Welcome to the return of our PRESS BOX feature at Football News. In this series of interviews, some of football’s most renowned experts have their say on the ongoings in the French football world, looking in from the outside. This series returns after a brief hiatus in January.
After the newly appointed Chief Football Writer at The Times newspaper kicked off the series and Gianluca Di Marzio’s leading English writer took up up the mantle in an Italian-themed PRESS BOX the week after, Spanish football expert and former Revista de la Liga regular talked Benzema, Griezmann, slamming PSG’s hopes of winning the Champions League and much more.
This week, The Guardian’s football editor chats to Football News about his views on EURO 2016, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and more.
GFFN: Is there a particular style of football, in your experience, that you would characterise as “French”? If so, can you describe it to us?
Marcus Christenson: I guess, having got into football in the 80s, I associate it with players such as Michel Platini, Alain Giresse, and for some reason, Dominique Rocheteau (the hair I guess). Skilful players.
I also have a fascination for French forwards and I am intrigued by the fact that they are often pretty big and less skilful, thinking Guivarc’h, Giroud etc. We don’t often see the small, skilful forwards that pop up in most other countries. As for an overall style for the team I would say that the first word that comes to mind is “attractive”.
GFFN: Where do you stand on the Karim Benzema sextape scandal debate? Was it unfair of the French Football Federation to suspend him from the French national team while he is yet to have been found guilty of any wrongdoing? What happened to innocent until proven guilty?
Marcus Christenson: Without knowing all the details I must admit that I am surprised that they were so forceful so early on. That could have waited.
GFFN: Do you think that France can win EURO 2016 without Karim Benzema?
Marcus Christenson: Of course they have a chance but it will be severely hampered without him. He is a world-class striker and there aren’t that many of them around these days. Olivier Giroud is as good as any replacement will be though.
GFFN: Is Zlatan Ibrahimovic the greatest Swedish footballer of all time?
Marcus Christenson: Possibly and certainly in my lifetime but it is impossible for me to compare him to the great stars of the 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s when we reached the World Cup semi-final with players such Gunnar Gren, Gunnar Nordahl and Nils Liedholm.
GFFN: How would you describe Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the brand?
Marcus Christenson: He’s done ok hasn’t he? I am big fan actually and think he has done extremely well on and off the pitch. Some people in Sweden seem to think he shouldn’t care about ‘the brand’ but why shouldn’t he. I loved the he did.
GFFN: Would you suggest that from an English football perspective that Zlatan Ibrahimovic has changed the reputation of French football and the standard of Ligue 1?
Marcus Christenson: I think he has helped. We at the Guardian probably do as many stories on him as the rest of the players in Ligue 1 together.
That is partly because he says silly things and calls France a shit country every now and then but there is no doubt that his presence has helped the coverage of the league in England. Just a shame that it is so one-sided this season.
GFFN: In 2015, Ligue 1 clubs received 386m Euros in transfer fees, more than any other European league. Will such a selling culture prevent Ligue 1 from ever becoming a dominant European league?
Marcus Christenson: Difficult to say. I just can’t see how they can catch up with the PL and La Liga in the next five years, they have got such a head start with huge fan bases.
I think they are doing all they can but wonder whether Ligue 1 and the Bundesliga will always be the little brothers and sisters to La Liga and the Premier League. Where we put Serie A these days is a tricky one. I do like it but is it really a better league than Ligue 1 at the moment? Not so sure.
GFFN: Why is it, in your opinion, that despite the Premier League being widely regarded as a far “better” league than Ligue 1, that the French national team has consistently performed better than England’s over the last 20 years?
Marcus Christenson: A few things probably. Slightly better players overall (and much better players now), a bit of luck but also a coherent programme from the FFF, carrying on from 1998.
England have tried and tried and maybe are getting somewhere with St George’s Park and their youth teams doing well (but then I can’t remember a more average senior team than the current one).
GFFN: Is there a particular stadium within French football that you hope to experience in the future and are you looking forward to EURO 2016?
Marcus Christenson: Well, it would be nice to go somewhere outside Paris (have always dreamt of seeing a live game in Marseille) but I will probably only be able go to the big one (Sweden v Rep of Ireland in case you wonder).
GFFN: Will PSG win the Champions League this season?
Marcus Christenson: No, unless they get really lucky. Barcelona and Bayern are simply too good this season.