Black History Month

Desailly: I looked far for my black sporting heroes

17 Oct 2023
Marcel Desailly BHM Chelsea

Ex-Chelsea star discusses his role models and the multicultural France team who won the 1998 World Cup

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When Marcel Desailly sought black role models in French football when growing up in France, he had to look beyond his own country.

See: Desailly reflects on his career

"In the 1970s, not in football, but I had some in Edwin Moses, Marvin Hagler, Americans especially," Desailly told Sky Sports.

"I met [Hagler] when he was in Italy in Milan, he was my friend. He was scary, but he's not that tall. I saw the boxing training sessions; this is where you understand real sports commitment and I was like, 'Wow!'"

Marvin Hagler Desailly Hero

Only one France player in the 1970s was really an inspiration to the former Chelsea defender, with most coming from abroad.

“The top, top, top, Marius Tresor maybe, but not that many,” Desailly adds of the player born in Guadeloupe but who represented France 65 times.

“Like everyone, Michael Jordan was a hero. But in football it was Diego Maradona, Bernd Schuster, who played for Barcelona.”

Michael Jordan Desailly hero

Desailly lifted the FIFA World Cup in 1998 as part of a multicultural France team led by Didier Deschamps, who joined Desailly at Chelsea in 1999, and featuring Zinedine Zidane and Lilian Thuram, along with former Premier League stars Patrick Vieira, Emmanuel Petit and Fabien Barthez.

"We share our knowledge and history but it is not really something [we talked about]," said Desailly.

"Each of us had a story, probably this one (winning the World Cup) also brought us to the level we were supposed to be, but it's not something that we noticed.

"Yes, Zidane is originally Algerian but we never talked about it.

"It was something proud, to make sure the population identified themselves to the French national team. Being able, all together at the same time, from different origins, to make France proud."

Also in this series

Part 1: How the Premier League is fighting racism
Part 2: How Sarr's family prepared him for success
Part 3: West Ham achieve Premier League equality standard
Part 4: How clubs and players supported No Room For Racism campaign
Part 5: Ogbene: It's important to teach younger generation about diversity
Part 6: Danjuma: My greatness comes from going through hardship
Part 7: How Wolves are educating young people about inclusion
Part 8: 'It's everyone's responsibility to do something about discrimination'
Part 9: Caicedo: Learning through diversity helped me reach the top 
Part 10: Darren Bent on the men and women who've inspired him
Part 11: Benjamin Zephaniah on the Premier League and the legacy of Windrush
Part 13: Jimenez: Family support helped me become great
Part 14: Pittman: Sharing my knowledge will help the next generation
Part 15: Szoboszlai: My father helped me achieve the impossible
Part 16: Amadou Onana on the people who've inspired him
Part 17: Why family support is so important for Mbeumo and Wissa
Part 18: Gomez: Positive black role models are so important

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