” Ray joked.

“The English Premier League or the Spanish La Liga?”

Marcus scoffed. “The Ligue 1. Ray likes La Liga.”

“And I think we all want to know this,” Tony held up from his tablet. “Will you be coaching Les Bleus until the World Cup?”

Ray and Marcus looked at each other.

Tony cringed. “I don’t think we’re going to like the sound of this. So the rumors are true about Barcelona and Real Madrid?”

“Yes,” Marcus nodded. “The clubs contacted us along with a few others, but we’re not interested in taking up residence at any other team that is not Les Bleus.”

For a tiny moment, Tony was hopeful. “So…?”

“While it was wonderful defending the blue, white, and red this summer,” Ray chose his words carefully. “We have decided to move on.”

“Yes, Zidane can have my job now.” Marcus input.

“What do you have with Zidane?”

Marcus smirked. “It’s personal,”

“I don’t like this news. Take it back. Why can’t you stay until 2018?” Tony managed to look sad as he asked this.

“Filmmaking is what I do best,” Ray supplied. “Plus, I have a company to run. The Genius tablets that you’ve seen Marc using during the tournament is about to launch.”

“Sweet!” Tony exclaimed. He turned to the about-to-be former head coach of the French national football team. “Et toi?”

“I’ll be heading to court in September,”

Confusion quickly mars Tony’s face. “Court? What did you do?”

“I’m a Lawyer and I have a client to represent,”

“Well, well, well!” Tony looked at the identical twins. “On behalf of France, I want to thank you for taking the team to even greater heights. You’ve reinstalled a sense of passion, hope, and love within us when we didn’t believe in the team.” When the twins nodded their thanks, the television personality turned to the camera. “Well, there you have it. Marcus and Ray da Díxon have officially left the post as coach.”

“Deschamps is coming back and he’ll be determined more than ever to write his own history with Les Bleus.” Ray supplied. “It’s not the end of the world. We wish Les Bleus the best in their future success. We’ll never stop being fans until our last breath. We love this country; it’s ours. Never stop dreaming, never stop believing. Don’t listen to the hate. You’re wonderful team! Allez les Bleus!”

Tony managed to smile. “Allez les Bleus! We wish you a great night from TF1,”

 

NOTES:

^ This is the last chapter of Les Bleus! The Path to Euro 2016. It’s been one heck of a ride! I was not expecting to write a full dedication football fiction to Les Bleus, it just sort of happened, and before I knew it, I was penning the 4th chapter. That’s when I decided to post it on here. This may or may not be my last entry for My Heart Beats Football. We’ll see when the new season of football rolls around. But for now, I bide you good night.

^ ALLEZ LES BLEUS! Don’t stop dreaming, never stop believing, the only way is forward. Thank you for a wonderful tournament. I wouldn’t trade you for another team no matter what. We’ve come close in 2014, even closer in 2016; we’ll close the gap in 2018.

REMEMBER, THIS IS FICTION & IT IS IN NO WAY ASSOCIATED WITH LES BLEUS OR THE FFF.

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Posted in Les Bleus! The Path

Seize: We are united!

This is it.

After two years of preparing, after Deschamps walked out, after a new crazy head coach took over, the moment France was waiting for have finally arrived: the last game of the Euro 2016 tournament. Play time was over. Tonight, it was do or die. Nerves had to take a back burner. Passion, spirit, and heart will take first place. Determination and strength will prevail. This was not a battle for the weak hearted.

Coach had yet to smile wholeheartedly, but he cracked jokes occasionally, took up for his boys when everyone else was dragging them down, and although he shouted at them during training or matches, he had wormed his way into their hearts unintentionally. He was going to be missed.

Joint coach was the total opposite. Ray was open, honest, funny, and a lover. The boys had immediately gravitated towards him from day one and by the second day, everyone had his personal cell number.

Tonight, the boys were not only going into battle for France, but for their managers. They wanted to write their own story in the history book and create everlasting memories.

Griezmann rolled up his socks and took one last sip of mate. Giroud pulled his jersey on. Pogba double-checked his shin pads. Koscielny quietly drummed his fingers on his thigh. Kanté picked imaginary fluff off his jersey sleeve. Evra quietly meditated. Lloris sat calmly observing his team with a watery smile. There were no finer men he’d rather go into battle with for the last time this summer.

“Gentlemen,” Marcus greeted the team probably for the last time as he walked in with the twin. “Are we ready to go out there and give it the best shot?”

“And he still doesn’t smile!” Giroud teased.

“Oh, he’ll smile tonight,” Ray assured him.

“It’s been a blast working with you guys in the last few months. We’ve been through many things together, but tonight, tonight is where it begins, not end. Tonight, we’re going to go out there, fearless, ready to fight for what are rightfully ours and France’s.” Marcus looked at every individual as he gave the pre-game speech for probably the last time. “Tonight, we’re going to give the French people something to treasure in years to come. We’re going to make them smile. We’re going to prove everyone wrong. Our fans are our driving force and we’re going to do this for them.

“We owe it to them. So let’s do this, and make Euro 2016 ours to remember. Who are we?

“LES BLEUS!”

“And whose house is this?”

“OURS

“Allons-y!”

GAME DAY

Portugal v France

Date: 10 July 2016

Venue: Stade de France, Paris

2-2

In the 86th minute of the final Euro showdown, the score was 2-2. Time was ticking by, but Marcus was calmer than the entire Stade de France. He stood by the sideline looking on at the game as fans stared nervously at him expecting to find the answer hidden somewhere in his smart, dark YSL suit. Ray had his fingers crossed tightly, willing that the boys quickly find a goal to avoid extra-time. Tired legs could lose an important game especially when all the substitutions were already made.

The entire Stade de France was quiet. Everyone was afraid to breathe. Portugal was awarded a free kick and Marcus clenches his fist, his jaw tightening. If Portugal manages to score and win the … Hugo Lloris caught the header and yelled at his mates as they launched a counter-attack.

The fans looked at the clock.

89th minute.

Martial raced into the opposition’s half dancing with the ball. He quickly laid it off to Griezmann, who twisted and turned, eventually passing to Matuidi, who launched it at goal, but Rui Patricio made the save giving Portugal a lifeline. Marcus gritted his teeth, Ray slapped his thigh and Lloris grunted in disappointment. They now had an additional four minutes to win the game otherwise, Coach will have a reprimanding tirade if they were to play extra-time. Portugal wasn’t letting up so easy, though. They played down the left and made an attempt at the French goal, which Lloris managed to tip over for a corner. The Portuguese corner came to nothing, and Payet led the French attack this time. Down the right-hand side he ran, laying the ball off to Martial, who quickly manages to find Giroud. The forward played a neat one-two with Griezmann, before finding the back of a stunned Patricio’s net.

2-3!

The Stade de France erupted. Ray and the substitutes screamed in joy and hugged each other. Everyone was reacting to Giroud’s sure winner except Marcus, who was waiting for the final whistle to sound. Two minutes later, the Stade de France was alive and buzzing with joy, happiness, and tears. Marcus smiled as he finally soaked in the beautiful atmosphere. They have done it. They have won Euro 2016 and it was going to be the most memorable tournament ever for the delighted French people. Not because of the struggles they had to overcome, but because of the smile on Coach’s face. It was the first time that France have seen him smile and it lit up the entire stadium. Who needed stadium lights when his smile was the biggest prize of the bittersweet victory?

