Bondy and the French grassroots system

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.

Nowhere is 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.

The 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.

In Bondy, someone pays for the coaching and facilities. The difference is that it is not the parents.
10 comments about "Bondy and the French grassroots system".
  1. beautiful game, July 24, 2018 at 9:16 a.m.

    Spent 5 years in Marseille (mid-1980s). My oldest son, 6-yoa, was registered with L'OM team. Paid a registration fee and everything else was provided by the club. Coaches were phenominal.

  2. s fatschel, July 24, 2018 at 9:18 a.m.

    PK excellent research! So the take away are the subsidies and use of gyms.  I also wonder what the pay of the coaches are.  Indoor turf  soccer field time is a huge cost in the Northeast and needs to be eliminated.  The subsidies won't come until soccer is the top US sport and government views sport as public benefit. So this where USSF needs to use it's surplus and step in to help.

  3. beautiful game replied, July 24, 2018 at 4:45 p.m.

    Amici's the game culture which we do not have. Yet, there is talent to be found and unfortunately the honing of the skill set in our culture is physicality first and W/L columns. At U-10 and below W/L stats mean nothing if a player does not show signs of improvement.

  4. s fatschel, July 24, 2018 at 9:56 a.m.

    Also regarding travel why doesn't the DA add ODP teams and have first and second divisions for clubs wanting to allow HS play. More teams would reduce travel and under the DA would be held accountable.

  5. frank schoon, July 24, 2018 at 11:57 a.m.

    < “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."> BINGO !!!!
    How many American kids develop playing street soccer like this ad infinitum. No play to play system /coaches can give this type soccer experience and development to the kids.
    Too bad Pogba wasn’t  asked how important playing street soccer is to the development of the French kids. 

  6. humble 1 replied, July 25, 2018 at 12:23 a.m.

    plenty of kids playing street soccer - in working class neighborhoods - they are overlooked - then play in schools (heaven forbid!) - they play where they can.  I see them when I drive my son to school, kicking the ball in the parking lot, in the park - where ever they can find a spot.  Nothing like in France, yes, not number one sport here, they are here and they are not assimilated, because the USSF turned away from schools - they don't even look at kids playing in school - period.

  7. frank schoon replied, July 25, 2018 at 1:53 a.m.

    Humble, what you have observed is very spotty at best and it is a start, but “street soccer” is more than that .What  is missing is the subculture that comes from street soccer and which becomes the driving  force and energy for the kids  to want to play and become better, a certain synergy. You have to have really played and grown up to really understand it. I think what comes really  close to it is basketball played by kids in the black communities.
    There is an interesting process going on in Atlanta...I will try to get you the YouTube on that..

  8. frank schoon replied, July 25, 2018 at 2:03 a.m.

    Humble, here it is. 
    “The black soccer culture no one knew existed. “

  9. s fatschel, July 24, 2018 at 1:42 p.m.

    Another interesting point is Pogba implied they played to help stay out of trouble. Having that kind of time is quite different than affluent US kids who are overwhelmed with homework, part time jobs and multiple sport options.

  10. uffe gustafsson, July 24, 2018 at 4:55 p.m.

    Good article.
    i said this before and here it comes again.
    clubs here are not run by the communities but independent organizations. Huge amount of money goes to paying fees to field access that the community own. The cities are making money on these fields.
    pay to play will not change because of the way our soccer and other sports have to pay for fields.
    in Sweden the clubs are owned by the community and therefor they own the fields and do not pay for fields it’s part of your taxes you pay.
    our club pay but don’t quote me but in the 1 million a year for fields and as well up keep of our fields.
    until fields are free of charge pay to play will always be there. To me the cities are double dipping, we pay for park and rec to over see fields thru our taxes but the also make money off the clubs to use them and also pay for up keep. I think we get a break on the field cost if we do the up keep of the fields.

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