French Football


The verdicts on the 'Gang of Five' who destroyed the harmony of the French camp at the World Cup were announced just like any criminal trial's results, complete with mugshots of the offenders.

Nicolas Anelka, the instigator of the pathetic rebellion with his foul-mouthed attack on coach
Raymond Domenech, got an 18-game ban from the national team, Patrice Evra got five for failing in his captain's duties, Franck 'underage' Ribery got three as the ironically named vice-captain and Jeremy Toulalan must sit out one match me for penning the excruciating players' statement which the hapless Raymond Domenech read out to the press, willingly or not.

Anelka predictably laughed off the ban but is unlikely to wear bleu again, while the reaction from the French players' union, which blamed Domenech instead of the boorish players, showed it is not just England's PFA who stand up for overpaid yobs in public.

In view of the damage done to the national team, the hopes of millions of Frenchmen and women back home and their sense of self-pride, let alone the image of the country across the world, the punishments handed out were mild in the extreme. Never before have I heard people telling me they were ashamed to be French.

*** The Spanish press, well Marca and AS that is, are agog over Mesut Ozil's arrival at Real Madrid. What struck me was how meagre the fee was in the end for one of the world's most talented youngsters, who had an impressive first World Cup finals. At £12 million, Real have themselves a bargain, especially considering Manchester City have just shelled out more than twice that for the prosaic James Milner.

More proof that the Premier League still plays second fiddle to La Primera when it comes to bagging the top stars, and how England shoots itself in the foot, complaining about the lack of opportunity for its youngsters while hugely over-valuing the ones that do get the chance.

And what about Tottenham's exodus in the Champions League? 3-0 down after half an hour to a Swiss team lacking any star names; are English teams over-hyped as well as over-paid?

** FIFA's inspection team are currently being wowed in Russia by Vladimir Putin and others. Russia looked a dark horse at the start of the bidding race for the 2018 World Cup but seems to grow stronger all the time. That said, oligarch billions may not be enough to allay fears among the Executive Committee of the risks of 13 new stadia, long distances between venues and the permanent whiff of corruption that Russia brings. England still appears the safest pair of hands after the worries of South Africa and Brazil, but this race will go down to the wire, with second preference votes crucial for victory.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile


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