France 'laughing stock of world'


GROUP A: FRANCE IN DISARRAY:Chaos reigns in the France camp with the expulsion of striker Nicolas Anelka and players refusing to train

THERE ARE some rather uncanny similarities between the conflict in the French squad that erupted into public view yesterday in Knysna and certain events of Saipan eight years ago.

Take the conflicting versions of events, the bitter recriminations over leaks to the press and the way events have been reported, the promise of an internal inquiry when everyone gets home, the general chaos and, most obviously, the expulsion itself of a key player from the squad after his refusal to apologise for insulting his coach,

There are, however, significant differences too, not least the scale of the underlying problems which have prompted not just the departure of Nicolas Anelka but also the resignation of the team director, Jean-Louis Valentin, the fact that the French Federation rather than the coach took the decision to expel the player and the unanimous backing Anelka has received from his team-mates in the wake of the action taken against him for his outburst at half-time in Thursday’s defeat by Mexico in Polokwane.

Domenech, who is to be replaced by Laurent Blanc after this World Cup, also appears to have been humiliated in a way that Mick McCarthy never was and it seems somewhat remarkable at this stage that he does not simply walk in advance of his side’s critically important game against South Africa in Bloemfontein.

In a bizarre turn of events yesterday the coach found himself reading a statement from his players to the media at the team’s temporary training base in Knysna, in which they condemned the expulsion of Anelka. This was after he had spoken to the squad for 20 minutes on the team bus with the curtains closed.

Perhaps the only consolation for the team’s supporters is that the players seem finally to be agreed on something, even if it is their rejection of the stand taken by the French Federation in support of their coach.

Any hopes the federation hierarchy might have been harbouring that they would be able to draw a line under Anelka’s enforced departure comprehensively evaporated yesterday afternoon when the remaining players decided that they would not take part in the scheduled public training session but only sign autographs for fans who had turned up to watch.

Robert Duverne, the squad’s fitness coach, appears to have been angered when he heard the news and an altercation ensued with team captain Patrice Evra which Domenech had to break up. When the team director, Jean-Louis Valentin failed to persuade the players to change their minds he stormed off, throwing his World Cup accreditation badge to the ground, denouncing their stand as “a disgrace” and announcing his intention to leave immediately for Paris and resign from his job as managing director of the federation.

On Saturday, Evra had sought to play down the significance of Anelka’s row with Domenech in which he is alleged to have told the coach to: “F*** off you dirty son of a whore,” insisting that the more important question was the identity of the person who leaked the story to the media. As he departed yesterday a tearful Valentin denied that he had been the guilty party on that score.

Domenech, meanwhile, acknowledged the importance of the story becoming public, insisting that he had not had a huge problem with Anelka’s outburst in the circumstances but that his refusal to apologise became a major stumbling block once the incident had gone beyond the confines of the dressingroom.

“This was not a confrontation,” said the coach. “People cannot imagine the pressure. You are in the dressingroom, the trainer says something to a player who is already under pressure, they are annoyed for a minute and words are said.

“He reacted in a way which is not ideal. But what he said in the corner (of the dressingroom, where Anelka was sitting as Domenech criticised him for drifting out of position during the game’s first half and announced that he would be replaced for the second) is unimportant.

“The problem was in-house and I had left it. Everything stayed between us. That was management. The only thing that I can reproach him for is not having come to apologise. Afterwards, when it came out (in the press) the decision of the federation was the right one.”

The players, unsurprisingly, begged to differ. In their statement they made it clear they supported Anelka unreservedly.

“If we regret the incident which occurred at half-time of the match between France and Mexico,” they said in their statement, “we regret even more the leak of an event which should have remained within the group and which is quite common in a high-level team. At the request of the squad, the player in question attempted to have dialogue but his approach was ignored.

“For its part, the French Football Federation has at no time tried to protect the squad. It has made a decision (to send Anelka home) without consulting all the players, on the basis of the facts reported by the press.

“Accordingly, and to mark the opposition to those at the highest level of French football, all the players decided not to train today. Out of respect for the public who came to attend training, we decided to go to meet the fans who, by their presence, showed their full support.

“For our part, we are aware of our responsibilities as those wearing the colours of our country. Also for those we have towards our fans and countless children who keep Les Bleus as role models. We forget none of our duties. We will do everything individually and also in a collective spirit to ensure that France regains its honour with a positive performance on Tuesday.”

Within the hour, the federation has issued a statement of its own, insisting that the decision to expel Anelka was taken after a long discussion with the interested parties and “in the presence of the team captain”. It apologised for the “unacceptable” decision of the players not to train and suggested that the players had generated a mixture of “anger” and “shame” because of their actions. It promised an immediate inquiry upon the team’s return from South Africa.

With Anelka on a flight to Paris last night, insisting that he has retired from international football, Sochaux coach Francis Gillot lambasted the attitude of the French players, observing: “Their attitude is both pathetic and disgraceful. Today I am thinking of the Irish – they should have been there in our place. France is the laughing stock of the world.”