José Touré: "It was at the Olympic Games that I realised I was an athlete"
20 years ago, José Touré was part of the France team that won the Gold Medal at the Olympic Football Tournament. The man known as "The Brazilian" was considered the great hope of French Football back then, but though he enjoyed a successful career, a series of injuries meant he never touched the heights that had beckoned. Now aged 43, the former Nantes and Bordeaux striker spoke to FIFA.com about his memories of the Olympic Games, his vision of football and his assessment of the Olympic Tournament in Athens.
José, what did you think of the Athens Olympic Tournament?
Argentina's great strength was undoubtedly their team-work, the way they functioned as a fluid unit and their professionalism. Some teams may have decided to leave some of their best players at home, but that is not necessarily a bad thing as it can be very useful to give experience to young players. Nothing is ever a waste of time in football, except cheating.
There were two South American teams in the Final. Why do you think that continent excels in youth tournaments?
It comes as no surprise to me. Football is what helps South America overcome all its social problems. Football is a passion in that continent, and people are intensely devoted to it. It is a source of hope for them. Children in Europe are more spoilt, they no longer play with hunger. I reckon they become adults too quickly. A football pitch is simply a microcosm of society. There are good people and bad people on it, violence and kindness. It remains the sport of the people because it can be played anywhere and because it is based on an extraordinary sense of sharing.
Africa has traditionally done very well at youth level, but it has proved less successful in recent years. How do you explain this decline?
Africa is going through a lean spell at the moment, which is understandable because football there is still in quite a precarious position. A lot of work needs to be done at grassroots level. It is up to the African officials to do that. Also, all of the African players who are earning their living at prestigious European clubs need to help make sure the right things are done. There is a huge amount of infrastructural work to be carried out, and that can only be done by working together. There is no point in trying to compare African football to European football just yet; humility is key at this juncture, and what's important is to restore the idea of sharing in order to develop African football, because that's what is required at this point.
20 years ago, you won the Olympic Football Tournament with France in Los Angeles. What do you remember about your win?
To a certain extent, we felt like mercenaries at those 1984 Olympic Games, because we were the first professionals. For that reasons, we were not exactly welcomed with open arms. For us, it was a kind of adventure. Injury had prevented me from taking part in the European Championships in France so Henri Michel had told me that he wanted me to play in the Olympics if I recovered in time. I think that when I got on the aeroplane to Los Angeles I realised for the first time that I was an athlete. The Olympics Games are a magnificent symbol of something that goes far beyond football, of some universal value. The fact that it was in Los Angeles gave it a magical feel. We went there intent on giving a good account of ourselves; we had a very good team and had qualified in style.
The place of football in the Olympic Games is slightly different than that of other events. What were the Games like for you as a footballer?
It was a little strange because we were on the East coast in the first round and then, for the quarter-finals, we stayed in the Olympic Village with the French basketball team. Obviously I met other athletes and I went to watch other events. Indeed, that had been one of the ways we had motivated ourselves: we knew that if we reached the quarter-finals, we would get to go to Los Angeles. When we were in Minneapolis, a small town in the north of the United States, I can't really say that the Olympic spirit reached us.
Receiving the Gold Medal must have been a very special moment?
Now that I know him a little, I wish it had been Joseph Sepp Blatter who had presented me with the Gold Medal. However, João Havelange was the President at that time and it was he who gave it to me in what was a magical moment. We were playing Brazil in front of 100,000 people in the Pasadena stadium and it was the first time we'd seen the Mexican wave at a football ground. Yet the most poignant memory is of receiving the medal, along with everything that represents. Of course, I was not really aware of all that at the time - it only sunk in later.
What was the reaction to your triumph in France?
The media was a lot calmer back then; we certainly weren't presented with the Légion d'Honneur on our return. I can't say that we were welcomed back like kings. My mother and friends were delighted, but beyond that, it was a case of going back to life as normal. I treated the Olympic Games like a holiday that we managed to extend by going all the way to the Final!