This clip shows why Patrice Evra, of Manchester United and France, is ranked among the best footballers in the world. There is also a case for saying the “and France” part of that description should now be considered a thing of history …
Here in France, the inquest continues at various levels, from grass roots to parliament, into the pathetic failure of the French squad to rise at any stage above a surly, snarling and professionally embarrassing presence at the 2010 World Cup.
One of the most respected figures in French football is Lilian Thuram. Born in Guadeloupe in the French West Indies, he personifies the blanc/black/beur spirit of the World Cup winning team of 1998. He knows everything about football and also about racism, and is regarded as a great ambassador for the game and against discrimination.
And on the question posed in my headline, Thuram hasn’t the slightest doubt.
Patrice Evra was the captain of the ugly, undisciplined mob, devoid of effective leadership, that masqueraded as France’s national side in South Africa.
And Thuram believes he should never again be allowed to wear French colours.
Commenting after a meeting of the federal council of the French Football Federation (itself, correctly, under intense scrutiny), he said players involved in the unpardonable mutiny, following Nicolas Anelka’s expulsion and just two days ahead of the final, decisive group stage game against South Africa (which they inevitaby lost), should face heavy penalties.
And Evra, he said, should never again appear in a French national team. “When you are captain, there are responsibilties and you have to show respect for the shirt and for people.”
And he is right. I do not care if Anelka feels himself hard done by. His foul-mouthed tirade against the admittedly hopeless Raymond Domenech should not have been leaked to the press, but neither the leaker nor the press uttered the offending words. Those words were reported in L’Equipe as “go and f*** yourself, you dirty son of a whore”; Anelka admits using strong language while disputing the detail, a federation official says one player told him the words were actually even nastier.
Yet none of that matters. Football players make decisions on the field, according to their talents and their instructions. They have absolutely no right to concern themselves in decisions of management – no matter how wrong those decisions turn out to be. See my thoughts, reproduced often enough here, on McCarthy/Keane.
Evra has said he wants to be heard by the public. Fine. Let’s hear him. Thuram says he knows the difference between those who lead in the dressing room and those who follow.
If Evra comes up with a decent, plausible justification for his actions as captain, then he deserves to have his case considered afresh.
For now, I find Liliam Thuram’s opinion hard to fault. The appalling revolt that Evra led not only brought shame on France and its national football squad; it also destroyed the dreams and, perhaps, the respect of an army of impressionable young people who worshipped les Bleus and may be less inclined to do so in future.