The team mobbed the coach and hoisted him in the air. They yelled in happiness as he threatened to have their hides if they dropped him. A few seconds later, they hoisted a surprised Ray in the air also. France was going to have a memorable summer all thanks to their wonderful team.

 

NOTES:

^ I had written this particular victory ending with Germany in mind before the tournament. It was easy to switch Germany with Portugal for this chapter.

^ Once again, congrats Portugal, and Les Bleus, merci mille fois! This wasn’t your chapter to write this tournament, but it will come.

REMEMBER, THIS IS FICTION & IT IS IN NO WAY ASSOCIATED WITH LES BLEUS OR THE FFF.

Posted in Les Bleus! The Path

Quinze: This is our house!

GAME DAY

Germany v France

Date: 07 July 2016

Venue: Stade Velodrome, Marseilles

Hearts beat erratically out of chests as the French team walked out of the tunnel to whistles and cheers. This match was decisive and Coach had warned them that there was no room for error tonight because “You’ve spent two years preparing for this moment, and any result other than a victory is not acceptable.” The team was also told to play as if their lives depended on it. Ray was both anxious and nervous and he took to biting his fingernails during the speech. He knew what was at stake if Les Bleus made even one mistake.

“We’re going to do fine, Ray,” Giroud assured him. “Don’t worry,” he turned to Griezmann. “Our little Monsieur Plus will score and dedicate the goal to you. Right?”

Griezmann nodded, his head already on the game on hand. “Of course,”

Marcus patted Ray’s shoulder. “Don’t worry, bro, today, Die Mannschaft will die!” he playfully promised.

Mandanda pointed at him. “I see what you did there,”

When the coaches emerged, the German head coach, Joachim Löw walked over to greet the French coaches. Marcus scoffed and looked at the man’s offered hand. “If I were you, I’d keep my hand to myself.”

Löw only smiled and wished the French good luck to which Marcus harshly replied, “We don’t need it,”

Ray smiled at the German coach and politely replied, “Merci,”

His twin scoff. “Would it kill you not to be nice for once? Don’t bother. The only thing that man would be smelling tonight is defeat.”

The match started well for both sides, notably for the French. Griezmann fired away at the Germans forcing Manuel Neuer into a save. A few minutes after a nervy start from the Germans, they gained rhythm and control of the game forcing the French to retreat to their half. Marcus uttered a grunt when Lloris was forced to make a wonderful save to deny the Germans an early lead. He got up and started pacing by the sideline prompting the French fans to start singing the ‘La Marseillaise’ at the top of their lungs. Marcus cringed, wishing they’ll shut up so he could concentrate on the game at hand. Some of them were butchering the anthem and it … “Lazy bastard! My goodness, Giroud, what the heck was that?” he shouted. “You call that a run? Is that even a run? What in the world?” he threw his hands in the air and shook his head. “You won’t outrun Tom Cruise with a run like that. Heck, even I can run faster than that!””

“Germany is getting the better of France,” the stadium commentator relied to his faithful listeners. “They currently have the French pegged back in their own half as they boss possession. If France wants to prove their worth, this is definitely the match as many felt that the French have not been properly tested as yet. Their head coach is currently shaking his head at Giroud’s running blunder.”

Löw started asking more of his team when Griezmann hit the side netting. He was secretly delighted when Marcus slapped his thigh in frustration for the umpteenth time. He wondered what the Frenchman’s problem was anyway. Didn’t he know that Germany had a better winning advantage against the French on the big stage? He couldn’t wait to beat the French and send them packing.

“Germany is hogging ball possession as expected,” the commentator slightly chuckled. “But Marcus is not throwing in the white flag. He knew this would happen, and he changed tactics for tonight’s match knowing that France wouldn’t be seeing much of the ball. They’re currently playing on the counter attack and … is that a handball from Schweinsteiger?” the commentator’s tone excitedly rose when the referee waved a yellow card at the tall, lanky German midfielder. “PENALTY FOR FRANCE!!”

Ray and the benched players rose and walked to the sideline to support their team just as Griezmann stepped up to the spot. Marcus had his hands on his waist. The referee blows the whistle and the Frenchman calmly struck home sending the big German goalie the wrong way.

Löw grimaced.

Marcus whooped in joy.

Ray and the substitutes screamed.

The Stade Velodrome was rocking.

“FRANCE IS IN THE LEAD! Great penalty at the death from Griezmann. And he’s doing his now infamous ‘Hotline Bling’ celebration. You can’t hate him. I don’t care who you are, you just can’t hate him. Oh, now he’s rushing over to the sideline.”

Fans erupted as Griezmann rushed over to his mates and hugged Ray. “This one’s for you, coach!”

Giroud was grinning like an adorable fool. “I hope it calms you down until the next half,”

The pressure still mounted for the French in the second half, but they were crossing all their t’s and dotting all their i’s as far as Marcus was concerned. He stuck a stick of cinnamon chewing gum in his mouth and made a sour face as Koscielny’s header went wide. Hugo Lloris was an impenetrable wall keeping everything out and Ray thought it was his best match yet. The first half had belonged to the French captain.

“We’re heading into twenty remaining minutes plus additional stoppage time,” the commentator relay. “France is still in the lead. Who would’ve thought that a young man from Paris would’ve been leading this team to a possible victory against the Germans for the first time since 1958? The French coach is practically outwitting the experienced Löw. It’s as if Marcus has no respect for the ones before him! Disrespectful and shameless! Qualities that you won’t see coaches have lately.”

Ray was on his feet encouraging the fans to make more noise just as Marcus replaced Dimitri Payet for N’Golo Kanté. Someone threw a French flag at him and he had draped it over his shoulders like a cape as he raised his hands in the air.

“Get in boys!” Marcus clapped and shouted from the sideline infuriating the German boss. “This is our house! Show them the door.”

“The French coach is such a motivator by the sideline there! He’s in high spirits and why shouldn’t he be? His team is in front and they have one leg in the final courtesy a Griezmann penalty. Oh, oh! This looks like trouble for the Germans. Pogba’s lifted it in, away by Neuer, and MR.HOTLINEBLING STABS HOME FOR A 2-0 LEAD!! PARIS, THE FRENCH ARE COMING! THIS SURELY IS THE END FOR GERMANY!”

Marcus and Ray hugged each other as the team jumped on them. This goal was surely the path to the finals. It didn’t matter what Germany did after, they were done for. The goal lifted spirits around the stadium.

“ALLEZ LES BLEUS! ALLEZ LES BLEUS! ALLEZ LES BLEUS!” the French fans sang, drowning out the Germans and believing in their team more than ever.

Lloris made a clinical save in stoppage time denying Germany.

The French fans urged the referee to blow the whistle.

