French woes escalate as players boycott training
Knysna (South Africa), June 20 (DPA) The troubled French national football team sunk deeper into disarray Sunday when it broke off an afternoon training session after a heated altercation between captain Patrice Evra and Robert Duverne, the fitness coach.
France head coach Raymond Domenech had to separate the two men to prevent their dispute from escalating, after which Duverne threw his stopwatch to the ground and stormed off.
The players later released a statement read out by Domenech that they had refused to train in protest at the decision to expel striker Nicolas Anelka from the team.
Anelka launched a tirade of insults against Domenech in a dressing-room row during France’s 0-2 loss to Mexico Thursday.
French team director Jean-Louis Valentin announced his resignation after the training boycott.
“Quite honestly, I’m leaving South Africa and flying home to Paris,” he told journalists at France’s World Cup base in Knysna, South Africa.
“I’m outraged and disgusted. I’m quitting my job here. What is happening here is a scandal for the (French football) federation, for the French team and for the entire country.
“They don’t want to train. That’s unacceptable.”
Earlier Sunday, French midfielder Franck Ribery said he was “in tears” when Anelka left the team Sunday afternoon and that the hunt was on for the “traitor” who had leaked details of the player’s outburst against the coach to the media.
The French football federation FFF Saturday announced it was expelling Anelka after the Chelsea forward had refused to apologize for insulting Domenech.
Officials and the French public expressed outrage over Anelka’s obscene remarks, which were splashed on the front page of the respected sports paper L’Equipe.
“A traitor blabbed a few things. We won’t be relieved until we know who it was,” a visibly moved Ribery told French television Sunday, his first interview since the start of the World Cup.
“Now of all times, when we still have an important match against South Africa, everyone is bashing us,” the Bayern Munich star said, adding that all of the squad’s players had wanted Anelka to stay.
“He’s very upset because he loves the national team,” Ribery remarked.
Ribery said Anelka had not used curses involving Domenech’s mother that were attributed to him by L’Equipe, and that friction existed in all teams.
Earlier, Anelka told the newspaper France Soir that he had not used the exact words that had been reported, although he admitted to having “a lively discussion” with Domenech.
“I’ve also been irritated by the coach. But what happens in the dressing room must remain in the dressing room,” Ribery said.
L’Equipe said Anelka swore at Domenech after the coach had firmly but politely asked him to stay in his position in the game on Thursday.
Domenech then reportedly told Anelka in the confrontation in front of the whole team that he would be taken out of the game. Anelka was replaced by Andre-Pierre Gignac for the second half.
Evra also accused “a traitor” in the squad of leaking details of Anelka’s outburst to the media.
Ribery said the mood of the French team was negatively affected both by media criticism and the players’ poor performances on the pitch.
“We haven’t played as a team,” he said as he asked “all French people” for forgiveness.
France have had a poor World Cup and are in danger of going out in the group stage, as they did at Euro 2008, after being held 0-0 by Uruguay and then losing to Mexico 0-2.
“This is unacceptable”, thundered French President Nicolas Sarkozy after Anelka’s outburst made global headlines.
Anelka is not the only issue Domenech is having to deal with.
Arsenal defender William Gallas, for instance, stuck his middle finger out at a TV reporter after the Mexico game and is staging a media boycott. Meanwhile, playmaker Yoann Gourcuff is being snubbed by many players and was taken out of the starting 11 of the Mexico game, even though the coach had wanted to field him.