Sunday, June 20, 2010

French Soap Opera Unfolding In South Africa

The French national soccer team is in utter chaos as it faces early elimination from the World Cup.  It all started at halftime of the match against Mexico (eventually losing 0-2).  Chelsea forward Nicolas Anelka, star of the French team, was criticized behind closed doors by coach Raymond Domenech for straying out of position during a goalless first half.

According to French sports newspaper L'Equipe, Anelka exploded in rage in the dressing room, verbally abusing the coach. He is reported to have said, "Go fuck yourself you son of a whore."

L'Equipe claim Domenech responded by substituting another player for Anelka.  The 57-year-old coach, who has already announced his departure from the team effective with the end of the World Cup, had been facing great pressure over his leadership of the squad.  However, the entire incident would have likely gone unnoticed had it not been for an unknown member of the French contingent, who leaked details of the incident to the press.  At that point, French team officials had no choice but to demand that Anelka publicly apologize-- and when he refused, he was dismissed from the team and sent home.

The soap opera got into full swing the next morning.  Just a few minutes after taking the practice field for a public training session, team Captain Patrice Evra and fitness coach Robert Duverne became involved in an argument.  Domenech stepped in and Duverne stormed away, as the players walked off the practice field and boarded the team bus.  After a few minutes at the bus, Domenech returned to the practice field and released a prepared statement from the players (which read in part):
"With this statement, all the players in the France squad without exception want to declare their opposition to the decision taken by the French Football Federation to exclude Nicolas Anelka from the squad.

"If we regret the incident which occurred at half-time of the match between France and Mexico, 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.

"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.

"For our part, we are aware of our responsibilities as those wearing the colours of our country.   We will do everything individually and also in a collective spirit to ensure that France regains its honor with a positive performance on Tuesday."

Back at the French team headquarters, France team director Jean-Louis Valentin announced he would be resigning. "It's a scandal for the French, it's a scandal for the federation and the French team," he said. "It is a shame. As for me, it's over. I'm leaving the federation. I'm sickened and disgusted.  Under these conditions, I've decided to return to Paris and to resign."

Seemingly not wanting to be left out of the action, the French Football Federation swiftly condemned the action of the boycotting players.  They released a statement saying, "This is an unacceptable consequence of the eviction of Nicolas Anelka, which they feel is injustice.  Contrary to what the players said, this sanction was taken following a long conversation with the person in the presence of the captain.  The FFF apologise to the country for the unacceptable conduct of the players that are representing our country."

The refusal of the France squad to train following striker Nicolas Anelka's exclusion from the squad is arguably the most dramatic bust-up in the history of the World Cup.  The incident is just the latest in what has been a string of rumors about unrest within the France camp and claims Domenech has lost the support of his players. The under-fire Domenech has also brushed aside concerns rivals Uruguay and Mexico may manufacture a draw in their final Group A match to ensure they progress to the knockout stages at the expense of the French.

French midfielder Jeremy Toulalan (who is suspended for Tuesday's South Africa game) has confirmed that dressing-room disharmony is at the heart of France's problems.  But he admits it is time for the players to start delivering after two woeful and goalless performances.  Stay tuned-- the outcome of Group A will be resolved once and for all on Tuesday morning.

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