The year was 2004 and the tournament was the UEFA European Under-17 Championship hosted by the current world champions France.
Of all the stars on display at the tournament, four shone so bright for the host that they went on to be tagged the “Génération 1987”, but as the saying goes “when the going gets tough, only the tough get going”, only one out of the four have gone on to attain the legendary status in the round leather game of football.
Loads of stars on display at the UEFA age grade competition in 2004 with the final game played at the Stade Gaston Petit, in Châteauroux, competed between Spain and the host France. Karim Benzema, Hatem Ben Arfa and Samir Nasir (all pictured) and Jeremy Ménez (who played at PSG at one time in his career) were victors and La Furia Roja legends Cesc Fabregas currently of AS Monaco and Gerrard Pique currently of Barcelona walked away with the runners up medal that fateful evening in Châteauroux.
Karim Benzema has gone on to secure his status among the elites both at his club (Real Madrid) and his home country of France, but the walk to the legendary status was never an easy one. With the French National team being rocked by various problems, scandals and disappointment, starting from the group stage exit at Korea/Japan 2002, to Zinedine Zidane’s red card at the 2006 world cup in Germany which cost the team their second world cup trophy, to the abysmal performance of the Les Bleu at Africa’s first world cup in South Africa to the Mathieu Valbuena/Karim Benzema sexual scandal to the Euro 2016 disappointment, 2018 signalled the dawn of a new era with the Le Bleu clinching their second world title in Russia.
It is worthy to note is that the foursome who delivered the 2004 European Under-17 Championship have gone on to be fully capped by the French national team and have fallen out of favor due to one problem or scandal or the other, but France’s latest triumph at the UEFA Nations league have been almost all about one man. Born in the city of Lyon, France to French nationals of Algerian decent, moulded at his hometown club of Olympique Lyonnais, and making a name for him self at the one of the biggest football clubs in the world, Real Madrid. The striker known for his aerial ability, workrate, playmaking and finishing has catapulted himself from the lowest of stands back into the heart of the Les Bleu faithful, doing this with so much hard work, commitment and steadfastness.
This did not come easily as duo of Hatem Ben Arfa and Samir Nasri have had their fair share of fallouts during his days with the French national team and that signalled their departure from the national team setup, Nasri was involved in a feud with then French team mate and club captain William Gallas, the former Arsenal captain accused Nasri of insolence and Nasri in return went on to be among the five rumoured players who refused to speak to William Gallas in the defender’s his final days at Arsenal.
France’s loss to Spain in the quarter-finals of Euro 2012 was Nasri’s last game for the national team as he subjected a reporter to what was described as a “foul-mouthed tirade” when he was asked for his views on the game. That and other misdemeanours, made the French football governing body impose a three match international ban on him and in August of 2014, he retired from international football at age 27.
Hatem Ben Arfa, although described as raw talent by various football writers in France, has a history of being always criticized for lacking discipline, just the fifteen caps and two goals for the national team after going through the French Under16, Under17, Under18, Under19 and U21 team. Born in Clamart, a suburb of Paris to a former Tunisian international. Ben Arfa would go on to play for Olympique Lyonnais, Marsielle, Newcastle United, Hull City (loan), PSG, Rennes, Real Valladolid, OGC Nice, Rennes and Bordeaux winning domestic titles at Lyon, Marsielle, PSG and Rennes but the winger did not fulfill the potential that made him highly revered in his youth.
Karim Benzema, the youngest of the “Génération 1987” also has his fair share of controversy with a French television reporting in April 2010 that he was one of four players (Hatem Ben Arfa inclusive) being investigated for their roles as clients in a prostitute ring operated inside a Paris nightclub, with some of the women rumored to be underaged. Although upon investigation, the charges against Benzema and one other player was dropped in January of 2014 due to lack of sufficient evidence of the players’ knowledge of the prostitutes’ age.
He was then arrested in 2015 by French Police for his part in the blackmail of fellow France international player Mathieu Valbuena over the alleged recording of a sex tape on a mobile phone, and after being omitted from the national team setup for a couple of years, Benzema lashed out at French football boss Noël Le Graët who mentioned that Benzema’s France career was over with the striker being quoted saying “If you think I’m done, let me play with one of the other countries I am eligible for and we’ll see”.
Coach Didier Deschamps has shown faith in the versatile striker who has had a trophy laden career, and reintroduced the striker back to the national team set up and well so, the striker has not disappointed. With a career worthy of a G.O.A.T’s status, his status as a legend both for club and country is secured. Benzema rose to the occasion for Real Madrid after the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo, becoming the highest goal scorer for the club every season since the departure of Ronaldo and endearing himself to the Los Merengues faithful.
Written by Ajide Abayomi Paul