The dejected German fans looked glum and Marcus was certain the majority of them were now sorry for making fun of the French during pre-match. He didn’t care. This was what he was hired for. This was the moment he dreamt of. The moment he lived for and now that it was happening, he felt nothing but joy inside for the French nation who was still reeling from the terrorist attacks. At the beginning of the tournament, they had doubted his capabilities as the new coach, doubted his selection, and even poked fun at a few players. Now, they were united and the players were responsible for it. He hoped that France could bring home the victory on Sunday because the nation deserved to be happy after taking a harsh beating.

“THEY’RE THROUGH TO THE FINALS! FRANCE DID IT! Only time will tell if this new French generation will rule in years to come.”

The team celebrated in front of their fans in one united accord taking inspiration from the Icelandic ‘Viking Chant’. Marcus shook his head and turned to his brother. “This is going to bother a lot of people,”

Ray only shrugged. “They should be honored that we’re paying homage to them.”

Marcus had skipped the mixed zone after France defeated Germany and opted to sit it out in the locker room as he strategized for the final with his brother. Two days later, he found himself in front of the nosy journalists with Hugo Lloris and Bacary Sagna.

“We want to put a smile on the faces of the French people. We can’t change the past, but we are trying hard to build for the future.” Sagna explained.

Marcus gulped some water from the glass in front of him as his captain reminiscences about the tragic events last November. “We’ve had some very tough times this year, both with those tragic events (the terror attack) but also with events that have gone on off the field. But we’re even prouder to be on the pitch to feel the entire French population behind us, to feel this happiness which is shared between the players and the French people. That gives us strength and is lovely to see.

“The French people really needed to escape via this competition, and sport has this strength: to unite people. We are currently experiencing that. But we still have one step to take, the hardest one, but one’s that’s worth it.”

Sagna and Marcus nodded in approval.

“Are you ready to face Cristi…”

Marcus cut the offending journalist off. “We won’t be playing against Cristiano, but Portugal. And yes, we’re ready. The team is in the right mind and they have the right approach to the most important goal at hand. Tout vient à point à qui sait attendre.

“Joachim Löw thinks that the twenty-four teams were too many during this Euro. Do you agree with him?”

“Then he should’ve forfeited Germany before the tournament. He didn’t say this before he arrived so why bring it up now? Had he beaten us he would’ve never sung that tune. That is call BTLT.”

“BTLT?” someone asked from the front just as Lloris and Sagna looked at their coach in confusion.

Marcus nodded. “Bitter typical loser tantrum.”

“Löw said he expects France to win given that Portugal hasn’t convinced him in this tournament. Are you that confident?”

“On Sunday,” Marcus began. “Les Bleus is going to play in front of France and they’re going to do her proud. They’re going to give their all while wearing their hearts on the sleeve. They’re going to give the people of France something to remember in years to come. We don’t need luck. We have France with us.”

 

NOTES:

^ Antoine Griezmann is known as ‘Grizou’, ‘Grizi’ or simply ‘Anto’ to his French colleagues. Giroud decided he must add to it by calling him ‘our little Monsieur Plus’. I think I like this one better given the circumstances that Griezmann had to overcome to reach where he is now. Could you imagine that he was told he was too small to play football (just like Messi)? Look where he is now. Leading France to victory.

^ Prior to Germany v France, France’s only competitive finals win against Germany was a third-place play-off in 1958. The final score? 6-3.

^ Snippets of Lloris and Sagna’s words of the interview was taken via telegraph.co.uk.

^ Tout vient à point à qui sait attendre – All things come to those who wait (French)

^ ANTOINE GRIEZMANN! You can’t hate him. Watch clips of his wonderful performance against Germany here:

REMEMBER, THIS IS FICTION & IT IS IN NO WAY ASSOCIATED WITH LES BLEUS OR THE FFF.

Posted in Les Bleus! The Path

Quatorze: The Umtiti Effect

“If the English lose, they’ll blame the pitch,” Marcus joked as he sat in front of the TV watching England take on Iceland in the round of sixteen. “Not that I care, but I owe them a match.”

“And I think the English are not looking forward to it, given that you said you’ll be giving your interview in French last November had you touch the English soil.” Olivier Giroud expressed, his eyes glued to the screen. Wayne Rooney had scored the only goal thus far, a penalty.

Marcus shrugged. “You don’t see the English coming to France and giving their interviews in French.”

“Good point!” Sagna exclaimed.

Ray was taking tactical notes on his Genius tablet. “I don’t think England will win this match, though,” he volunteered.

Every man turned to him, surprised.

“The English might be in the lead right now via a Rooney penalty, but according to my tactical approach, the English would fail to deal with the long balls that the Icelanders are throwing their way. They’ll fight until the end, but it’ll be in vain. When Iceland secure the winning goal, they’ll throw everything they have into winning the game, tired and all. I say they win 2-1.”

Pogba looked at Coach, who was gaping at his twin. “Given your expression, I think I have my answer to the question I was going to ask.” He turned back to the game just as Iceland equalized.

“Well, that was rather disappointing,” Marcus grumbled and tucked his feet up on the sofa, the movement causing his sweats to roll up a bit and showcasing a glimpse of the small Eiffel Tower tattoo that was inked above his right ankle. “I hope you have the tactical solution to carry us to the final.” Ray glared causing his brother to laugh. “Ray, you can’t look angry, you only manage to look like a pouting kitten.”

“A cute one at that too,” Griezmann taunted playfully.

Giroud raised his hand. “I second that,”

“GOAL! ICELAND!” the TV commentator screamed. “THIS IS UNBELIEVABLE!”

Ray shrugged when several eyes locked on his form. “We still have another forty-five minutes of action, guys.”

The game ended in a shocking 2-1 victory for Iceland.

A few days later, the team gathered in front of the television to watch Germany v Italy. They asked Ray his predictions to which the joint coach replied, “It’s going to be a long match. It’ll be 1-1 at full-time, there’ll be extra time and penalties.”

“And who is going to win?” Jallet curiously asked.

“Based on stats, Germany always prevails over Italy, but the Italians are equally good on penalty taking.” Ray rattled off. “I’ll have to go with Germany.”

“I hope the Italians win,” Marcus voiced his choice. “For I won’t be shaking that man’s hand in the semis.” He made a disgusted face as the cameras panned in on the German coach. “I hope he doesn’t scratch himself in this match.”

The Italians matched the Germans strength for strength, but it was not enough for either team at full-time. No goals were scored during extra-time and when Germany won on penalties, Marcus scoffed. “Come on! The Italians are a waste of time and should be banned from playing football. I guess we’ll have to teach them how to beat the current world champions.”

“Coach, we still have to face Iceland,” Anthony Martial softly replied.

Marcus shrugged. “And it’s going to be your job to win convincingly against the Icelanders and send a message to the Germans that we’re coming.”

GAME DAY

France v Iceland

Date: 03 July 2016

Venue: Stade de France, Paris

Given that Iceland shocked England in the round of sixteen, many pundits threw their support behind the Icelanders hoping that they’ll silence the French as they did the English. Marcus did not mind at all. In fact, he was delighted that football fanatics were still doubting his team’s capabilities.

