The kick that killed a career: the sorry decline of France star Reynald Pedros
Nowhere like Nantes
Part of the problem for Pedros was that his education at Nantes was so unique that wherever he went after was going to be a step down
That winter, Lyon came in for him, and Pedros accepted the offer. Only after that agreement did he speak to Jacquet about the move. The France manager said he would allow Pedros to have some medical tests with the national team doctors, but saw his return to France as a failure. Pedros knew then it would be hard to force his way back into contention. He at least played regularly for Lyon, but was never called back into the France squad.
“I made all that effort for nothing in the end,” he recalls now. “It was hugely frustrating.”
Part of the problem for Pedros was that his education at Nantes was so unique that wherever he went after working with Coco Suaudeau was going to be a step down: “When I was at Nantes, I didn’t realise how different things would be away from there.”
Nantes taught him to be altruistic; to prioritise the collective above the individual. But it only really worked at Nantes. The standard was much higher with the France team, of course, but nowhere else was he able to recreate that collective team ethic.
“Sometimes,” he says, “I think Nantes gave me a bad education by teaching me those qualities – but it’s still the football that I love. That was the peak, and it came very early to me. I thought it would also be like that everywhere else. I didn’t understand that it could be so different at other clubs.”
Regrets, he's had a few
You have to stop believing that everything is rosy just because you play football for a living
After Lyon, Pedros played for clubs lower down the French ladder – Montpellier, Toulouse, Bastia – and then, as age and injuries took their toll, he saw out his playing days at Maccabi Ahi Nazareth in Israel and Al-Khor Sports Club in Qatar.
A few years ago, Pedros wrote a book about his experiences, called Le Complex Canari (Nantes’ nickname is the Canaries). “I know where I failed and where I succeeded, but my book is an attack against the system of football,” he said in an interview. “You have to stop believing that everything is rosy just because you play football for a living. Behind every failure there’s an explanation – and it’s not always a sporting one.” He mentions his regrets: turning down Barcelona before the European Championship in England, and that injury at Parma.
And what about the penalty and its legacy? He could surely sympathise with Didier Six, who's claimed that his penalty miss in the 1982 World Cup semi-final loss to West Germany was one of the reasons why he was never entrusted with a managerial role in France. Pedros took amateur coaching jobs when his playing career finished, at Saint-Jean-de-la-Ruelle and Saint-Pryve Saint-Hilaire, and often spoke of his wish to return to Nantes in a coaching capacity.
It never happened. For Pedros, opprobrium over that fateful penalty came briefly from the fans, but he rarely felt it from within the game. It cannot be compared to the fate of David Ginola, who was singled out for blame after that World Cup qualifying home defeat by Bulgaria in 1993.
Putting it behind him
I’m proud that I took the penalty, because it was my duty
There is one exception to that, however. Marcel Desailly, who was playing in that match against the Czech Republic, was talking about his France memories on a Canal+ documentary called Les Yeux dans les Bleus. Desailly warned about the dangers of taking big penalties: “Just look at Pedros – he missed a penalty and we never saw him again.”
“I don’t like to waste time on things that are not worth it,” is Pedros’ response. “I’m proud that I took the penalty, because it was my duty. So when you hear something like that, you know your family and friends will be more upset than you. For me, it made me laugh. Now I am a pundit on Canal+ and when I see someone miss a penalty, I can talk about the technique, the psychology – everything.
“The others say I am an expert, and it’s true. The guy who craps himself when he’s asked to take a penalty – he shouldn’t be saying anything at all. It’s not a problem for me. I know who my friends are.”
MORE MAGAZINE FEATURES
The Euro 96 penalty miss may have started a dramatic career slide for Pedros, but it was not the sole cause of it. Some bad decisions, some bad luck, a few injuries and a unique and unrepeatable football education all contributed to the change in direction – though, in his eyes, his remains a football career to be proud of.
However, it does remind us that for every young superstar that comes along, there are hundreds more who, if a certain goalkeeper happened to dive the other way, could have joined them. Pedros doesn't think about that any more. “For me,” he says, “what’s important is the human side – the emotions and your feelings. That’s more important than whether the ball goes in or not.”
This feature originally appeared in the July 2016 issue of FourFourTwo. Subscribe!