Paris: Zinedine Zidane broke his silence on the French dual-nationality quota row on Saturday to offer his support for beleaguered France coach Laurent Blanc, his former teammate.
Blanc is under investigation after the release of a transcript of a meeting in which he and several other officials allegedly discussed introducing quotas for dual-nationality players at French youth training centres.
Several members of France's 1998 World Cup-winning squad have since spoken out about the affair but Zidane, the iconic star of that side, had until Saturday been conspicuous by his silence.
The son of Algerian parents, Zidane is uniquely placed to offer an insight on the controversy encircling Blanc and he told Sunday's edition of the L'Equipe sport daily that his former playing colleague should be left alone.
Asked if Blanc should step down as coach, Zidane replied: "Of course not."
"But I can tell you that he's been really, really affected. I think he'd started to do a great job."
"We should leave things as they are. It would be mad for him to leave over this. He must continue."
On the subject of the quotas, Zidane said: "When you see this craziness, these approximations... Yes, they are really heavy subjects, subjects that touch me, but there is also a bad process regarding Laurent Blanc."
Asked if Blanc's words in the meeting were discriminatory, Zidane said: "No, and concerning Laurent, let's be straight and clear: I know him well, of course he's not racist.
"I'll go even further: he never even thinks like that because it's not an issue for him. I think that's why he got drawn into a discussion like that."
"Lolo (Blanc) is someone spontaneous, who talks openly and who doesn't think for a second that his words could be misinterpreted."
"And clearly, his words here were not only very clumsy but they also came during a discussion where other expressions were really borderline, such as this word 'quota'."
"The idea of selecting or discriminating against kids over their dual-nationality is, for me, absurd."
Emmanuel Petit, another member of the 1998 team, had on Friday implored Zidane to break his silence and "calm things down by being the voice that everyone listens to" in a candid video posted on the L'Equipe website.
Blanc's comments during the meeting in November last year, released by the Mediapart website, have created fissures in the squad that lifted France's first World Cup trophy 13 years ago.
Lilian Thuram and Patrick Vieira have both strongly criticised Blanc, with Christophe Dugarry, Marcel Desailly, Bixente Lizarazu and former coach Aime Jacquet rallying to his defence.