“If we lose, they’ll say we were never strong enough for this tournament and we had easy teams in the group stage hence the reason why we reached this far. And if we win, which I know we would, they’ll say we’ve not been properly tested.” Marcus looked at each individual as he addressed them in the locker room prior to kick-off. “It doesn’t matter what we do, we cannot win in the critics’ eyes. I prefer to be disliked than to be loved by hypocrites, so don’t listen to the doubters, listen to your heart and manifest your desires in front of Paris tonight.

“We’re Les Bleus and we’re not going to let outsiders come here and steal our joy, our hopes, our desires, our triumph. We’re Les Bleus and we’re going to have the last word when it comes to ruling the tournament. We’re Les Bleus and this is our house. No one is going to kick us out of our very own home. So, let’s go out there and win.”

Ray heard sniffling and turned to look at Giroud. “Ollie, are you crying?”

Giroud rubbed his eyes quickly when Mandanda ribbed him gently in the side. “No, I’m not. Something got in my eye.”

“Uh huh,” Marcus didn’t smile, but the boys heard it in his voice.

“It’s just that,” Giroud pretended to blow his nose in a napkin Griezmann had playfully thrown at him. “Coach can be motivating when he’s up to it.”

Marcus folded his arms. “Macarons are on the way courtesy Ladurée, but if you don’t play a good game tonight, I’ll enjoy them for you.”

Evra smacked his lips. He could already taste the scrumptious sweet goodness of the treat. “Even if we win?”

“Even if you win,” Marcus agreed. “Now, let’s go out there and show the world who we truly are.”

“ALLEZ LES BLEUS!!”

The evening was cold and rainy when the referee blew the whistle for kick-off. Les Bleus immediately went to work and Marcus jokingly told the bench that they were working for the macarons. The Coach employed a tactical approach to deal with the long balls from the oppositions and having Samuel Umtiti on the pitch reduced the pressure at the back. Iceland seemed shaky and nervous at times, playing without real concentration for they weren’t expecting an in-form French. They were caught off-guard and were eager to score the first goal. But it was Les Bleus who will strike goal first when Blaise Matuidi played a beautiful ball over the top for Olivier Giroud, who left-footed it past Halldórsson for the opener. The forward then slides on his knees and points to the heavens celebrating the goal as ecstatic teammates ran over to congratulate him. Marcus only yelled ‘OUI!’ in happiness.

Les Bleus continue to run rampant, unpicking Iceland’s defense, and eight minutes after the first goal was scored, Griezmann lashes a ball into the area from a corner, Pogba outjumps every man and heads in for a 2-0 lead. The Stade de France reacted with passionate screams and cheers.

“Meanwhile, the English are sitting in front of their TVs hoping that we lose so they won’t look bad,” Marcus sneered as he clapped next to his brother. “Had they played better against an organized Nordic team, then they would’ve been playing and losing against us.” He scoffed when Griezmann attempted a shot at goal instead of passing to a teammate who was even closer to goal than he was. “That little twerp could be selfish at times. I have to talk to him about that.”

Three minutes before half-time, Giroud knocks down a ball for Griezmann, who quickly lays it off for Payet and BAM! Payet slots home the third goal with a wicked left foot. Marcus jumped up from the bench and pumped his fists in the air. He had barely sat down when Pogba played a fine ball up the field. Giroud deliberately allowed the ball to run through his legs allowing Griezmann to cheekily chip the goalie for the fourth goal before half-time. Once again, the Stade de France erupted. The twins’ joy was uncontainable in the dug-out. Griezmann has just scored the tournament’s 100th goal and France have just made history by becoming the first team to score four goals in the first half of the Euro.

“We sexy no?” Ray grinned at his twin as they walked into the tunnel at half-time.

Marcus nodded. “The boys really want their macarons,” he was pleased with the team’s first half performance and he told them so in the locker room. “Giroud, you’re on a yellow card. Be careful out there for I want you available for semis if we go through.”

“Coach, we’re up 4-0. We won’t let you down.” Griezmann promised.

But the team went to sleep in the second half, allowing Iceland to gain momentum. They snatched a goal back in the 56th minute through Sigthórsson and Marcus slapped his thigh in frustration. However, he was yelling in delight once again two minutes later when Payet played a ridiculous ball into the area and Giroud rose, met it head on and tucked the wicked header away for a 5-1 lead.

The game eventually ended in a 5-2 victory for the French and Marcus was still pumped up when TF1 shoved a mic in his face.

“I want to commend both fans. They were well-behaved and respected each other,” Marcus ran a hand through his wavy red hair. “We were slick and fluid in the first half, but we lacked concentration in the second. Overall, I think we played great. I am especially happy for the Man of the Match (Giroud) and I hope he can maintain this form in the next match.

“And I’m pleased we have the best midfielder (Pogba) in the world.”

The journalist nodded in agreement. “This match is France’s highest scoring in the tournament. Also, this is the first time France has scored four goals in the first half.”

Marcus chuckled. “It’s the Umtiti effect,”

“Are you excited to see him take off at FC Barcelona?”

“I don’t care about Barcelona,”

“Any last thoughts?”

“The English might have invented football as they claimed, but we’re showing them how to play the game. I won’t put anything past the sneaky Germans, but we’re ready to put our hearts on a sleeve for France. I have a great team and I believe in them.”

 

NOTES:

^ If the Irish had the most beloved fans at the tournament, Iceland was the most beloved underdogs. I rooted for them from the get-go and when it seems like everyone else was writing them off as a ‘small team with a small mentality who won’t do anything special in this tournament,’ I supported them to stun the doubters. I also think they would benefit the most when it comes to tourism this summer because people who haven’t heard of or dismissed the beauty of Iceland wouldn’t think twice about visiting now. Iceland is on my travel goal list.

^ It doesn’t matter what happens today for I’ve written the ending with one thing in mind for this fiction: victory.

^ Ray’s Germany-Italy predictions were actually my own although I had Italy at 5-3 on penalties.

REMEMBER, THIS IS FICTION & IT IS IN NO WAY ASSOCIATED WITH LES BLEUS OR THE FFF.

Posted in Les Bleus! The Path

Treize: The Irish luck runs out

“Mr. da Díxon, what do you make of the Irish fans in France?”

Marcus stopped sipping from the glass of water. “They seem to be nice blokes, but their happy drunken singing stops here. I don’t think I can take any more of standing up or sitting down for the French police.”

“So you’re not a fan of the Irish fans?”

“Can we talk about the game at hand?”

Hugo Lloris took most of the questions that Coach permitted. He talked of the brilliant atmosphere that the Irish brought to France, but “I hope for a French win tomorrow,” and “we have to continue to work hard,”

“Do you think the Irish are gunning for revenge?”

Marcus’s blue eyes fiercely landed on the journalist. “I don’t know about the Irish gunning for revenge, but I do know that they’re going to go all out. In case you haven’t noticed, Thierry Henry is not a player on this present team. My team is full of honest players and they’re going out there to do their best tomorrow.” He raised to his full height, his captain following. “The nerve of you to accuse my players of cheating!” he walked out another conference leaving journalists frustrated yet again for asking the wrong question.

GAME DAY

France v Republic of Ireland

Date: 26 June 2016

Venue: Parc Olympique Lyonnais, Lyon

The French coach sported a fashionable blue scarf which was elegantly wrapped over a tight-fitted shirt and well-tailored pants, much to the delight of the fashion crazed fans – notably the females – present at the Parc Olympique this afternoon. His twin attired in a navy blue turtleneck sweater and grey pants.

