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Eccentric Barthez retires after storied career in goal

France's goalkeeper Fabien Barthez at the end of the semifinal match between Portugal and France in Munich, Germany on July 5, 2006.

France's goalkeeper Fabien Barthez at the end of the semifinal match between Portugal and France in Munich, Germany on July 5, 2006.

A little fun went out of France's goal when Fabien Barthez retired from soccer.
The shining bald head, the owl-like eyes, the manic grin - Barthez left his mark on world soccer as much for his eccentric manner as his undoubted agility.
A self-styled goalkeeper, Barthez rarely obeyed any soccer manual. He loved to dribble past opponents, fancying himself as a skilled outfield player - sometimes with disastrous consequences.
Testing patience
He tested the patience of fans and managers alike, but his commitment to his teammates was never once contested. Laurent Blanc, France's elegant defender from the 1998 World Cup team, once planted a kiss onto Barthez's head after a spectacular save during that successful campaign.
That kiss became a lasting reminder of Barthez.
Three months after helping France reach its second World Cup final, he announced his retirement on Thursday.
"I am starting a new life," he said. "I will continue to enjoy myself ... but without soccer.
"Some goalkeepers continue until 37 or 38," the 35-year-old Barthez added. "But I needed a human adventure, something like that."
Barthez, who also helped Les Bleus win the 2000 European Championship, is not attached to a club and has not played since July 9, when the French lost a shootout to Italy in the World Cup final.
Barthez had a decent World Cup, but his waning agility became evident in the final against Italy, when he failed to get near any of the five penalty kicks.
His concentration, too, had wobbled against Portugal in the semifinal, when he dealt with a free kick from Cristiano Ronaldo by palming the ball into the air like he was playing beach volleyball.
The ball dropped invitingly to Luis Figo, who headed it over. He was perhaps as surprised as anybody.
Typically, Barthez grinned, as if it was merely a training ground mishap.
Doing things his own way often meant he put his team at risk.
Once, against Valencia, he ran past Kily Gonzalez at full speed while dribbling the ball, leaving the Valencia winger in his tracks.
That time, it worked.
The same trick backfired in October 2001, when he attempted to bamboozle Diego Tristan of Deportivo La Coruna with his nifty footwork.
But Barthez fell over, Tristan took the ball and rolled it into the empty net. A packed Old Trafford failed to see the funny side when Barthez and Manchester United lost 3-2, with Tristan grabbing a brace.
Red-faced, coach Alex Ferguson was already beginning to lose patience with Barthez.
During the 2002-2003 Champions League, another Barthez blunder helped Ronaldo on the way to a hat trick at Old Trafford.
Offloaded to Marseille
Ferguson had enough, and offload him to Marseille in January 2004.
But there were memorable, sometimes stunning, saves, and Barthez was near faultless in France's '98 World Cup run, making a crucial save against Ronaldo in the final.
At Euro 2000, France and Portugal were 1-1 in extra time when Abel Xavier rose to meet a cross, and aimed a powerful header goalward. With barely a split second to react, Barthez threw himself upward and tipped the ball over the crossbar - prompting Xavier to hold his head in disbelief.
Barthez quit Marseille before this year's World Cup and hoped his close friendship with Toulouse coach Elie Baup would facilitate a move back to his hometown club, but the team did not want to risk losing promising goalkeeper Nicolas Douchez.
"The only clubs where I wanted to go were not very pleased to see me," Barthez said on French television. "(Toulouse) would have been perfect for me."
Barthez said he was considering an offer to be a television commentator at next year's Rugby World Cup.
"Why not? That would be interesting," Barthez said. "I grew up surrounded by rugby."
With Barthez gone, only Lilian Thuram, Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet remain active from France's '98 World Cup winners.
"It's a beautiful page in soccer which is being turned," Baup said. "For me, he was the best French goalkeeper ever."


Updated : 2021-05-09 16:50 GMT+08:00