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Tuesday, January 30, 2001
Barthez looks like a Buddhist with a blind spot
By Ken Lawrence

It was the morning after the nightmare before. The world's most revered goalkeeper, Fabien Barthez, winner of a World Cup and European Championship, awoke to find himself a figure of fun.

Fabien Barthez
Barthez: Zen's the breaks
Not 24 hours after his impersonation of a Parisian traffic cop, Barthez discovered that his error of judgment when faced by West Ham's Paolo Di Canio was entering into footballing folklore.

The internet was a deluge of jokes and on BBC radio listeners were being invited to put the blundering Barthez to rhyme. Even Gary Lineker, England's finest striker of his generation, was tempted to have a go.

For most goalkeepers the response would have been either to pull the curtains and lock the door or head for a punishing schedule on the training ground followed by hours of video analysis.

But Barthez, who used to start every France match by inviting central defender Laurent Blanc to plant a kiss on his bald head, is not your average goalkeeper nor your normal person.

His response will be in the metaphysical - not in the method - of how he failed to out-psyche the West Ham striker. Barthez will turn not to videotape but to Zen Buddhism, the mystical religion of the east of which film star Richard Gere is a famous disciple.

The Frenchman, signed for £7.8million from Monaco last year, explained the reasoning behind his bizarre failure to react, saying: 'I wanted to put Di Canio off, to sow doubt in his mind. I knew he was not offside but I wanted to make him think he was.

'That is why I stopped and put my arm in the air. If I had put him off I could maybe have got the ball off him. The problem was that he never once took his eyes off the ball. He was using his experience, just like I was using mine.

'When I realised he was so concentrated on his game, I tried to stop his shot but I was not able to.'

Sir Alex Ferguson and his defenders may wish to turn to Barthez himself, then, to calm their fears that such an error of judgment will not unhinge the Frenchman. Barthez is at ease with himself, living his whole life guided by the kind of reasoning and disciplines that the majority of Westerners find difficult to comprehend.

Banned from football for four months in 1996 after testing positive for marijuana. Regained his France place the following year when Bernard Lama was punished for the same offence. Who says goalkeepers are dopes?

Having allowed Laurent Blanc to kiss his bald pate for luck before every France game, Barthez decided none of his United team-mates were handsome or tender enough for the task when he arrived at Old Trafford. Keano was heart-broken, apparently.

Famously conducted on-off romance with supermodel Linda Evangelista. Quite right for a player voted 'the man most French women would like to spend their holiday with' in a poll after the 1998 World Cup.

The Frenchman used his beliefs to help him win World Cup and European Championship medals.

Rather than spend the hours after his faux pas beating himself up, he is more likely to have been meditating on a Zen couplet like the following:

  • To receive trouble is to receive good fortune.
  • To receive agreement is to receive opposition.
  • That advice is hardly likely to figure in Ferguson's scripture for success. But, written over 500 years ago and part of a Zen anthology known as the Zenrin Kushu, it is the kind of thing that assures the showman goalkeeper when he takes risks.

    Barthez, after all, was the 21-year-old goalkeeper who fell asleep on the team bus on the way to Marseille's 1993 European Cup final victory over AC Milan and had to be awoken when the French side got to the stadium.

    One of his former Marseille team-mates, Tony Cascarino, said: 'While Fabien may act the clown and may even look the clown with that bald dome and the beard, he has an inner peace of the kind I have never come across in any other team-mate or opponent.

    'His Zen beliefs are such that he has taught himself never to allow doubt to interfere in anything he does.'

    Cascarino, who last year retired from French football and also as a Republic of Ireland international, still lives in France and watched a recording of West Ham's victory over United while in Paris awaiting the birth of his fourth child, William.

    'I knew what Fabien was trying to do. But the fact that he did not distract Di Canio will, in Fabien's thinking, not be a failure because failure is not in his make-up. Instead, he will probably do a bit of meditating and get on with his life as if nothing has happened. He will see it as a way to become stronger.

    'Fabien sees himself as a truly great goalkeeper. Not in a big-headed sense, but for the reason that he has been so successful for so long. Since he went to Old Traf-ford he has maintained the form that made the difference in France winning the European Championship.

    'He has never had to look up in his career, always down, because he rose to the pinnacle of the game very quickly. In fact, if United are to go on to win the Champions League, it will be because of Fabien, the odd mistake and all.'


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