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In football, the “sons of” are more conspicuous but not more numerous than before

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On February 1, Watford, a resident of the English second division, announced the signing of Mitchel Bergkamp, ​​son of Dennis, legend of Arsenal and the selection of the Netherlands. The day before, it was Maurizio Pochettino, son of Paris Saint-Germain coach Mauricio, who had also joined the ranks of the British club.

These examples are not isolated: in Europe, a number of “sons of” have followed in daddy’s footsteps up to the professional level, sometimes in upscale formations. Mixture and not exhaustive: Casper Schmeichel, Daley Blind, Daniel Maldini, Justin Kluivert, Timothy Weah, Erling Haaland, André and Jordan Ayew, Thiago Alcantara and Rafinha (son of the former Brazilian international Mazinho), Federico Chiesa, Ianis Hagi, Eden Hazard, or even Luca Zuffi …

This general impression can result from this: the “sons of” represent a large mass of players and their emergence at the highest level is more and more frequent. In addition to their genetic predispositions, they would enjoy, among other things, “the increased importance of official training routes, which must be integrated at an ever younger age,” notes sports sociologist Frédéric Rasera, author of Footballers at work. Sectors of excellence to which they have easier access, thanks to credit, the network or the role of the father.

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When Bruno Roux, retired from his playing career, became a youth coach in Caen, then director of the Beauvais training center, he took his son Nolan – now a Nîmes Olympique striker – in his luggage each time. obvious and so that he remains close to the family ”.

Modest phenomenon

However, empirical reality makes it possible to contrast the picture. To quantify the extent and evolution of the number of “sons of”, we took as a framework the 2004-2005 and 2020-2021 seasons of the French Ligue 1, by studying the genealogy of all the players who received at least a convocation for all competitions. In addition, we have extended our spectrum to players whose close ancestry has progressed to the professional level (uncle, grandfather) and to those whose father exercised a function of coach or leader in a professional club. This work reveals a phenomenon that is both modest and hardly expansive.

This season, out of 636 players, only 49 enter our classification, or 7.7%. In 2004-2005, they were barely less: 31 out of 555, or 5.59%. An insignificant increase, especially when compared to the eyes of professionals in the field.

“Magnifying glass effect”

Peter Zeidler, FC St. Gallen coach, having worked in the Stuttgart training center and the Austrian clubs in the Red Bull system in particular, said that he had only worked with “a few sons of former players” during his career spanning more than twenty years. years. Christian Lanza, historical recruiter of Servette, suspects a “magnifying glass effect due to social networks” on some famous cases and even suggests “the opposite trend”, as the “sons of” are rare in his eyes.

Rather low, the proportion of “sons of” observed here is however comparable to that of other sports disciplines, according to the observations of Juliana Antero, researcher at the Institute for Biomedical Research and Epidemiology of Sport (Irmes), in Paris. . She has carried out several studies on the heritability of high performance in sport and found similar orders of magnitude “at the Olympic Games, in rugby and in the Tour de France, around 5 to 6%”. Without being negligible, social reproduction is however “marginal compared to many other professional branches of society”, insists Frédéric Rasera, citing as an example “the sons of teachers, the number of whom in turn become teachers. is going to be much higher ”.

Ultra-competitive universe

How to explain such a finding? “Already, son of or not, to succeed in football, it is really not easy: there are many called and very few elected, recalls Anthony Braizat, former player and coach of Servette, and son of Henri , attacker passed by OM and Saint-Etienne in the 1950s. We are talking about a very particular professional branch. You have to have an enormous mentality, speed, an above average physical strength and, as the son of a former player, endure the labels that we will want to stick on you. “

“I ignored it, but some might think I was there by piston. I had the feeling to have more things to prove, to have to work twice as hard to prove that I deserved my place ”, confirms Charles Boli, son of Roger and nephew of Basile, on loan from RC Lens to Paris FC last January.

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Some of these sons may want to embrace the trajectory of their progenitor, without actually succeeding. “The young will have more assets: his father will advise him, direct him, in addition to having transmitted him a genetic heritage. But the road is long. We do not give gifts and he will have to prove himself, ”assures Christian Lanza, listing several“ sons of ”who have passed through the Servette center without reaching the pro level.

Limited resources

Among them, Matteo Braizat, Anthony’s son. “My presence didn’t guarantee him anything. He suffered from injuries, I accompanied him as much as possible, concedes the latter. My father had been very important to me. He taught me to live professionally, even showing me how to dry myself after the shower, because I had to take care of my feet, my work tool. But in the end, it’s my life, I had to do violence to myself to be successful. “

In this ultra-competitive world, the resources that the “sons of” benefit from are real but limited. Even at the genetic level. “The genome has a significant role, but more difficult to measure in a team sport such as football, not to mention the environmental, social and training factors that come into play”, decrypts Juliana Antero. Likewise, the network is not everything. “Your relations have no value if the player does not show the qualities necessary for his trainers”, agrees Alain Giresse, alter ego of Michel Platini in Blues whose son, Thibault, has had a long but discreet career in Ligue 1 and Ligue 2.

Peter Zeidler was confronted with this type of situation, at the training center in Stuttgart: “I had the two sons of the club president. They weren’t made for the high level at all. It’s not easy, but at some point you have to tell them, for their own good and that of the club. “

“Long-term” social ascension?

Still, having bathed in a family universe intimately linked to football is often a vocation accelerator. Bruno Roux had “always a ball somewhere” to play with his son, Charles Boli wanted very young “to give happiness to people” thanks to football, like his father. Football is, moreover, “more and more a professional outlet”, according to Alain Giresse, supported by Christian Lanza: “Parents are much less cautious than before, so if the father was pro, we can think that ‘ he will encourage his son in this way. “

Footballer would henceforth be an envied and lasting social position, that a father would transmit in the manner of a craftsman learning the trade to his descendants. However, this vision cannot be universal, so badly does it fit in with the poor social reproduction observed in the community. “It all depends on how your education is structured,” asks Anthony Braizat. I never saw my dad play, he didn’t push me. I could have taken a different path. ”

Sociologist Frédéric Rasera gives several hypotheses arising from interviews with former professional footballers. “Sons can experience a rejection of the professional world, associated with changes of domicile depending on the vagaries of the father’s career. We can also question the educational strategies of footballing parents: their social rise has often made them strongly integrate the place of school and the challenge for their children to be more serious than them, knowing that professional football remains extremely selective. ”

Explanable in several ways, the low social reproduction in the football world questions the social position of footballer families. Frédéric Rasera, without answering it – for lack of work on the subject -, asks the question: “Is professional football a way of” long-term “social ascent and are not the children of footballers doomed, for most of them to some form of downgrading, particularly economic? ”

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