France: World Champion–Of Pathetic Controversy

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Herewith an update to my earlier post about Nicolas Anelka’s obscenity-driven verbal assault of coach Raymond Domenech Friday night. It now serves as a perfect reflection of the incompetence and hypocrisy of the entire French Football Federation responsible France’s South African debacle on and off the pitch.

As noted this morning, the sports daily l’Equipe reported Anelka’s half-time insult of Domenech Saturday, based on the account a French squad member present in the locker room when the outburst occurred.  Once that became to top news item in France by mid-day today, the French Football Federation (FFF) belatedly—and quite clearly with much regret—announced it decided to expel Anekla from the team and send him home as punishment for his outrage. Sounds like what any national—or even pro club—would do after a player stepped so far out of line. All right and good, n’est pas? Mais non.

It took l’Equipe taking the clash public with its scoop—48 hours after the confrontation happened—for the FFF authorities to decide it was sufficiently grave to merit banish Anelka. That’s a pretty long stretch of private time contemplation to come to a decision in such a slam-dunk situation.  Worse, still, FFF  President Jean-Pierre Escalettes admitted at a press conference this evening that that even though the outburst was clearly “inadmissible”, Anelka’s case would have been “handled within the confines of the” French team if it had never gone public—ie. he’d have been forced to apologize to the team and the coach privately, then stayed right on as though nothing had happened.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be too surprising the FFF couldn’t do the right thing even in doing the obvious right thing in sending Anelka packing. This was the same Escalettes, after all, who renewed Domenech’s contract against near universal protest after the disastrous 2008 Euro outing—then repeatedly reviewed whether Domenech shouldn’t be dumped after all as France struggled to qualify for the Cup. Neither Escalletes nor any of his FFF peers ever intervened when it became clear Domenech’s neurotic management and manipulation of French players into camps was proving as catastrophic as his horrible on-field decisions. The FFF not only mismanaged Domenech’s case at every turn; it now has gone whole hog by pretending to defend his honor by expelling Anekla from the squad—and admitting it wouldn’t have bothered if the affair hadn’t become public. This is the same FFF that nodded wisely when Domenech announced he wasn’t selecting a trio of excellent young stars for the World Cup squad—including Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema—because he didn’t want their notorious characters to upset the group. Isn’t that what a national coach is supposed to do (especially one who himself claims to have the strongest character on earth): pick the best footballers, and get them to melt into the wider group?

Don’t look for France’s problems to end when they leave South Africa as they certainly will Wednesday (I mean, who expects a team that has played this horribly to be able to focus amid even greater controversy and distraction?). In discussing the controversy at Escalettes’ side, team captain Patrice Evra defiantly answered questions about the position of squad members saying no one wanted Anelka to be excluded—even though everyone agreed his behavior was unforgivable. Team unity may be nice, but not when that involves throwing its coach under a bus. Worse still, Evra echoed the FFF’s tortured ethics by maintaining “Nicolas Anelka isn’t the problem with this team—it’s the traitor” who clued l’Equipe to the clash. “It’s the traitor we need to eliminate from the group, not Anelka,” Evra urged.  Meaning, even French players now share the rotted thinking the FFF has demonstrated in dealing with Domenech and the problems he’s created over the past eight years—something certain to make France’s last match against South Africa its worst yet. Why? Because with Evra’s comment making it clear a main off-field priority of players will now be to conduct a witch hunt to find the mole, the team is certain to be even more divided and tense by Wednesday’s match. The reason: Evra also made it clear he and his peers are convinced the news was leaked by a player—even though, logically, a member of Domenech’s staff wanting to see justice done had more motive for getting the word out to get some pay-back on both Anelka and hushed up FFF officials.

For his part, Anelka has told a French daily that while he admits confronting Domenech during the notorious half-time break, he didn’t use the obscenities l’Equipe reported. That might be more convincing if either Escalettes or Evra included that detail in confirming the altercation. Either way, the now obvious inability to recognize a problem, deal with it logically and openly, and insist on group thinking, team play, and advancing the collective interest above all else that has made Team France into such a horrid, warped, and self-destructive squad needs radical treatment. As soon as the final whistle in France’s last game is over, Domenech’s reign ends with it—opening the door for former 1998 World Champion Laurent Blanc to take over. But for Blanc to turn things around, two important steps will have to be made.

First, the entire direction of the FFF responsible for Domenech being at the helm in the first place has to go. Second, Blanc must write off the majority of players who came onto the French team under Domenech’s direction–and now share the kind of fungoid thinking both he and the FFF watched over—and start rebuilding from a clean sheet. The truth is, French football has become so corrupt from ethical laziness, lack of principle, and preference to always make the easiest move that it will never escape the downward spiral into ridicule we all now see unless a real revolution of thinking and individuals has taken place.

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