Of all the pre-tournament favorites for this summer’s World Cup in Russia, only one of them managed to live up to the hype. For all their star quality and talk of avenging their heartache on home soil of four years ago, Brazil came up short and failed to really dazzle; Spain suffered from managerial drama just days before the tournament began and then passed their way into an early exit to the hosts; and Germany had internal divisions in their squad, which were widened by talk of the foreign heritage of players like Mesut Özil and İlkay Gündoğan, before succumbing to the curse of the reigning champion by exiting after the group stage. But it was the team that really accepted their diversity that took home the Jules Rimet trophy.
The French side that travelled to Russia included a whole host of players from different backgrounds. Of the 23-man squad that took part in the tournament, 14 have roots outside of France, most of them hailing from former parts of the French Empire in Africa. These players made a huge contribution in Russia, with six of the starting line-up in the final against Croatia (Samuel Umtiti, Lucas Hernandez, Blaise Matuidi, Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante, and Kylian Mbappe) having direct links outside of France.
The ability of the Les Bleus to blend their backgrounds to form a cohesive unit was a key to their success this summer and set them apart from others, like aforementioned Germany, in celebrating their diverse heritage and helping to strengthen the feeling of unity back home.
Their success has spread even further than the sporting realm. Forward Kylian Mbappe, along with ex Chelsea striker Didier Drogba and former Balon d’Or winner and current Liberian president George Weah, met with French president Emmanuel Macron about France committing €15 million to sporting projects in Africa. And it seems that that would be much to their benefit, given the quality of players that they are currently receiving through migration from around the globe.
The England national team can also take heart in this process, with players like Raheem Sterling, who has Jamaican heritage, and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, whose father is Guyanese, also demonstrable successes of this global migration story. Even a player like Crystal Palace star Wilfred Zaha, who committed to play for Ivory Coast in November 2016, made two senior appearances for England as well as for both the under-19s and under-21s. Many of the world cup winning under-17 and under-20 sides are eligible to feature for a host of African nations, should they choose to. Thus, England could hope to challenge France, with a catalogue of migrant players flying their flag.
Aside from the obvious quality of players like the aforementioned Pogba and Mbappe, players of their ilk are of greater significance than the sport that they play. They become images of a grander purpose, by showing young people from diverse backgrounds that there is no barrier to them being able to be successful in the sport they love.