This is Portugal playing Morocco at the 2018
Portugal was the heavy favorite and won the
The result wasn’t all that interesting,
but this photo is.
This Portugal player wasn’t born in Portugal
and these two Morocco players weren’t born
See, soccer’s regulating body, FIFA, allows
athletes to play for any nation they have
a clear connection to,
including the country a player’s parents
or grandparents are from.
In this year’s World Cup, 82 players are
playing for countries that they weren’t
So… where are they coming from?
If we plot it on a map,
one country stands out.
France is where the largest number
of all World Cup players were born.
Brazil has the next highest total but it’s
not even close.
France has had the most native players and
coaches in the last 4 World Cups and their
dominance has been on the rise.
So, what’s so special about France?
At the end of World War II, much of France
The government began recruiting laborers,
from southern and eastern Europe as well as colonies in
northern Africa, to rebuild the country during
the late 1940s and 1950s.
During that time France brought in more immigrants than any other European country.
And in the 1960s and early 70s France’s economy
grew rapidly and a labor shortage led to another
wave of immigrants – with even more arrivals
from French colonies throughout Africa
and the Caribbean.
Many of them settled in major housing developments
just outside of the major cities.
At the same time, France was also in a sports
Especially the national football team.
Between 1960 and 1974, France failed to qualify
for three world cups and three European championships.
The French Football Federation decided the
way to get better was to create a national
structure for developing talent, so it established
one of Europe’s first football academy systems.
In 1972, a national training center was opened
in Vichy, and four years later, the Federation
worked with top French football clubs to set
up a wider network of academies to recruit
and train local youth.
In 1988, the national training center moved
to a forested suburb south of Paris called
and by the early 1990s, this French soccer
system was one of the best in the world – developing
talented players from all over France.
And the system delivered results.
In 1998, the
French national team, called Les Bleues, won
the World Cup.
A moment that was celebrated throughout the
And it seemed to be a breakthrough for French
multiculturalism as well,
since several players were either immigrants
or children of immigrants who came to France
in the 20th century.
The team was called the “Black, Blanc, Beur”,
meaning “black, white, arab” – a spin
on the three colors of the French flag
But not everyone supported diversity, particularly
nationalist politicians like Jean-Marie Le Pen.
Despite racist criticism, players from immigrant
families have continued to make up more and
more of France’s best talent.
Many come from one place in particular.
38% of immigrants to France settle in Greater Paris.
Most end up in these areas called banlieues.
The French word literally means “suburb”;
but it can also imply immigrant-dominated
Over the years, these areas have frequently
They have high levels of unemployment, crime,
and poverty and are in a crisis.
Yet the banlieues continue to produce some
of the most talented soccer players.
That’s because this is where France’s
immigration history meets its soccer system,
and it’s the reason why the city is the
world’s number one talent pool for soccer.
Since 2002, the number of Parisian-born players
at the World Cup has continued to rise.
Out of all French players at the 2018 World
Cup (50), 16 were born or raised in Greater Paris.
The French national team has eight from banlieues, all children of immigrants.
That includes Kylian Mbappe, France’s 19 year-old
who was born to an Algerian mother and Cameroonian
father in the Parisian suburb of Bondy and
was trained through the French system at Clairefontaine.
But Parisian players don’t just play for
Over the years, FIFA’s eligibility rules
have allowed them to play for countries like
the Ivory Coast, Morocco, Algeria, Portugal,
Cameroon, and Togo.
4 players on this year’s Senegal team are
from the Greater Paris area as well as this
player on Tunisia.
And remember this photo?
Both of these players were born in Paris.
That’s what’s special about French soccer
– the combination of an established academy
system and its unique immigration history
is producing incredible talent – for France
and the rest of the world.