French Footballers’ Mutiny

They’re gone now, Les Bleus, the French national football team. Today they arrived back in Paris, and star attacker Thierry Henry even headed straight to L’Elysée Palace to give his own explanation to President Nicolas Sarkozy of what went on down there in South Africa that produced such a shambles.

Time now for the tournament to move on, which it has done already with, among other things, England’s narrow 1-0 victory over Slovenia and Landon Donovan’s last-minute goal for Team USA which sent them on to the sudden-death Round of 16 and sent the Slovenians packing for home. For any of those with a more morbid outlook, though – those who tend to linger long while passing the scene of a horrific accident by the side of the road, say – Grégory Schneider of the French paper Libération has some behind-the-scenes details of what happened with the French, including the precise wording of Nicolas Anelka’s to-his-face characterization of his coach during half-time of the France-Mexico game (Get ready: Va te faire enculer, sale fils de pute! It’s pretty bad.) that got him sent home and was the immediate cause of all the trouble.

You see, his teammates didn’t really feel Anelka’s saying that merited what they saw as the extreme measure of actually sending him 6,000 all the way back home. So they went on strike, and Schneider lays out the scene:

Robert Duverne [France fitness coach] had already laid out his cones. It was 16.00 hours yesterday when the players disembarked from from the bus that permitted them not to have to traverse on foot the 400 meters separating their hotel from the Field of Dreams [sic] . . . of the Pezula Hotel, where they had been training for two weeks. All the players went to sign autographs for supporters, massed to the left of the field. All, except their captain, Patrice Evra, in a big discussion with the trainer, Raymond Domemech. And it’s there that the French team abandoned itself to Chaos.

Robert Duverne . . . approaches Evra with the clear intention of giving him a pop in the mouth. Domenech interposes. Duverne, furious, leaves swinging his timepiece. Evra gives the signal for the players to return to the bus, before even the first ball has rolled. They go there as one, and one notices the telling detail: they have on basketball sneakers, whereas they train in cleats. Jean-Louis Valentin, Director-General of the French Football Federation (FFF), emerges from the back of the bus and leaves the scene . . .

. . . and says some nasty stuff about the players (more examples of French profanity, but I think you’ve had enough for today), thereupon declaring that he intends to resign his position and go straight back to Paris himself.

Afterwards, Domenech joins his players on the bus, which doesn’t go anywhere. Instead, he re-emerges after half an hour to stand pasty-white and read to the press a statement from the players protesting at Anelka’s treatment. Remember that it was this Domenech who had been subject to the above-quoted nasty characterization from that same Anelka.

From there it got even worse. The players turned out not to be as unified as they declared; rumors of divisions, possibly along racial lines, soon surfaced. Team captain Evra (fired soon afterwards) noted at a subsequent press conference that things would not have gotten as bad if Anelka’s behavior could have been kept confidential within the team. The fact that it leaked to the outside world he attributed to a “traitor” within the team ranks; yes, he knew who it was, but would not say. Still, he was also willing to admit that Anelka’s behavior towards his coach was “inadmissable.” OK then, the assembled reporters wanted to know, how come the players are insisting that he stay?

In all, Schneider provides a lot of the juicy stuff, if not all of it, for those who are curious, including a revealing photograph at the top of the piece showing an exasperated Domenech walking alongside Patrice Evra, with outstretched palm, who is apparently trying to explain something. Who knows what we will hear further as a result of Thierry Henry’s meeting with the President? After all, for the French the 2010 World Cup is over, after having (in Scheider’s words) “verged on the grotesque.” All that remains is to try to try to get the whole story of what went wrong, in the interests of the team at future tournaments.

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