Erotic transport? No, as everybody was struggling to keep his balance, even though they all looked a foot taller than in the Italian league. Uncanny correctness? Hardly so, as every action unfolded as a clever theft (think only of the way every player precipitated through the hole after a set-piece, the rotten roofs waiting to be torn down), as if spurred by that cobwebbed darkness under creaky stairs or the grimaces of France before Haussmann—that is to say, the Street of the Old Lantern, the Street of the Cold Coat, the Street of Bad Words. I have been nursing the suspicion that the Ligue 1 was constructed, unwittingly, in its managerial design, as a way of measuring the elevation and depression of its many soccer parks; and it feels like moving through graveyards, whose ultimate map is only visible from the above.
In Barcelona, the Jerusalem of modern football (the source of all its theology and its literature, as in the Greek tragedy of Pep Guardiola, a man who knows his destiny and yet is impotent to avert it), one could search for the point where the game had consciously turned away from the world of the fathers. In France, however, which strikes the casual observer as a Talmudic, unspoken succession of confused rituals, the game is just the crystallization of older conflicts and embarrassments. Haussmann spent all he had and used all the tricks of the trade, but the Parisians on the street mumbled that they knew how it is done. Would it surprise you to know that Montpellier’s president, Louis Nicollin, was one of them? Adam’s apple the size of his protruding nose, a white-haired gentleman whose muted flamboyance might turn democratic sentiments in a rubble, Nicollin is a Falstaff-figure and the cipher of Montpellier’s imminent victory.
You could hate the Empire for tyranny, you could borrow money from the street and have the misfortune to end up in a Matseilles jail; you could also be holding a lantern during a gambler’s night. But no matter what, Montpellier’s craft is a tale of dummies and revenants, chilling, romantic and subterranean like the sewers in Paris. ♦