The identical duo was ready for action.

“The twins are it again with their fashion choices!” crowed the stadium commentator. “But can their fashion choices save tonight?”

Marcus took a seat in the dug-out beside his twin but was soon on his feet when less than a minute in, the referee whistled for an Irish penalty courtesy Pogba. This infuriated Marcus to the core and he stomped his left foot on the ground when the Irish converted for a one-nil lead giving their fans something to believe in. In fact, when the Irish started singing ‘We’re going to beat the French,’ Marcus wanted to strangle every single one of them.

“ALLEZ!” he shouted when Payet prepared to take the 3rd corner. “How many corners do you need to get it right? How many?” when Giroud started arguing with the Italian referee, Marcus shouted at him, “Giroud, if you get yellow-carded in this game, I’m leaving you out of the squad for the rest of the tournament!”

Twenty minutes went by with the Irish defending their one-nil lead against the French. When Marcus had enough, he walked over to the dugout, grabbed his Les Bleus discarded sweater and beat it against the bench in a rage causing an uproar from the stadium. Ray quickly jumped up, placed his hand on Marcus’s back and whispered something inaudible to which Marcus replied, “They’re falling down like a sack of Irish potatoes. We did not come here for this kind of game.”

Over on ESPN, the studio commentators showed footage of Marcus beating on the dugout bench. “I wouldn’t want to be team France in the locker room at half-time.”

At half-time, the team had to face a steaming coach, who was squeezing the electronic life out of a brand new Samsung tablet. Hugo Lloris, Patrice Evra, and Ray had their motivational talks encouraging the team to go out in the second half and fight back because it was far from over but Marcus took a different approach.

“The Irish had their so-call little revenge. Playtime is over. Go out there and show them that this is not the team that Thierry Henry was on. This team is full of honest winners. Go back out there and tear their hides apart!”

Pogba and Griezmann made light of the situation by standing and saluting their head coach. “Sir, yes sir!”

Marcus dismissed them with a flick of his wrist.

When France came out in the second half, their fans were in awe of their different attitude in approaching the game. They looked hungry and ready to do whatever it took to win and move on to the next round. They didn’t have to wait long when Sagna crossed from the right and Griezmann made no mistake planting a firm header at the back of a stunned Rudolph’s net sending the French fans wild. Marcus clapped his hands as the boys celebrated the equalizer, urging them to “Come on! Come on! We still have work to do.” Three minutes later, Olivier Giroud draws two defenders away from the action, then heads a perfect ball into the path of an onrushing Griezmann, who fired home to give France a 2-1 lead.

“YES!” Marcus shouted. “YES! YES! YES!” he pumped his fist in the air loving that his boys were now playing with pure confidence. A few minutes later, Griezmann was at it again. He was through on goal when Duffy managed to illegally stop him, the Irish man earning a red card for his effort in the process. Coman crossed a sweet pass into the area, but not one of his teammates was in the area to get on the end of it and it angered Marcus. “SOMEONE SHOULD’VE BEEN ON THE END OF THAT!” he shouted. A few of the players threw grins his way. Coach could be a warrior at times. They had this.

After the 2-1 victory, the joint coach was asked a few questions.

“Prior to the match, did you feel that the Irish were gunning for revenge?”

Ray gives a Gallic shrug. “I don’t think so, but in 2009, we played like feet. When Thierry scored with his hand I was disappointed for the Irish. However, I am happy that tonight this team fought hard to turn the game around and win it.”

“Will you miss the Irish fans?”

“Yes,” Ray chuckled. “But we’re already looking forward to the next match.”

“Are you set for a final?”

“I most definitely hope so, but we’re taking it one match at a time. I think the boys can write a few more pages in the history book. That’s what it’s about. Writing, not recreating history.”

The French journalist smiled. “Always a pleasure, Monsieur da Díxon. All the bets for the rest of the tournament.”

“Merci,”

 

NOTES:

^ The Irish fans were some of the best behaved at the Euro tournament this year. They were also the most beloved.

^ Dimitri Payet has been making waves at the tournament. When no one believed in Payet, I did. When everyone chose the likes of Griezmann and Pogba to shine at the tournament, I stuck with Payet as our playmaker.

^ feet is a French expression for rubbish

REMEMBER, THIS IS FICTION & IT IS IN NO WAY ASSOCIATED WITH LES BLEUS OR THE FFF.

Posted in Les Bleus! The Path

Douze: “I’ll never shake Löw’s hand,”

“Comment allez-vous aujourd’hui?” Antoine cheerily asked as he passed the joint coach in the hall.

Ray pulled his eyes away from the tablet in his hand to look at the player. “Je vais bien,” he returned his eyes to the screen as he clicked upload on a video. “What about you? Aren’t you going to watch the game?”

“About to. We were wondering if you and Coach will like to watch it with us.”

“I’ll love to, but I have no idea what Marc is up to,”

Said Marcus was snacking on a treat when he walked down the empty hall a few minutes later wondering where everyone was. He found his answer when he heard someone yell “EEEWWWWW!!” in disgust from the open door of Paul Pogba’s room. He walked in just in time to see the German coach scratching himself in the game against Ukraine and appearing to smell his hand. “And that’s why I’ll never shake Löw’s hand,” he coolly said as he stuck a spoon in the tub of honey almond ice cream and brought it to his mouth.

Some of the players turned in his direction. They were sprawl out on the bed and on the floor watching the game. When France played the friendly against Germany last year, some people were left astonished as to why the French coach refused to shake hands with the German coach. Marcus had cheekily replied, “Some habits are hard to die,” referring to Joachim Löw’s personal hygiene behavior in front of cameras.

Ray shrugged. “Maybe that’s the secret to Germany’s winning success,”

Marcus nodded. “Maybe, but I hope they leave by the quarters because I won’t be shaking that man’s hand in the semis.”

And with that, he was gone.

“Does he ever smile at all?” Jallet asked out of the blue.

Ray grinned. “If you win the Euro you’ll see his real smile.”

A feigned gasp came from Giroud. “He actually has a real smile?”

“Yes, that will be the one where the skin crinkles around his eyes,”

The game against Albania proved to be another late winner for the French, but Marcus was not pleased. He wanted goals in the first half, but they just weren’t coming. His decision for starting Pogba and Griezmann on the bench came under scrutiny in the global media, but he had warned the team that “there are no egos on my team. If I leave you out, I don’t want anyone questioning my decision because I won’t explain myself not even if you go to the media. You’re here to win games and give the French something to believe in.”

Ray read some comments online about the match which suggested that Albania played better than France and should’ve at least won a point causing Marcus to erupt. “A point? What game were they watching? Not the same game! The Albanians did nothing impressive. They were hoping for a draw. People are just making things up because they don’t like the French.”

Marcus watched a few games on the downtime and he was left unimpressed with Sweden and Portugal. “The pundits say that Zlatan and Ronaldo are trying to do too much,” he confided to his twin as they ate a late dinner. “Maybe I need glasses because I don’t see them doing much. I told them that Zlatan is a massive fraud. He won’t last long in the Euro.”

