The French soccer team lost 2-1 to South Africa on Tuesday, ending its World Cup run. The defeat is the culmination of a chaotic few days that began when the sports daily L'Equipe published striker Nicolas Anelka's alleged abusive comments to coach Raymond Domenech. Since then, Anelka was expelled from the team, the team went on strike and refused to practice, team captain Patrice Evra almost fought with fitness coach Robert Duverne over the revolt, and Domenech ended up reading a letter to the press on behalf of the players. To get caught up on all the details of the scandal, read the FAQ below.
What did Anelka say?
Different sources have reported different versions of Anelka's rant, which came at halftime of France's match with Mexico. According to L'Equipe, Anelka said, "Go get yourself fucked in the ass, you dirty son of a whore." Le Parisien's version: "You and your system can go get fucked in the ass." And according to other sources: "Go fuck your mother." Did Anelka say all of this to Domenech's face, as L'Equipe reports? Domenech and French Football Federation President Jean-Pierre Escalettes say no—that Anelka said it under his breath somewhere in the locker room. During a press conference on Saturday afternoon, team captain Patrice Evra said he had put an end to the altercation by saying, "What are you playing at? We have a game to win." In any case, the coach didn't let it fly and put Anelka on the bench in the second half.
Would the French Football Federation have sent Anelka home if the insults had not been made public?
No. This may actually be the clearest part of the whole story. Domenech said he got overAnelka's outburst quickly and wasn't asking for a public apology. Football federation Secretary Henri Monteil explained it to regional daily La Charente Libre: "Nothing would have filtered out if L'Equipe hadn't reported it. I only learned of it on Saturday. President Jean-Pierre Escalettes knew since the day before that. He thought it wouldn't leave the room."
After the remarks became public, Escalettes got together with Domenech, team captain Patrice Evra, and Anelka. Anelka agreed to apologize in front of the team and staff, but not in public. In his hotel suite, Escalettes gathered the federation's leaders, and they opted to dismiss Anelka. "I'm sorry," Escalettes told Anelka when he announced the ruling.
This reactive decision enraged the team's senior players. Thierry Henry, William Gallas, Eric Abidal, Patrice Evra, and Franck Ribery resented the federation for yielding to a media frenzy they felt was unjustified. This is one of the big paradoxes of the whole scandal: On the one hand, Evra and Ribery have called the insult "unacceptable" and "intolerable." On the other hand, the players don't seem to have ever considered dismissing Anelka. Same goes for some of the elders from the 1998 World Cup-winning French team. Zinedine Zidane and Patrick Viera timidly criticized the team's attitude, but they sent Anelka notes of support after his exclusion.
Should L'Equipe have put this piece of information on its front page?
It's been a while since essays about the team's use of a 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 formation were relegated to the background of the daily. Fabrice Jouhaud, L'Equipe editor in chief since the summer of 2008, wants to sell papers and have a clear editorial line, something soccer weekly France Football has failed to do in recent years. Who cares about the chalkboard—it's all about what's going on in the locker room.
Young (he's not even 40), aggressive, and daring, Jouhaud bets on gossip, as his front page piece on Ronaldo and his love handles on a Brazilian beach in September 2008 can attest. L'Equipe is now following the trail of Le Parisien, the national daily that infuriated then coach Roger Lemerre during the 2002 World Cup by revealing internal chatter and team selections.
The sports daily, like other French sports media, wants one thing: an internal source—a mole or a traitor, depending on who's speaking—to juice up its reporting. For a month, L'Equipe has been reporting the daily lives of the players by talking to their entourages, since the athletes themselves have become physically unapproachable.
Those publications are in a special spot, as they are generally the only media the players read. The players also sometimes use them to convey messages. But what if this great play for sales ends up making this special relationship with the players counterproductive?