- Barthez didn't concede in ten of his 17 World Cup appearances
- He believes long balls are the hardest thing for a keeper to deal with
- 'The Divine Bald One' discusses his clash with Ronaldo in the 1998 Final
One of the greatest goalkeepers in French football history, Fabien Barthez appeared at three FIFA World Cups™, lifting the Trophy in 1998 and reaching the Final again in 2006. In all, he made 17 appearances at the biggest tournament of them all – a French record – and keeping no fewer than ten clean sheets in the process.
Born in 1971, Barthez made the Bleus No1 jersey his own in the lead-up to France 1998, recognition which had come a little late for a player who had starred for several seasons with Marseille and then Monaco but found himself just behind Bernard Lama in the pecking order.
Barthez made his mark at his very first World Cup, forming an important part of a formidable defence that gave away just two goals en route to becoming world champions. A UEFA EURO 2000 winner, he was on duty when Les Bleus crashed out in the group phase at Korea/Japan 2002. The keeper helped them bounce back four years later, as they went all the way to the Germany 2006 Final, where they lost on penalties to Italy. The 87th cap of Barthez’s career was his last, as he announced his retirement from international football.
Flamboyant, passionate and never scared to take a risk or two with the ball at his feet, Barthez was one of the finest goalkeepers of his era.
In facing down a formidable Brazil attack in the France 1998 Final and winning all his duels against Ronaldo, Barthez kept another clean sheet to cap a tournament in which he conceded just two goals in seven matches: against Denmark from the spot in the group phase and against Croatia in the semi-final.
The only clean sheet he kept at Korea/Japan 2002 was in the goalless draw against Uruguay, which came in between a 1-0 defeat to Senegal and a 2-0 loss to the Danes, as the defending champions fell at the first hurdle. Barthez went unbeaten in four matches at Germany 2006: in a 0-0 draw with Switzerland, a 2-0 defeat of Togo and 1-0 wins over Brazil and Portugal. He was nevertheless eclipsed at the tournament by Italy’s Gianluigi Buffon, who kept five clean sheets and went on to lift the Trophy.
“Ah, no, not at all. What are ten matches anyway?” he replied with customary nonchalance when asked by FIFA.com if he was aware of the reason for the interview. “It’s something that never crossed my mind. I never walked out on to the pitch with the intention of beating records. But when it came to not conceding a goal, well, that was my aim every Sunday (laughs).
“It’s usually the goalkeeper who gets all the credit for records like that, but I think it’s all down to the team when you don’t concede. It’s like when a striker scores – there’s a whole lot of work that goes into it. I always like to make that point.”
“When you’ve got (Laurent) Blanc and (Marcel) Desailly in the centre of defence and (Lilian) Thuram and (Bixente) Lizarazu on the flanks… They were the best players in their positions at the time. That was our strong point. In 2006, we had Thuram and (William) Gallas in the middle, and (Willy) Sagnol and (Eric) Abidal out wide. That wasn’t bad, but to my mind it wasn’t quite up there with the 1998 defence, which was one of the most solid in the history of French football, if you ask me.
“The midfield was very solid too, and we also had Stephane Guivarc’h, who did an amazing job up front. The experts knew just what he brought to the team, but everyone was not quite so aware. He ran his socks off for the team. He harried opposing defences the whole time and made it hard for them to play the ball back out. That’s why he lacked sharpness whenever chances came his way. But at the end of the day, it was also down to him that we won.
“There was the quarter-final against Italy, which was pretty tough and which went to penalties. My save from (Demetrio) Albertini wasn’t such a big deal, because to my mind a penalty saved by the keeper is a badly taken penalty.
“In the Final there was that famous incident with Ronaldo, which was the turning point of the match. Long balls like that are the hardest thing for a keeper to deal with. It’s a split-second thing, one way or the other. If I hadn’t come out, he’d have been through on goal, and if I’d come out too late, I could have made a huge mistake. I have a huge amount of respect for Ronaldo and I did all I could not to hurt him.”