1987 is hailed as a golden year in French football. It was the year that Karim Benzema was born, as was Samir Nasri, Jeremy Menez and Hatem Ben Arfa. These players made up the squad that won the 2004 U-17 European Championship, beating Cesc Fabregas's Spain 2-1 in the final (it was Nasri that scored the winner).
When Didier Deschamps was appointed coach of Marseille in summer 2009, the first thing he did was rebuild the team's defense. The central-defensive partnership that had started the previous season, Vitorino Hilton and El-Amin Erbate, had flopped big-time and potentially cost Marseille the league title: it finished only three points behind champions Bordeaux, who clinched the trophy on the final day of the season.
Claude Puel has been Lyon coach for almost three years, and the jury is still out. Puel was appointed after Lyon's unprecedented dominance of Ligue 1 resulted in seven straight titles, but the club has not yet won a trophy under him. It did, however, reach the Champions League semifinals last year for the first time in its history.
Bordeaux broke a French top-flight record when it won the league title in 2008-09, winning its last 11 games to jump four places and overturn a six-point deficit. At the time, it was as though a perfect storm had descended over Les Girondins. Stats later showed that no team that season scored more goals from headers (22), from set-piece moves (25, nine from corners), from substitutes (10) or by coming from behind (23 points).
It's been over two months since France's players went on strike during the World Cup in protest of the French football federation's decision to send home striker Nicolas Anelka, but it might as well have been yesterday given the mess the team faces as its Euro 2012 qualifying campaign gets under way.
Lionel Messi underlined his status as the best player in the world with two inspirational goals and an assist as holders Barcelona cruised into the quarterfinals of the Champions League with a 4-0 victory at home to Stuttgart on Wednesday night.
Lionel Messi scored an extra-time winner as Barcelona came from behind to beat Estudiantes 2-1 in the Club World Cup final on Saturday to confirm the Spanish and European champions as the top team on the planet.
We're halfway through the Champions League group stage, which means it's midterm report-card time for Europe's elite. In this evaluation, though, you don't get a straight grade -- you're on a curve based on how you've performed relative to expectations.