Ray had absentmindedly nodded in response as he stuffed his mouth with dipped chocolate strawberries.

“I’m just glad they’re not French,” Marcus dryly muttered.

When the French faced Switzerland in their last group match, Marcus called it a boring scoreless draw and asked more of his team. Sweden left the tournament after the group stage proving Marcus’s theory of Zlatan not living up to his name in big tournaments and the journalists stopped asking questions about the issue not wanting to prove the French coach right. Instead, they chose to bring up the brawls between the English, Russian, and local Marseille fans.

“I am not surprised at the English behavior; given that they normally pull these kinds of stunts in Spain. They can’t seem to hold their liquor, yet they abuse the bottle. We’re under security watch and these fools (English, Russians, and local French fans) are wasting security. I own England a match and I’ll love to draw them for quarters, but I hope they go home early and take their rowdy fans with them.”

An English reporter bristled. “Are you saying that the English aren’t good enough to make the quarter-finals?”

“I am not saying that, given that England is brimming with wonderful young talent which Mr. Hodgson can’t seem to handle, but with the Russians on the heel of leaving, their hooligans will be gone too and we still have the English hooligans to deal with. I want the rest of the tournament to be quiet and save for the others.”

“What about the French hooligans?”

“Unfortunately, they live here and we can’t send them out.”

 

NOTES:

^ Comment allez-vous aujourd’hui? – How are you today? (French)

^ Je vais bien – I’m fine (French)

REMEMBER, THIS IS FICTION & IT IS IN NO WAY ASSOCIATED WITH LES BLEUS OR THE FFF.

Posted in Les Bleus! The Path

Onze: Euro, set, go!

France v Romania edit 2

Today’s training session was conducted by Ray. He made the team practice stealing the ball, destabilizing, pressing and scoring. Every few minutes or so, Marcus would shout at the team for not doing something right or urge them to press up the field. Tomorrow was the opener of the Euro 2016 tournament and Coach wanted everything done right.

“Pass the damn ball!” Giroud screamed at Gignac, who was deliberately running with it towards goal. “Dédé! Don’t be selfish!”

But Gignac ignored Giroud and tried his luck at shooting. Lloris was ready and he quickly pounced on it causing Gignac to kick the grass. Giroud laughed, but Marcus was not laughing. “Is this how you plan on winning against Romania?” he asked.

“Coach, we were just having a little fun,”

“Playtime is over, Giroud,”

“Yes, but Lloris was in goal. It’s unfair when he’s in goal.”

Marcus frowned and turned to Gignac. “The next time a teammate screams at you to pass the damn ball, you pass the damn ball to him because he is open.” He then begrudgingly turned his tone down. “My wife says you’re doing a great job as the first French player in the Liga Mix. Being Mexican herself, she supports Tigres and because of you, a lot of Mexicans now know what the Ligue 1 is.”

Gignac’s eyes lit up. “Thanks, Coach,”

“Yeah, yeah,” Marcus replied and made a note on his tablet. He then made the team practice taking penalties. “Whoever scores the most penalties will take the penalty tomorrow if there’s ever one. Mandanda, you’re up.”

The boys made it competitive, but Antoine scored three, the most and Marcus awarded him first choice. Gignac was the runner-up.

“I think in French, but I get angry in Spanish,” Antoine was saying to his good pal, Pogba as they headed to the locker room after practice. “I don’t know why.”

Behind them, Marcus scoffed. “I don’t care if you play in Spain during club season; you better think in French and get angry in French out on the field.”

Antoine turned and teasingly saluted him. “Sir, yes sir!”

When everyone was settled in the locker room, Marcus took the opportunity to address his team. “I was going to leave this until the game tomorrow, but I need to do this now.” The players realized Coach was going to give THE Euro speech and gave him their rapt attention. “We are not favorites. We are someone’s opponents and we need to respect this. It’ll be disrespectful to think otherwise. To think that just because we’re the hosts we have a slight advantage over the other teams. We do not. We’re Les Bleus and we’re going to work hard just like everyone else is going to in the group stage. This is our time to give back to the country. Give them a reason to cheer for you. Give them a reason to hope, a reason to smile, a reason to hold their heads up high.

“Life is short, but football careers are even shorter. Make your impact and make this Euro count.”

Applause followed the speech. Giroud whistled, “We’re going to win this Euro for you, Coach.”

“Win it for the country. Win it for the fans and give them something to talk about, not only for the rest of the year but in years to come.” Marcus didn’t smile, but the warmth in his voice was enough to keep the vibes going in the locker room. “I have to be at the presser in five. Lloris, are you ready?”

GAME DAY

France v Romania

Date: 10 June 2016

Venue: Stade de France, Paris

The atmosphere was ripe with anticipation. A sea of blue, white and red painted faces waved their national flag proudly and sang to the top of their lungs trying to outdo the Romanian fans. The opening ceremony featured the likes of David Guetta and Zara Larsson singing the official tournament song “This One’s For You” which Marcus originally thought was a bunch of hogwash. When the identical coaches walked out, the commentators immediately got a topic to talk about. Marcus neatly attired in a royal blue jacket, soft black pants and dress shoes. His brother wore a tricolor scarf inside his glorious blue jacket, white pants, and red dress shoes looking like a walking French flag. The Les Bleus fans wildly cheered them on as the twins acknowledged them, well; Ray acknowledged them while Marcus shook hands with the Romanian coach. The coaches then walked out on the pitch to inspect it.

“There’s a debate on Twitter over who the well-dressed coach is,” the commentator with the English accent started. “And guess who the top two is? The French duo of Les Bleus. Fans can’t decide who the better dresser is. Who do you think is the better dresser, Phil?”

Phil chuckled. “I don’t know. I can’t even tell them apart,” he joked. “But they’re both classy,”

“Marcus actually scares journalists at the pressers, though. They were afraid to ask the wrong questions last evening.” The English-accented commentator laughed. “The French have their hands full with this one.”

“Sam, I wouldn’t dare ask the French coach the wrong questions. He can be terrifying. I’ve listened to some of his pressers and he is open, honest, and blunt.”

“If he can get angry during friendlies then imagine how angry he’s going to be tonight,”

“It’s not anger, its passion. He has a winning mentality and he is a no-nonsense coach, but is this France enough to progress into the round of sixteen and to eventually go on and win the tournament?”

“Only time will tell, Phil. Only time will tell,”

“What about Ray?”

“If Marcus is the bad cop, then Ray is the good one. He seems calm, patient, kind. Has a knockout for a wife too! The teams are walking out of the tunnel.”

When the teams assembled on the pitch, everyone stood for the Romanian anthem. When it was the French’s turn, the Stade de France gave a resounding rendition of the “La Marseillaise” with Marcus singing proudly at the top of his voice. “Go get em!” Ray shouted as he took his seat in the dugout next to the twin, who was impatient for the match to begin. Super Victor, the tournament mascot came in his line of sight and Marcus scoffed at the man child mascot shooing him off. “Get gone! Can’t you see the game is about to begin? Shoo! Stupid mascot!”

Super Victor hung his head and dejectedly walked into the tunnel.

