French football is in an appalling state. It was bad enough, following the Thierry Henry handball, even before the team reached South Africa. Once they got there, the rot really set in, from the awful performances to Anelka’s foul-mouthed rant, from the players’ revolt to the manager Raymond Domenech’s disgraceful refusal to shake the hand of his South African counterpart. But wIll the sidelining of Domenech and a single match ban on the striking players make everything all right? …
Even I am beginning to tire of hearing about the rotten state of French football. But comments posted here recently prompt me to reflect on the latest developments.
The millionaires’ mutiny in South Africa was a shameful but logical extension of the self-centred, scowling arrogance of the modern game.
I have reported here on some of the subsequent comments of players involved in that grim moment in French sporting history.
It is a mixture, if you leave aside Franck Ribery’s separate “my conscience is clear – I didn’t know she was under age”, of blame-shifting, attempted justification of the unjustifiable and unconvincing contrition.
And now Laurent Blanc and the French Football Federation have acted: none of the squad of 23 who took part in the revolt, refusing to train two days ahead of the last group stage match, will be chosen for his first game in charge of the French national side.
Since the match is a friendly against Norway, we can safely take this to be a token sanction; it may or may not be followed by further punishment but Blanc is said to hope any such measures will not deprive him of a free choice for the forthcoming Euro 2012 qualifying ties.
Interestingly, the FFF session that agreed to the ban took place in the absence of a key member, the former French international Lilian Thuram, all the more odd because he had been banging on for the need for serious punishments for men who brought disgrace on their country and their sport.
I have no idea why he failed to turn up; one other member of the FFF pointed out that his own attendance had meant breaking into his holiday. My admiration for Thuram had already taken a knock when I read, in the doctor’s surgery, a depressing report in the French magazine Le Point.
Describing the rebellious World Cup squad as well-paid but not well-behaved, a surly mob of spoilt idols cut off from the real world by their earphones and pulled-down baseball caps, the magazine nevertheless pointed out that there wasn’t so much that was new in the players’ attitude.
And even members of the glorious 1998 World Cup winning team had been contaminated. It recounted the story that Thuram had rejected an invitation to speak on the issue of tolerance to children in Alsace when the authorities’ offer of a €1,500 fee fell €18,500 short of his requirements.
I believe Thuram has challenged the accuracy of the tale but I have been unable to locate the terms of his denial, beyond a third-party suggestion that he refused to undertake the engagement only after an original offer of the higher figure was reduced to the much lower one. I prefer to give him the benefit of the doubt, but the allegation has been repeatedly aired in France, where Thuram is rightly praised for his campaigning on racism and justice, leaves a nasty taste in the mouth.
What football needs to accept is that such stories, if true or allowed to go without full rebuttal, add to the general feeling of distance between super-rich players and the supporting public.
There is much more to put right in football than just making players behave responsibly and respectfully. And that applies way beyond France’s borders.
But there does need to be a more generous approach to public relations generally. The contempt shown by football clubs and authorities towards fanzines, fan sites and other independent voices of support is scandalous, but perhaps a different argument.
In terms of the mainstream media, tennis gets it right in making post-match press conferences an obligation, not a choice. It doesn’t deprive players of the right to say “no comment” to impertinent, intrusive or merely unwelcome questions but imposes upon them a reasonable duty to speak (or be seen to refuse to speak), via the media, to the public.
Blanc has his work cut out if he is going to clean up French football, force the players out of their brat bubbles and act more like ambassadors for France than dodgy mercenaries – AND win games. Didier Deschamps says he cannot do it alone, that a collective effort is necessary.
But then, since Blanc is a man who – along with his then chairman at Bordeaux – adopted an arrogant attitude of his own, belittling Sunderland AFC when Steve Bruce tried to sign Marouane Chamakh. I am not even sure I care whether he succeeds.