Our regular look at French football – illustrated by a photo borrowed from the PSGmag.net fan site – considers the racial quotas scandal – and comes clean on another dodgy prediction …
Lille football club – LOSC Lille Métropole if you must – are very nearly the Ligue 1 champions in France after winning 2-1 last night at Saint-Etienne (who else remembers when Dominique Rocheteau played for them?
It puts them seven points ahead of Marseille, who have a game in hand but a markedly inferior goal difference.
Only a remarkable collapse in their final three games, from which five points would suffice, would stop Lille winning the title for the first time since their previous championships on 1946 and 1954. As in 1946, they may also win the double, the Coupe de France final against PSG coming up on Saturday night.
And my apologies to Marseille for casting a curse on their title hopes for the second time in three seasons. On the morning OM blew their chances by crumbling at home to Lyon two seasons ago, I had a 2,000-word piece on the sports pages of The National, Abu Dhabi, dealing at length with their revival after 16 years in the doldrums. And only last week, when they briefly went top of Ligue 1, I predicted that they would go on to stay there. Oh well.
Meanwhile, the hot football news in France is the sports minister’s clear statement that Laurent Blanc, manager of the national side, was innocent of any improper behaviour in the affair of the racial quotas. For those new to the subject, the Q word was used by the French Football Federation technical director François Blaquart when a meeting of coaches last November discussed the issue of schoolboy hopefuls who were trained at FFF expense only to go on to represent the North or sub-Saharan African nations of their family origins.
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The sports minister Chantal Jouanno said the debate – secretly recorded and handed by a disaffected official to a news website – proceeded in a manner that left an impression that was “really very unpleasant, with innuendoes that very often were borderline tending toward racist”. But Blanc, who was attacked by some former World Cup colleagues but defended by others, Zizou crucially among them, had not spoken in favour of quotas and had stated: “If there are only blacks in the training centres and these blacks are French and want to play in the France team that is all fine by me.”
My full account of yesterday’s events is in today’s edition of The National. I’ll not even mention the other time Blanc said things he ought not to have done; nor will I necessarily agree with my former colleague Sam Wallace, who wrote in the Indie that whether or not his comments betrayed racist thoughts, Blanc was guilty of “sheer stupidity”.
But the French manager did speak in a way he has now admitted could be misinterpreted, though he claims the offending words were taken out of context. He is said to be angry with himself. Blaquart, despite being prominent in an anticracist sports body, could still face dismissal by the FFF. We may not have heard the last of it.