Blanc under pressure amid race row storm

The future of Laurent Blanc as France coach was said to be hanging in the balance on Thursday amid the fallout from the race row that has rocked French football.

Updated: May 06, 2011 12:49 IST
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Paris: The future of Laurent Blanc as France coach was said to be hanging in the balance on Thursday amid the fallout from the race row that has rocked French football.

Senegalese-born French footballer Patrick Vieira joined in the criticism after claims that Blanc and high-ranking officials discussed introducing a quota to restrict the number of dual-nationality players coming through their national training programmes.

Blanc was holidaying in the north of Italy as two separate investigations led by France's sports ministry and the French football federation (FFF) began probing reports of the alleged quota plan.

Vieira, one of the symbols of France's mixed-race team that won the 1998 World Cup and 2000 European championship titles, is one of several of Blanc's former teammates to be stunned by the report.

However he is more shocked by Blanc's reported remarks, which compare the French and Spanish national teams and also underline stereotypes of black players as being "strong and powerful".

"When I read that he (Blanc) said 'the Spanish say: We don't have a problem. We don't have blacks,' or 'who are the big, strong, powerful ones? The blacks', it's scandalous! These are serious comments," said the Dakar-born player who has 107 caps for France.

"I know Laurent Blanc, I've always had a good relationship with him. I don't think he's racist but I'm surprised by the degree of his comments," said Vieira.

"You can say what you like, but no one was tricked in that meeting. Nobody was forced to make these comments, and still they said them, it's a fact: it's shocking."

The Mediapart website last week published a transcript of a meeting in November in which several top French officials, including Blanc, discussed introducing quotas for players with dual-nationalities.

Blanc did not deny the veracity of the transcript, in which he said he was "very much in favour" of a quota, but said that his words had been twisted.

"It would be in bad faith not to see that the debate in which I participated was not about 'reducing the number of blacks and Arabs in French football,' as the sensational title of the article suggested, but about planning the future of French football and addressing the important and delicate problem of players with dual-nationalities, as well as methods of scouting/selection for a new playing project," he said.

But the row has unsettled relationships between members of the 1998 golden team.

Guadeloupean Lilian Thuram, who has a record 142 caps, said: "I don't think his apology was enough after what happened. Obviously he is weakened by these comments. However, I know Laurent Blanc and I don't think he's racist."

Christophe Dugarry had on Wednesday hit back at Thuram, relating a story about the night of France's World Cup celebrations in July 1998 when he alleges Thuram called for a photo of all the black players with the World Cup trophy.

"And then I hear Lilian Thuram - and I'm not the only one, Franck Leboeuf (heard it) as well - say: 'Come on, let's get a photo with all the blacks'," said Dugarry.

"And Franck Leboeuf gets up and says to him: 'Lilian, what are you saying now? Imagine if we'd said, 'Come on, let's get a photo with all the whites.' How would you have reacted?'"

"Those are discriminatory words and at no point did we misinterpret them and at no point could we have imagined that Lilian Thuram was a fascist or a racist."

As French sports daily L'Equipe headlined: "Blanc could call it quits", Dugarry warned: "I'm afraid that he'll leave, that he'll get fed up being under attack. I hope it's not too late."

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