Let’s reflect on French football over the past year: a literal helping hand gets Les Bleus into the World Cup, followed by a miserable winless campaign better known for bitter in fighting in South Africa and, naturellement, an early exit and flight back to Paris. But there’s more.
Last month, President Nicolas Sarkozy summoned the underachievers to find out what went wrong. Then new coach Laurent Blanc suspended the entire 23-man World Cup squad from his first game in charge. And today, some of the players received worse news in the form of further suspension. The main headline is that Chelsea striker Nicolas Anelka (who was the player at the center of the storm, being sent home from the World Cup) has has been banned for a mighty 18 matches by the French Football Federation for his shocking summer conduct, which effectively ends the 31 year-old’s international career.
Anelka — known as The Incredible Sulk in some quarters — isn’t the only player to suffer. Manchester United’s Patrice Evra (the French captain no less) will have to sit out the next five games while Franck Ribery has been suspended for three and Jeremy Toulalan just the one. Eric Abidal was the other player summoned to the disciplinary hearing but escaped punishment.
Former deputy managing director Jean-Louis Valentin said in, well, that inimitable French way, “As a lover and supporter of the France team, I think everyone deserves a second chance. I felt the players apologized, marked and scarred by what had happened. I think now they must know how to turn the page and move on.” The players, for their part, wisely kept quiet. The damage has been done.