Lilian Thuram is regarded as a living legend of French football. The former defender won the FIFA World Cup™ in 1998 as well as the UEFA EURO 2000 title and went down in French football history by making a record 142 appearances for his country. Only Sandrine Soubeyrand has won more caps, and Thuram was in Germany earlier this week to support the French captain and her team-mates as they took on USA in the semi-finals.
The match took place on Wednesday 13 July and coincided with the tenth FIFA Anti-Discrimination Day – a cause that Thuram has championed for many years. In an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, the Frenchman gave his views on France’s fine showing at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011, and spoke about his universal approach to football as a sport.
FIFA.com: Lilian, why are you here in Germany today?
Lilian Thuram: I’m here to watch good football and support les Bleues, obviously! I know quite a few of the French players. I met them at Clairefontaine [France’s national football academy]. The majority were trained there so I’ve been able to build links with them, in particular with defender Laura Georges.
Laura Georges, for whom you are a true role model…
(Laughs) The feeling is mutual! Whenever we used to see each other, she’d ask me loads of questions about football, about how you should position yourself in defence and so on. So we’ve become quite close. The amazing thing is that I called to motivate and encourage her before the World Cup, and we said we’d meet each other at the semi-final. And here I am!
You’ll also be meeting Sandrine Soubeyrand, who continues to build on your appearance record. Are there any hard feelings on your part?
No, quite the opposite – it’s a source of great pleasure for me. I even gave her a commemorative shirt printed with the number of caps she’d won the day she beat my record. I think it’s really great. By beating my record, Sandrine managed to get people talking about women’s sport a bit more. We tend to focus on men’s sport too much, so any opportunity to remind people of the universal nature of sport is a good thing.
Football is similar to life, with all its uncertainties, and that’s why people are so passionate about the game.
What are your thoughts on the way women’s football is developing?
I can only talk about France, where you’d have to say the sport’s visibility isn’t very good. People don’t get the chance to watch women’s football, so they can’t appreciate it. That’s why I think it’s great that FIFA and Germany have succeeded in staging a World Cup like this, with full stadiums and lots of people watching on TV.
Do you think that people’s attitudes are changing?
Things started to change some time ago, but for it to really accelerate you need exposure. We need to encourage children to take up sports. In order to get girls interested in sport – and for their parents to allow them to get involved – we need role models. The players at this World Cup are becoming role models for youngsters, even for boys who still have certain prejudices. Beyond that, I don’t think we should make comparisons between men’s and women’s football, because ultimately they are one and the same sport. Above all, football is about emotion; that’s what we look for and that’s why we love this sport. There are huge amounts of emotion during a football match, and that’s the same regardless of whether there are boys or girls on the pitch.
Be that as it may, do you think there are differences in the way the women’s game is played?
That really depends on the teams. They don’t all have the same characteristics, just like in the men’s game. For example, you can compare the Spanish style of play with English football, but both are totally different. Again, I don’t think you should compare the two.
Do you think the football on display here in Germany is different to that played by men?
I’m not an expert on women’s football. I’ve heard it said that the women’s game tends to be more attacking, and that there’s less focus on managing the result. I don’t completely agree with this analysis. To give an example, I saw that USA didn’t play their usual style against Brazil in the quarter-finals. They were more patient, whereas usually they would go forward a lot more. It all depends on the playing style laid out by the coach. It’s not a question of gender.
Have you given any advice to les Bleues?
No, none at all. I’m just here to support them. I think the key for any team is to have players who are ready to give their all for their team-mates. It’s the best way to get results. When the whole group manages to get into this mindset, it makes their work on the pitch a lot easier. After that, everything is decided on small details, but I hope the French side manage to apply all of these basic principles. Whatever happens, as a Frenchman and a former international, I will back them all the way.
Who do you think will be crowned champions of Germany 2011?
At this point in time, nobody can say who is going to win this World Cup, and that’s the beauty of this sport. If you want to write your own story, you always have to take a good look at yourself first. Football is similar to life, with all its uncertainties, and that’s why people are so passionate about the game. I hope this French team will write a wonderful page in history.