Fame and shame
Patrick Battiston won numerous honors as a player, but for many football fans the former French international is best remembered for being on the receiving end of a brutal foul. Today, the member of France’s 1984 European Championship-winning team is the head of the youth academy at French club Bordeaux.
The fateful incident occurred 25 years ago on 8 July 1982, during the World Cup semi-final (in Seville) between France and West Germany. As the game entered the 57th minute, Patrick Battiston, who was a St Etienne player at the time and had replaced Berbard Genghini seven minutes earlier, was clean through thanks to a through ball from midfielder.
West Germany goalkeeper Harald “Toni” Schumacher came charging off his line and, when he realized he was not going to reach the ball, he launched himself through the air towards Battiston, clattering into the Frenchman with a body-check straight from an ice hockey match. It was an appalling foul that went unnoticed by those inside the stadium – including Dutch referee Charles Corver – because all eyes had been trained on the ball. Only later, after endless replays, did the brutality of the incident become clear, even though Schumacher protested that he had swiveled in the air so as not to hit his opponent with his knee.
An unconscious Battiston was carried off the pitch on a stretcher with Michel Platini walking alongside clutching his friend’s hand, after the final whistle, Schumacher appeared totally unmoved and remarked about his opponent, whom he had left with fractured cervical vertebrae and two teeth missing, “There is no sympathy among professionals, but I will pay for the crowns of Battiston’s teeth.” The quote was almost as shocking as the act itself.
A quarter of a century on, Patrick Battiston made a rare comment on the matter: “I still think that it was deliberate even though he probably didn’t intend to injure me as badly as he did.” Nevertheless, the Frenchman admits that he is still able to take something positive from the foul. “Of course, I would have preferred it if my shot had ended up in the net to put us 2-1 in front and not rolled past the post, but with the benefit of hindsight, I have to say that I would never have been so famous if it hadn’t been for the foul.”
Although France were by far the better team and they built up a two-goal lead in extra game, the West Germans managed to claw their way back into the game and level the score, with the French ending up unlucky losers in the ensuing penalty shoot-out. Battiston, who won the European Championship two years later, put the defeat down to a lack of experience. Whenever his erstwhile team-mate Alain Giresse watches the game on video, he still presses the stop button as soon as France take a 3-1 lead.
Capped 56 times for France, Battiston, who turned 59 on 12 March this year, met Schumacher a few weeks after the incident to seek reconciliation. “The whole thing made huge waves in the media and our two associations therefore pressed us to meet in order to clear the air,” he says. “We eventually did so for the good of the game, but we never became friends. We saw each other afterwards at various games, but never exchanged more than a quick ?hello’.”
Battiston finally hung up his boots in 1991 after winning three French championships with Bordeaux during the club’s 1980s heyday.
The Lorraine-born footballer remains with Bordeaux today as the head of the French first division club’s youth academy, whose offices are located in a castle in the middle of a sumptuous training centre.
Humility and respect
The club, which reached the group phase of the 2006-07 UEFA Champions League, currently has 70 talented youngsters between the ages of 15 and 20 on its books. Nine coaches, including former France international Marius Tresor, look after four teams, while Battiston takes charge of the professionals in the reserve team. Battiston is also very proud of the Cap Girondins football camps that the club runs during school holidays: “While we prepare players at the academy for potential careers as professionals, playing football for fun is the central theme of the camps we organize during school holidays – although of course we do hope that we might discover the old talented player or two in the process.”
While he may have been defensive-minded on the pitch, Battiston is firmly focused on attack in his current work, “Don’t they say attack is the best form of a defence?” he laughs. “Finding and training attackers and creative midfielders is incredibly hard, especially when there is so much competition from abroad. The two-stream nature of club football has long been a reality in Europe so you have to watch out that all the talented youngsters are not snapped up from under your nose, particularly when some players don’t show their true potential until they are in their early 20s. You need to know which player to keep with the professionals, which one to pass on your rivals, which one to send out on loan and which one is more suited for an amateur club or another profession outside football.”
Battiston rarely tells his young charges about his past successes: “They don’t want to hear about that.” However, the father of two tries to instill in his players values like humility and respect and to impress on them that success cannot be achieved without hardwork. “But they already have everything and think that things will fall into their laps. They have mobile phones and the Internet, and they think that talent alone is enough to be successful. I try to show them that you cannot achieve anything in football without hard graft – just as in real life.”
With this in mind, Battiston sums things up beautifully in a nutshell: “You know, I think that you have to be serious in life, but not take yourself seriously. That’s my philosophy anyway.”