The referee blew the whistle to kick off Euro 2016 rendering the French bench silent. The first shot of the game came from Romania bringing a frown to Marcus’ face. Hugo Lloris was there to make the save, but the French didn’t look good in opening minutes. They looked shaky and nervous. They eventually settled into the rhythm of the game, but Marcus was still displeased by the lack of concentration. Giroud had two chances to get it right and Griezmann was unlucky to score. By the time the referee blew the whistle on a scoreless halftime, Marcus was fuming. He kicked the dugout in frustration and followed the team in the tunnel.

“What was that out there?” Marcus raged. “You’re unfocused, the back looks messy, and the Romanians almost scored. I want better in the second half. I want you to show the critics what you’re capable of.”

France started the second half with a sense of urgency that eventually paid off in the 57th minute.

Payet cuts onto his left foot, he curls a teasing cross into the box. Giroud gets to the ball ahead of the goalkeeper and it’s a goal! The Stade de France goes wild as Olivier Giroud scores the first goal of Euro 2016, putting France in the driving seat. Was there any doubt, Phil?”

Phil laughed. “The big man delivers and their coach looks pleased with it, but it was all Payet.”

Several minutes later, Patrice Evra gives a penalty away causing Marcus to slam his water bottle to the ground. He watched as Stancu steps up, sends Lloris the wrong way, and coldly buries the penalty. “Damn it, Patrice!” he grabbed Ray’s water bottle and threw it to the ground causing water to splash on his shoes.

“Hey,” Ray protested. “I was drinking that!”

Marcus stood and in one stride, he was standing by the sideline, yelling and shouting at his team to “Score the next goal!” and prompting the Stade de France to cheer their team on. He grumbled as he made a double substitution. The super duo, Pogba, and Griezmann made way for Kingsley and Martial. By the time the 80th minute rolled around, Marcus was still fuming at the 1-1 draw. This was not how he foresaw France kicking off their tournament. His gloomy thoughts evaporated into thin air when Payet scored an unstoppable screamer.

“OUI PAYET!” Ray screamed from the bench and pumped his fist into the air just as the diminutive midfielder posing as a forward rushed to celebrate with his mates, something Marcus thought outrageous. He understood the emotions running through the team, but now was not the time to celebrate as if they had won the tournament. Two minutes later, he put Sissoko in and took Payet out. Overwhelmed by the emotion of his personal journey, Payet broke down in tears and walked straight into a waiting Ray’s arms.

“What a goal!” Phil commentated. “Payet is undoubtedly the man of the match. He set Giroud up for the first goal and scored the winner himself. Marcus didn’t look too pleased with the celebrations, though.”

Sam chuckled. “I think I understand why, but it’s France two, Romania one. There you have it, folks.”

After the match, Man of the Match Payet told reporters, “If someone had told me it would have gone like that I wouldn’t have believed it. This goal gives us the three points and is very important. It took us some time to get into the match, and that was surely down to our emotions. Playing in front of my family, who came from Réunion, gave me strength. I am here to enjoy myself.”

Back in the locker room, Marcus congratulated the team for fighting hard to win the match, but “Patrice, you near give me a heart attack, and Lloris, you need to work on your penalties. For an experienced goalie, you sometimes take penalties like an old man.” Lloris colored red but said nothing as some of the boys chuckled. “We still have a lot of ground to cover. Good job in making the world discard you as favorites.” He sarcastically concluded and left the team to their own devices. He hoped their match against Albania was going to be better, but after witnessing their opening display earlier, Marcus knew he had his work cut out for him.

 

NOTES:

^ I don’t pay attention to the commentators during football games anymore because some are bitter or too bias, so I made my commentators interesting and gave them names.

^ Réunion is an island in the Indian Ocean, that is east of Madagascar, and is a region of France.

REMEMBER, THIS IS FICTION & IT IS IN NO WAY ASSOCIATED WITH LES BLEUS OR THE FFF.

Posted in Les Bleus! The Path

Dix: Final preparations

 :

Marcus nastily scowled at the team’s physician when he was informed of yet another injury within the camp. This time, it was Lass Diarra. The coach reluctantly dismissed Diarra and retired to his room to have a meeting with the twin. Replacing Diarra was no easy task, but in the end, they decided on Morgan Schneiderlin. Ray made the call and Morgan was most delightful when he was told to join the team in Austria as soon as possible. He arrived the very next day with the biggest smile on his face.

Amid the little activities and training, the team had their official photo taken something which displeased Marcus because he wanted to take it back in Nantes. He didn’t dwell on it for long because Karim Benzema went to Marca accusing him of bowing to racist pressure akin to Euro selection. Ray angrily shook his head at Benzema’s implement and blamed Eric Cantona for starting the drama. Marcus didn’t take too kindly to it and when he was seated at a press conference prior to France’s last friendly against Scotland before the big opening game on June 10th, he didn’t hold back.

“Benzema thinks you should’ve taken him to the Euro base on his Champions League campaign. Do you agree?”

Marcus rested his hands on the desk. “First, congratulations Benzema, but this is the real world and unfortunately, things don’t work like that here. Had Benzema been mature and a true sportsman, he wouldn’t be accusing me of bowing to racist pressure. He would be telling his fanboys and fangirls to throw their support behind the team no matter what and to stop booing players. His accusations show how little he has grown in his twenty-eight years on this earth. Playing the race card shows real maturity.”

Marca also says…”

Marcus cut the journalist off. “I know what Marca said, I read the article. Marca is a nosy paper. They’re always looking to start something that isn’t there. Benzema would know. He plays for their favorite team. We made this decision given our history of internal strife at previous tournaments. This was the safest choice to make.”

Marcus continued to entertain light banter. “I know there are people who are happy that he isn’t playing because he doesn’t have a French name or he don’t doesn’t sing the anthem but was that any worries when I made him my first choice striker? In 2008, Benzema made a statement and I quote: “Algeria is my country. France is just a sporting choice.” Did we kick him to the curb then? Benzema has a child’s mentality. He goes on and on about winning titles and his 40 million social media fans, but it isn’t everything when you lack humility. Lloris could probably teach him some of that.

“I don’t think Benzema will like me when I’m angry. He’s hiding behind papers and smearing false accusations concerning his selection on the team. I’ll like him to grow a pair and come say that to my face. I don’t see Valbuena whining about not being chosen!”

Murmuring went around the conference room before another question was asked. “How is Giroud holding up?”

“Is he sick?” Marcus retorted.

The red-faced woman blanched. “I was talking about the boos,

“Yes, but he isn’t sick. There is no need for him to hold up. He is a professional player through and through. We are with Ollie one hundred percent. If the fans think booing him will destroy his confidence, they’re wrong. It’s only making him stronger. Boo boys will get something to boo about at the Euro. They tend to forget that Giroud originally came from the French national league. He had to work his way to the top. How many players from the tier of French football can claim to reach the level he has reached? His only problem is trying too hard to live up to the likes of Trezeguet, Henry, and Van Persie at Arsenal.

“There was a moron at the Cameroon game with a banner praying for Giroud to get injured. He must be really stupid. I hope he had injured himself on the way out of the game.”

