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St Etienne fans don't care for the score; they sing when they're losing

Thursday 23rd February 2017
Manchester's two football halves each played European matches midweek, sky blue portion at home Tuesday, red contingent away Wednesday. Both sides won their matches, one ensuring progress to their competition's next stage, the other going some way towards the same goal in theirs. Both sides also played French clubs, yet their opponents' attitudes towards the fixtures were surprisingly polarized.

Technically, AS Monaco is not a French club.  They compete in Ligue 1 but reside in an autonomous principality. On the other hand, French is the spoken language and, although Monaco is a tax haven, its French footballers (as well as outsiders from certain other nations, including the United States) are still on the hook for income tax from their home country.
Regardless, the tiny enclave is notorious as the wealthy's playground. It's no surprise, then, after his side's back and forth 5-3 loss to Man City at the Etihad, their Portuguese manager, Leonardo Jardim, proclaimed his pride for the show his side and the Citizens provided fans. The rich and famous go to Monaco to be entertained. Whether it's casinos, tennis, Formula One, or, now, football, they demand a premium product.

Certainly, Jardim has delivered. His side is energetic, brimming with talent, eager to show off. Two-thirds through their domestic campaign, Les Monégasques top the table, three points better than four-time defending champions Paris Saint-Germain and upstarts Nice. They have already scored seventy-six goals. PSG are nearest with fifty. Monaco's goal differential exceeds that. After twenty-six matches, they are fifty-two goals to the good. In other words they are averaging a 3-1 score for the entire season.

If this were the NBA, Monaco would be the Golden State Warriors. I'll let you decide who among Radamel Falcao, Valerie Germain, Kylian Mbappe. Guido Carillo, Thomas Lemar, Bernardo Silva, Boschilia, and Fabinho is Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala. Javale McGee, Zaza Pachulia, and Shaun Livingston. The point is, like the Warriors rotation, Monaco's players all score, all the time.
Unlike PSG, who sacked manager Laurent Blanc for his inability to progress in the Champions League, Les Rouge et Blancs first priority is entertaining a fan base not easily impressed. Jardim has done that and more.

By contrast, St Etienne is more a blue collar town. Although a favorite with tourists driving through the French countryside, it has a strong manufacturing base, having at various stages been known for producing everything from munitions to ribbons. AS St Etienne lies fifth in the Ligue 1 table. Its working class squad was ousted from the Europa League by Manchester United's superior pedigree. This mattered little to their fans. Like any group living on a tight budget, they don't demand to be entertained. They've learned to entertain themselves.

United came to St Etienne already leading 3-0 on aggregate. Red Devils fans can be forgiven for thinking the match a formality, even if their Portuguese coach, whose name you probably know, felt compelled to field a strong team. Having been embarrassed and pushed to their limit by Hull City in their previous "formality," the EFL Cup semifinal second leg, José Mourinho felt the need to be certain. Juan Mata and Henrikh Mkhitaryan dutifully combined for a goal on the quarter-hour, upgrading the match from formality to foregone conclusion.
While the green-clad players and their coach, Christophe Galtier, were frowning, St Etienne's fans didn't mind. For them, the match was a formality in a different context. The run of play irrelevant, Stade Geoffroy-Guichard had been rented out for a party with forty-two thousand guests. Les Verts supporters were in full voice before kickoff, throughout the contest, and long past. If anything, after United had put the match to bed, they became louder, completely disinterested in sleep. For long stretches, they turned their backs on the action to do the Grecque, what you and I might call the Poznań. Many let off fireworks, which will likely bring UEFA's wrath down on the club. Like teenagers who invite the entire school over to the house when their parents go away for the weekend, the crowd was oblivious to consequences.

Those of us concerned with our team's performance, with whether Wayne Rooney has anything left in the tank or Pep Guardiola can cope with the Premier League, may have missed the plot. It's okay to enjoy the game, fine to be immersed in club and league politics. Only we've become so obsessed we've forgotten what Leonardo Jardim and St Etienne fans still understand. These things aren't critical to our well-being. It's all just a show meant for our entertainment. Whatever the outcome, smile. Have a good time.
Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin authored the short story collection strange bOUnce. He appeared in several other blogs which no longer exist. Old, he likes to bring out defunct. If outdated sport and pop-cultural references intrude on his meanderings for It's Round and It's White, don't be alarmed. He's harmless.

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