French imploding as players refuse to practice
Dispute between manager and trainer sends team back to the bus
France's World Cup ambitions lay in ruins Sunday after public rifts erupted between players, coaches and national officials over Nicolas Anelka, thrown out of the squad for insulting team coach Raymond Domenech.
The squabbling was even brought to the attention of President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Amid chaotic scenes at France's training field in Knysna, Domenech had the humiliating task of explaining why the whole of his squad was sitting behind him on the team bus, curtains drawn, refusing to join in a public training session in front of 200 local fans.
Before his brief speech, Domenech had already been busy intervening in a heated argument between his captain Patrice Evra and the team's fitness coach Robert Duverne.
Moments after that altercation, the players were calmly walking back onto the team bus, united in protest at Anelka's exclusion. The some 200 people who had turned out to watch them got only a few handshakes before being snubbed.
Then, in another moment of drama, France team director Jean-Louis Valentin stormed off, shouting that he was "ashamed" of the players for not training. Caught up to by reporters, Valentin announced his resignation from the French Football Federation on the spot.
Anelka was kicked off the team the previous evening after his profanity-laced tirade against Domenech, whose tactics and management skills have been called into question, was splashed across the front page of sports daily L'Equipe back home in France.
"Everyone in the whole world is mocking us now," winger Franck Ribery said live on television some five hours before training had even started. "I'm furious, because we're not playing [soccer] any more."
Sports Minister Roselyne Bachelot said "the indignation of the French is great" and that she had spoken to Sarkozy about it.
After the protesting players climbed back on the bus, Domenech stood alone outside with a handful of trainers and officials. After a few minutes, the bus curtains were drawn, so even Domenech was shut out.
In a statement, the federation distanced itself from what it called "the unacceptable behaviour of the players representing our country."
Manager reads player statement
But Domenech, reading a players' statement, said their decision not to train was the FFF's fault for treating Anelka unfairly. Then the bus left.
"The French Football Federation did not at any time try to protect the group. They took a decision uniquely based on facts reported by the press," Domenech said as he read from the statement.
"As a consequence and to show our opposition to the decision taken by officials of the federation, all the players decided not to take part in today's training session."
Domenech's next task is holding his squad together long enough to play Tuesday's game against host South Africa, where France must win — and hope Mexico and Uruguay don't draw — to stand a chance of qualifying for the next round.
For Swiss coach Ottmar Hitzfeld, France's calamitous behaviour was bewildering.
"What can I say, if something like this happens, I am going to say bye. This is where our paths part," he said.