This may come as a shock, but there’s some drama brewing with the French national team.
Yesterday, retired forward Eric Cantona gave an interview to The Guardian about France heading into Euro 2016. The former Manchester United legend, who earned 45 caps for France, cast aspersions on some squad selection decisions made by current manager Didier Deschamps, notably the move to leave Karim Benzema and Hatem Ben Arfa out of the squad for the tournament.
Cantona described Ben Arfa as one of the best players available for France at the moment and Benzema as a great player. He then went on to suggest that Deschamps’ reasons for leaving them out were at least partly motivated by racial animus. (Both Benzema and Ben Arfa are of Algerian and Tunisian descent, respectively.) Cantona noted that both players “have some origins” and wondered whether the ethnic backgrounds of Benzema and Ben Arfa were factors in their omissions from the squad.
Deschamps, who has had a frosty relationship with his former France teammate dating back 20 years, did not take kindly to Cantona’s remarks. Earlier today, Deschamps’ attorneys announced they were filing a legal complaint against Cantona in order to hold him accountable for “the unacceptable slanderous and defamatory statements that harm Mr Deschamps’ integrity.”
It’s worth noting a few things regarding Cantona’s remarks.
First, there were perfectly valid reasons for not selecting Benzema or Ben Arfa. Benzema wasn’t eligible for selection due to his ban from the French Football Federation for his involvement in the Mathieu Valbuena extortion plot. Meanwhile, Ben Arfa, who was in fact named to the waitlist in case a squad member is injured, has struggled with discipline issues throughout his somewhat tumultuous club career.
Second, France’s Euro 2016 squad is a fairly diverse group racially and culturally, currently featuring the likes of Patrice Evra, Moussa Sissoko, and Adil Rami, among others. While that doesn’t necessarily disprove Cantona’s assertion, it does undermine it.
Third, and with respect to Mr. Deschamps, the spectre of racism does loom rather large in French football. Whatever Cantona’s rationale or motivations are, the suggestion that national team selection decisions were even partly influenced by bigotry is not, sadly, outside the realm of possibility.
In any event, it’s not a major international tournament unless France is having a meltdown.
France will get the party started in Euro 2016 two weeks from today when they take on Romania.