“How has the team reacted to Benzema’s claims?”

Marcus grinned. “They think he is nuts. Some are unhappy and disgusted, but it’s not going to put a damper on our campaign. Let Cantona and Benzema play their childish games. Cantona has ADD so he’s getting what he actually wants from this. I’m the one that’s actually making him quite popular and not the other way around.”

And with that statement, the French coach lived up to his outrageous quotes during interviews that day.

Holland EdF June 2016

Olivier Giroud was buzzing after the game against Scotland. France won 3-0 and he scored a brace. Everyone congratulated him, but it was his Coach who said it best when he told the media, “Did you see Giroud’s brace? Well, eat that,” and walked off without waiting to be interviewed.

“That was one boring match!” Marcus told the team afterwards in the locker room. “The most important thing was the victory, but I wasn’t moved or excited. You can’t score three goals in the first half and don’t score any in the second half. The way Neymar looks at Messi like a schoolgirl with her first crush, I want you to do the same with the ball.” Some of the players snickered, but Coach did not. “You have a day off tomorrow so make use of it. “

Adil Rami smiled and reached for his phone when Coach left the locker room. “I’m going to tell Sidonie to come visit,” he stopped smiling when he saw Evra skeptically looking at him. “What? Why are you looking at me like that for?”

“Did you ask the man if you could invite your girlfriend here?”

“I don’t think it’ll be a problem,” Ray said as he entered the locker room with a bouquet of red and yellow roses.

Pogba perked up. “Is it your birthday or something?”

“No, my birthday has already passed,” Ray absentmindedly said, his mind elsewhere even as he looked around the room.

“Why didn’t you tell us!”

Ray waved a hand in dismissal. “We had no games in April and it was no big deal.”

Griezmann pointed at the roses. “So what’s the occasion?”

“A girl gave them to me,” Ray waved the bouquet about and grinned. “She asked me out too, but I told her I’m already taken,”

“You’re married?” Evra asked.

Ray held up his right hand and displayed a gold band on his fourth finger. “As the ring sayeth,” he rested the flowers on the table as some of the younger ones murmured about never noticing the ring. “We just got word that the President of the Republic wishes to dine with us tomorrow evening.”

A ripple of excitement went through the players.

“Rami, you can still invite Sidonie though. As a matter of fact, why don’t you all invite your travelling loved ones to spend the morning here at Clairefontaine before dinner with the President? We’ll make it a family day.”

The next morning, wives, girlfriends, and children of the French footballers descended upon Clairefontaine. The atmosphere was ripe with chatter and laughter, but a little brown-haired girl was stealing the show all by herself. She went around introducing herself to all the players and by the time she latched onto N’Golo Kanté calling him her boyfriend for the day, everyone knew the little cutie was Ashley da Díxon, daughter of Ray.

Pogba turned to Giroud and Digne. “That means…”

“Her mother’s here!” Digne exclaimed.

Jallet folded his arms. “What is your problem with Ray’s wife? You three have been bantering about her ever since that training session.”

“Yeah, please enlighten us,” Griezmann intervened. “Have you never seen a woman before?”

“That is not the point,” Giroud defiantly puffed out his chest. “If you had seen the photo you too would’ve thought she was an illusion. However, Ray said she is real.”

“Then let’s go find Ray so we can put your doubts to bed,” Jallet started for the stairs just as Marcus, a Spanish woman and a girl and boy twin pair walked out into the stinging sun. They were communicating in Spanish and had Marcus not have a hand resting lovingly on the woman’s back, the boys would’ve assumed otherwise. Bodacious midnight black hair cascaded down her back in thick waves, framing her round rosy cheeks and full lips where they curled into a smile for her husband who was gazing lovingly into her eyes. When she directed her gaze to their children, thick, long lashes highlighted her round bright eyes the color of honey. She wore jeans and a white off-the-shoulder blouse which fell gently over her slightly swollen stomach which Marcus was gently rubbing.

The boys awkwardly looked at each other thinking they’ve intruded on an intimate moment, but at the same time, it was nice to see the Coach in this light other than the stern military man that he was.

“Where are you boys off to?” Marcus asked, breaking into their thoughts. Just as Jallet open his mouth, Marcus held up a hand. “Wait, don’t tell me because I don’t want to know. This is my wife, Jessicia,”

“Hello, Jessicia!” the boys echoed warmly. “It’s nice to meet you,”

Jessicia smiled pleasantly and shook their hands in turn. Marcus then whisked his wife and children away leaving the boys up to their own device. “I bet they’re looking for Ray,” he shook his head as his wife looked at him. “Trust me, they’re always looking for Ray.” He chuckled and headed in the direction of the field where other families were mixing and mingling.

“Should we be even knocking on his door?” Griezmann asked suddenly. “What if he and the wife…” he allowed the rest of his thoughts to trail off, but it was enough to stop the others in their tracks.

“Um, maybe we should head back out there,” Giroud pointed and about turned coming face to face with a ravishing beauty. His unmanly squeal caused the woman and his mates to laugh. He dramatically placed a hand over his heart and let out a breath. “This is not funny and if word gets out I’m going to hold all of you accountable!”

The exotic woman shrugged. “Then it’s a lucky thing I’m not one of the guys!” she smiled and it was easy to see why Ray must have fallen for her line, hook, and sinker. They stepped back and finally took her in from head to toe. She appeared just as she was on Ray’s screensaver, but she was attired in a yellow pleated midi skirt that reached her calves, a black motorbike jacket that was zipped up over her well-endowed chest and black biker booties. She was curvaceous and the skirt was doing nothing to hide her big, round bottom.

“Hi, I’m Ray’s wife, Diana,” the woman spoke with an accentuated Asian tongue. The boys finally came out of their reverie and took turns shaking her hand. She was warm and outgoing just like her husband and by the time Ray walked down the empty hall, the boys were bantering with Diana.

“Such an irony that our first match is against your home country, though,” Griezmann was saying. “Are you coming to see us win?”

Ray shook his head as he came to his wife’s rescue. “Shouldn’t you boys be at the picnic?” he stepped up next to his wife’s side, a little baby boy propped on his left hip as he tried to take his tablet back from the child’s grip. “I uploaded the tenth episode of our Euro documentary on YouTube so you guys can check it out later.”

The guys nodded, but they were staring at the baby, who had relinquished the tablet to his father and was now stretching his hands out towards Giroud.

“Oh, this is Étienne,” Ray kissed the child’s chubby cheek.

“He’s so cute,” Giroud reached for the baby and the other guys gushed over him as they headed back into the open air. Ray and his wife followed shortly.

That evening, President François Hollande greeted the team with enthusiasm and delivered a rousing message at the dinner table. Marcus thought he could’ve done better for Hollande had wasted his time to visit Clairefontaine.

NOTES:

^ I wanted to write a light-hearted moment/banter within the team hence the family theme for this chapter. Plus, I wanted to introduce Ray’s wife. A reader saw her feature in the previous chapter on Ray’s phone and was intrigued.

^ Jessicia (Jessi-see-ya) name is not a typo.

REMEMBER, THIS IS FICTION & IT IS IN NO WAY ASSOCIATED WITH LES BLEUS OR THE FFF.