There were a lot of ingredients that went into France's second World Cup championship.
There was preparation and coaching -- here's a clip of head coach Didier Deschamps talking at halftime of the
final about how to shut down Croatia after a difficult first half -- and there was luck -- calls on France's first two goals went in its favor and against Croatia -- but most of all there was talent.
Three players -- Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe and Raphael Varane -- are considered along with Croatia's Luka Modric the favorites for the 2018 Ballon d'Or, but
they were just a few of the French players who had outstanding tournaments.
French soccer has never had a problem with a lack of talent. It's always had among the best skilled players in
Europe and an abundance of talent emerging from the country's vast immigrant communities. French pro clubs plow enormous resources into recruiting young players, and the French federation has been at the forefront of player development initiatives.
there more talent than in Ile-de-France, the region around Paris with its banlieues that produced Paul Pogba, N'Golo Kante, Blaise Matuidi and Mbappe, plus four other members of
France's World Cup team, as well as players Morocco, Portugal, Senegal and Tunisia took to Russia.
It wasn't always like it. In 1984 only one player on France's European championship team
came from the region. When France won the 1998 World Cup, the only "banlieusards" were Lilian Thuram, Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry.
Beginning in the 1960s,
the region was home to guest workers from Spain, Portugal and North Africa brought in to work in factories, and it became a center for left-wing French politics. Later, waves of immigrants from across
Africa moved into the huge apartment complexes that dot the region and brought with them a passion for soccer.
The towns have names like Bondy, Lagny-Sur-Marne, Roissy-en-Brie, Suresnes
and Fontenay-sous-Bois. They sit outside the Périphérique, the highway that circles Paris, and everywhere they play soccer.
"Whether it's at school or outside in the
neighborhood," Pogba told Financial Times columnist and Paris resident Simon Kuper, a former Soccer America
contributor, "everyone will play soccer. And that helps people to not stay in the neighborhood doing nothing and doing stupid things. Every day it's the ball. That's all there is."
Franciliens, residents of Ile-de-France, are no different than kids in towns and cities in other parts of the world. One thing differentiates the region from most other similar communities around the
world: the resources plowed into grassroots soccer.
Bondy example. Bondy, Mbappe's hometown, is located on either side of the highway from Paris to Charles de Gaulle Airport, and "looks as if
someone plonked a Soviet town on top of an ancient French village," says Kuper.
Like most towns around Paris, Bondy has its own sports club: Association Sportive Bondy, or AS Bondy for
short, founded in 1978 by Claude Fuzier, the city's then-mayor from the Socialist Party. Today, the club has its own Web
site and own hashtag #AsBondyFortEtVert ("AS Bondy strong and green").
Like many French clubs, AS Bondy is a multi-sport club, offering programs in 23 different sports. Soccer is the
biggest and most popular. To join, 9-year-olds pay 160 euros ($187) or 165 euros ($193), depending on whether they are "Bondynois" (Bondy residents) or not.
AS Bondy plays in the
equivalent of the 10th tier of French soccer, but it is not poor. It has a budget of 1.1 million euros ($1.3 million) and 37 staff coaches just for soccer thanks in part to local government subsidies.
Mbappe's Cameroonian-born father, Wilfried, worked at AS Bondy for 20 years as a "moniteur de sport," similar to the position a p.e. teacher would hold in the United States.
New York Times reported that the Paris banlieues have 30,000 coaches for 235,000 registered players.
Some are simply "moniteurs de sport," but many of them have advanced licenses issued by the French federation and paid jobs.
AS Bondy works out of two stadiums, in addition to five
gymnasiums and various swimming pools, tennis courts and halls. (One is named Salle Angela Davis.)
American soccer bemoans pay-to-play, parents shelling out thousands of dollars each year
for their children to play soccer. By comparison, the fees for youth soccer at a club like AS Bondy are modest.
American pay-to-play covers things like coaching, facilities and travel.
The latter is not a problem for young Franciliens. Because of the density of the population and access to public transportation, finding good competition is easy and cheap.
Bondy, someone pays for the coaching and facilities. The difference is that it is not the parents.