France's World Cup 'disaster' prompts soul-searching

By Christian Fraser
BBC News, Paris

  • Published
A French fan watches them play in the fan zone in Paris
Image caption,
The World Cup champions' performance has infuriated fans

Treachery, backstabbing and rebellion - traditionally the elements of film noir rather than football.

Yet France's chaotic World Cup campaign has fallen victim to all three.

The 2006 runners-up have no goals and only one point after their first two games and are on the brink of an embarrassingly early exit.

But it is the revolt within the team ranks that has grabbed the headlines.

"Shambles" was the front page in Liberation.

"Mutineers", cried the headline in Aujourd'hui en France.

'No-go zone'

The editorials reflect the general mood on the street.

Image caption,
The Press reaction in France has been strident

The fan zone in front of the Eiffel Tower is the no-go zone for French supporters. Most can hardly wait for this to be over.

"It's a disgrace," said Blues supporter Patrick Pailhes. "I can hardly bear to watch them.

"It's unbelievable that football players - and such well paid football players - can go on strike like this.

"I am really hoping that we lose to South Africa, then we can finally say goodbye to the tournament. We need a new coach, a new group of players - a fresh start."

The row centres on the expulsion of star striker Nicolas Anelka, who refused to apologise for a foul-mouthed tirade he directed at French manager Raymond Domenech during the half time break against Mexico.

The French team lost 2-0.

'Traitor' mole

The players are demanding to know who in the French camp leaked the details of the bust-up.

Image caption,
Getting shirty: The players boycotted training after Anelka's expulsion

They suspect someone within the federation. Captain Patrice Evra has described the mole as a "traitor".

On Sunday the open training session - which was supposed to heal some of the rift between players and supporters - turned into farce.

Evra was filmed in a stand-up row with the fitness coach and the players refused to train.

From the team bus they sent out a written statement protesting against Anelka's expulsion.

For team director Jean-Louis Valentin it was a "scandal"; he later resigned in disgust.


French President Nicolas Sarkozy has condemned the scenes as "unacceptable".

Image caption,
Before this tournament, the French side had brought the country together

His advisor Henri Guaino said it was "distressing".

"It's no longer football; it's no longer sport," he said. "In fact, it's no longer a team".

The president has since asked his sports minister to stay on in South Africa to sort the mess out.

Roselyne Bachelot is to hold crisis talks with all parties on Monday night including the Federation President Jean-Pierre Escalettes, Domenech and Evra.

There is a feeling in France this has now gone beyond football.

Sponsors are starting to distance themselves from the fallout.

French bank Credit Agricole said on Monday it had cancelled a television campaign with the team.

And the fast-food company Quick decided over the weekend to stop using an advertising film featuring the disgraced star Anelka.

But perhaps more worryingly there are controversial accusations circling in some quarters that the player rebellion is down to "race"; there are six black players in this current French team.

Philosopher's groan

In an interview on Europe 1 the philosopher Alain Finkielkraut compared the players to youths rioting in ghettos.

"We now have proof that the France team is not a team at all, but a gang of hooligans that knows only the morals of the mafia," he said.

He went on to suggest the "arrogant thugs" in the side should be replaced by "gentlemen".

Suddenly the glorious days of 1998, when France fell head over heels in love with its multi-ethnic World Cup-winning team of "Blacks, Blancs, Beurs" - blacks, whites and Arabs - feels a million miles away.

There is of course an outside chance that the French team could still progress on Tuesday night - if results go their way.

But after two abject performances it is more likely they will be following Anelka home.

The players claim they will play to restore the nation's pride.

In truth there is little chance of that - in the eyes of the majority of supporters here - honour is already lost.