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Guadeloupe: France's Talent Factory

When we consider the places that some of the most talented footballers of recent years have come from, a small island in the Caribbean is not a place that would immediately spring to mind. However, the island of Guadeloupe can claim links to a vast number of supremely talented footballers.

With a population just smaller than that of Bristol, the overseas region of France that was first discovered by Christopher Columbus in November 1493 seems an unlikely source of talent. However, had it been an independent country eligible to play in FIFA competitions, they could have fielded a wonderful team of players either born or with parental links to the country. It could have selected a strike-force consisting of former Arsenal and Barcelona star, Thierry Henry, Chelsea striker, Nicholas Anelka and French World Cup winner, Sylvain Wiltord; a front line that, at their peak, would strike fear into most international defences.

Speaking of defence, their back line would be pretty solid as well. They could call upon former Juventus and Barcelona defender, Lillian Thuram. Former Chelsea and Arsenal defender, William Gallas would be another option. One other former Barcelona defender, Philippe Christanval, would also be eligible. Looking around the Premiership throws up a few further names. Arsenal’s Gael Clichy, Blackburn’s Pascal Chimbonda and Wolves’ Ronald Zubar would all be eligible to represent Guadeloupe. Further afield, Werder Bremen’s Mikael Silvestre and up-and-coming Bordeaux defender, Michael Ciani, would also be options.

For a small island, it is a frightening list of talent. In the French starting XI and used substitutes in the 2006 World Cup final, four of them would have been eligible to represent Guadeloupe. In total, seven members of that squad were either born or had parental links to this small island.

Even without those players, Guadeloupe remains one of the strongest sides in the Caribbean. As part of France, Guadeloupe is not a FIFA recognised country, and so cannot play in any FIFA tournaments. As a result, they would be ineligible to ever appear in either the World Cup or the Confederations Cup.

However, they are a member of CONCACAF and can therefore play in any CONCACAF tournaments, including the Caribbean Cup and the Gold Cup. They have finished in third place in three Caribbean Cups, most recently in 2008, and were runners-up to Jamaica in the most recent edition.

However, despite opting to play for the French national side, it is clear that many of the players still retain a strong connection with their Caribbean roots. Players who have represented France are eligible to represent Guadeloupe if they serve a five-year ‘cooling off’ period.

Two high-profile players who have taken this root during the twilight of their careers are Jocelyn Angloma and David Sommeil. Angloma represented the French at two major international tournaments in 1992 and 1996, as well as being a Champions League winner at club level. Sommeil had gained extensive experience in the top flight in both France and England, as well as earning eight French caps. The fact that they wanted to play international football for the country of their birth shows how much it means to them.

However, within Guadeloupe, there is a curious relationship with the French national team. The people recognise that the only option for players who wish to play in major international tournaments is to join the French, but that does not necessarily mean that there is great support for the French within Guadeloupe.

Indeed, throughout the French Antillean region, which includes Guadeloupe alongside Martinique, Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy, there is a marked tendency to side with Brazil rather than with France. Partly due to their geographical location, culturally there are close ties with Brazil, but also because of the strong nationalist movements in those islands.

The inclusion of the Guadeloupean football team in CONCACAF and its eligibility to compete in their sanctioned tournaments was seen as a major boost for the nationalist movement on the island. Indeed, there has long been a connection between sport and the movement. The red and green colours of the national strip echo the prominent colours of the nationalist flag.

However, the strained relationship with the French national side came under even greater pressure following the poor performance at last summer’s World Cup in South Africa. Amongst certain groups in France, there was a backlash against so-called ‘immigrant’ players, who were blamed for the poor performance. The perceived image is that these players were devoid of national pride and loyalty to the flag.

The feelings of the likes of Guadeloupe and Martinique can be seen in the writings of a popular Martinican blogger in response to a French philosopher claiming that “this is all to be blamed on the suburbs scum, even those of the French team who don’t like France.”

He explained how “as long as the French West Indians win, they are part of the ‘rainbow nation’, everyone is colour-blind. But when the first cloud covers this blue sky, ‘people from the suburbs’ are sent back to their second-class citizenship.”

The ill feeling of the Guadeloupean and Martinican people is not directed toward the players who have opted to represent France – they understand that they have little option if they want to play on the biggest stage. Rather it is toward the mainland French and their perception of the so-called ‘people from the suburbs.’

The reception that Lillian Thuram received when he returned from the successful 1998 World Cup campaign showed the love that people on the island had for him. In addition, his decision to fly home to Guadeloupe almost immediately after the final to celebrate with the Guadeloupean people, rather than remain in France, showed the attachment that he retained for the island.

It is in the Gold Cup where they have surprised many people though. They reached the quarter-finals of the 2009 edition, where they were beaten by Costa Rica. However, they were the most successful Caribbean side in the competition, including a victory over Canada.

Back in 2007, having qualified for their first ever major international tournament, they were even more successful. Again, having beaten Canada in the group stage, they then stunned Honduras in the quarter-finals before giving the Mexicans a real scare in the semi-finals. They were eventually eliminated by a 70th minute goal from Pavel Pardo, but came out of the tournament with great credit.

They once again impressed in last year’s edition of the Caribbean Cup. They strolled through the first group stage with maximum points, following wins over Grenada, Puerto Rico and Saint Kitts and Nevis, before clinching their place in the semi-finals with results against Guyana and Antigua and Barbuda in the second group stage.

The strongly fancied Cubans were their opponents in the semi-final and despite going a goal behind at half time, they came back to qualify for the final with a 2-1 victory. They faced the favourites, Jamaica, in the final, who they had already been beaten by in the second group stage, but Ludovic Gotin’s equalizer sent the final to extra time, and eventually all the way to a penalty shootout. Unfortunately, Jean-Luc Lambourde missed the decisive fifth penalty and the wait for a first international trophy continues.

Indeed, many observers feel that Guadeloupe would have qualified for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa had they been given the opportunity. Under the guidance of Roger Salnot, Guadeloupe are turning into a serious side in the Caribbean, even without the players who have left to seek success in France.

There are suggestions that Guadeloupe could potentially become a FIFA member in the future if France were willing to permit it. Whether FIFA would allow this without further devolution of the two is uncertain, but if it were ever to happen, it would surprise nobody to see Guadeloupe making a greater impression on the world stage, and who knows, maybe we may see them in a World Cup at some stage in the future.


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