The legacy of French international football is in serious jeopardy, their tournament squad’s just can’t seem to stop causing national embarrassment: Captain Patrice Evra leading his World Cup squad on strike, Samir Nasri vowing never to play again and now Benzema saying his coach ‘bowed to racism’… when are this generation of French players going to grow up?
I was introduced to football during an era in which France were considered a footballing powerhouse at international tournaments: Zidane’s world cup triumph over Brazil in 1998, Trezeguet’s dramatical golden goal winner in Euro 2000 – it surely set the benchmark for French football.
Well apparently not, as for nearly every international competition that followed, members of the French squad have managed to hog the tournament headlines for all the wrong reasons.
This years drama fiend is Karim Benzema, who currently faces charges for conspiring to blackmail his France team-mate Mathieu Valbuena over a sex tape. Simply, Benzema was not picked because he is under formal investigation; the French Football Federation moved to suspend him from the national team until verdicts had been reached.
A seemingly reasonable explanation, though not one that Benzema was willing to accept – the Real Madrid star has provoked national outrage ahead of the international tournament by suggesting his omission was an act of racism:
“[Deschamps] has bowed to the pressure of a racist part of France. He has to know that in France the extremist party reached the second round in the last two elections.
“I do not know, therefore, whether it is a decision only for Didier because I’ve gotten along with him, with the president (of the French Football Federation, Noel Le Graet) and everyone.”
What makes Benzema’s rash statement all the more puzzling is that Didier Deschamps’ squad of 23 is one of the most multiracial in the tournament. Thirteen of the players are non-white, including players of African, West Indian and Indian Ocean origin.
Euro 2016 should have been a tournament of celebration for France as host nation and favourites, but once again their performance may well be dictated or overshadowed by petulant, attention-seeking acts off the field, and it’s not for the first time…
World Cup 2010
The South-African World Cup in 2010 was nothing short of humiliating, as France convincingly claimed the title of ‘Worst World Cup Squad Ever’.
To summarise the French Rebellion…
France started the tournament poorly, drawing 0-0 with Uruguay and losing 2-0 to Mexico. During the defeat to Mexico, Nicolas Anelka confronted coach Domenech:
“Go fuck yourself, you son of a whore.”
After he refused to apologise, the FFF expelled him from the squad. The following day, in front of hundreds of fans at an open training session, captain Patrice Evra got into a heated confrontation with team trainer Robert Duverne with the latter having to be restrained by Domenech. The resulting confrontation provoked Evra to take his team on strike:
“All the players without exception want to declare their opposition to the decision taken by the FFF to exclude Nicolas Anelka from the squad,
“At the request of the squad, the player in question attempted to have dialogue but his approach was ignored. The FFF 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.”
The French Football Federation responded to the statement by declaring the players’ boycott “unacceptable” and apologising to the world for the conduct of the players. The following day, France were defeated 2–1 by the hosts South Africa and eliminated from the competition.
Ultimately, it wasn’t Zidane or Trezeguet’s heroics that set the precedent for future tournaments, it was the infamous actions of Evra and co. at the 2010 World Cup. Ever since that infamous debacle, French football has been plagued by embarrassing fiascos.
Will France ever be able to enter an international tournament without being embroiled in some form of internal conflict? Going into Euro 2016 on home soil, with their strongest squad for years and yet they seem on course to shoot themselves in the foot yet again.
This time round it’s Benzema, last World Cup it was Samir Nasri spitting his dummy out… who next? As entertaining as the storylines in the French football Soap Opera have been for the past decade, it’s about time the producers killed off the attention-seeking teenage character – it’s been six years since the 2010 World Cup, surely they’d have grown up by now?