OK, not everyone is as fascinated as
Colin Randallby the continuing French football crisis. But with time to spare before the World Cup semis, it seems appropriate to dot the odd i and cross a t or two following the condemnation by Liliam Thuram of Patrice Evra …
So Thierry Henry had his meeting with Sarko, and one of the dinosaurs of the French Football Federation, its 75-year-old president Jean-Pierre Escalettes, has fallen on his sword.
Meanwhile Liliam Thuram adopts the role of stern, onlooking head of (a more glorious) history, and Florent Malouda puts in some post-mutiny community service in Haiti.
We are still a long way from knowing much about what went on inside the fractious camp, and Patrice Evra has yet to keep his promise to spill the beans. Were there bullies at the heart of the squad, forcing the meek to toe their arrogant, rebellious line? Who leaked Anelka’s obscenities about the coach Raymond Domenech?
As we reported a day or two ago, Thuram, who made a record 142 appearances for France and has had the look of an elder statesman of football since before he even stopped playing, believes Evra should never be allowed to wear French colours again. The view has force: Evra was captain of the squad in South Africa and had special responsibilities; to have presided over the training ground revolt represented a grave and wilful failure to meet those responsibilities.
Another respected figure of French football, the former attacker Christophe Dugarry, a pundit for L’Equipe and Canal+, disagrees. He considers it scandalous to call for Evra to suffer such exclusion. “He did a stupid thing, a very stupid thing, but we all do that,” he says. “The cloak of captain was far too big for him, but the problem is not with the man who wear it but those who clothe him.”
But back to Thuram. Others are in his sights too. Unlike some of his teammates, he says, Thierry Henry is highly intelligent. If only he had descended from the team bus to resume training, others would have followed. Franck Ribery? “Incomprehensible” that he should bleat publicly about understanding why he should be criticised, and then boycott training. And Eric Abidal: “someone I appreciate very much (but) I told him that if I were president of the FFF, he’d never again be chosen for France after refusing to play in the last match.”
Florent Malouda was absent from the main party that flew back in some disgrace to Paris. In a moderately frank interview with L’Equipe‘s magazine, he says this led to suggestions that he had been ostracised by other players, that he was the mole who had stitched up Anelka (repeating to the press what his Chelsea teammate had called Domenech), that he was a coward.
None of this was true. Malouda wanted to snatch some brief family time – his wife gave birth to their fourth child immediately before the World Cup – ahead of his trip to the earthquake-shattered island of Haiti, where he is an active and clearly genuine supporter of the Yéle aid group.
His reluctance to be more than “moderately frank” is understandable. He was frank to a fault in analysing France’s failure at Euro 2008 and paid for it by being sidelined for eight months.
On the players’ rebellion, he sheds no more light beyond admitting that it was “an error” (I’d go beyond that, even if I wouldn’t necessarily go as far as Thuram).
It was not, he protests, the action of overpaid, wayward children but a response to the decision to send Anelka packing (it could, of course, have been both of those things). Now that he recognises it was a bad decision, he says he is ready to accept the FFF punishment that may follow.
L’Equipe‘s journalist ends the interview by pointing out to Malouda that he has not uttered Domenech’s name once in more than an hour. “You sure?” the player replies. In fact, he didn’t need to: there are plenty of allusions – “ask the coach” why he, Malouda, didn’t start a single game/how the media turned on the players “when they could not get answers from the selector” – to give us the drift of his thinking.
The magazine’s editor-in-chief believes that reading between the lines, it is possible to detect excessive support for his Chelsea teammate – and also that Anelka’s alleged words to describe Domenech (“go and f*** yourself, you dirty son of a whore” is how L’Equipe reported them, though Anelka disputes the detail) were, in substance, pretty much Malouda’s thoughts, too.
It is story with legs to run and run for months. As Laurent Blanc tries to rebuild a credible and creditworthy squad, he may feel he needs men of Malouda and Evra’s talents. Anelka is almost certainly a lost cause, Henry has departed from the international stage, some of the others are not good enough anyway.
There remains a mood for revenge in France, and I would not rule out the sort of harsh sanctions Thuram advocates. But I am coming more and more to the view that to a group of men who thrive on public acclaim, the knowledge of what people think of their behaviour in South Africa may well be punishment enough.