French football in chaos after players' mutiny

KNYSNA, South Africa (AFP) - France was surveying the wreckage of its disastrous World Cup campaign on Monday after a players' mutiny over the decision to send home star striker Nicolas Anelka for abusing the coach.

Anelka's foul-mouthed outburst at coach Raymond Domenech sparked a chaotic chain of events, with the striker being kicked out of the team after his bust-up at half-time of France's defeat to Mexico was revealed in a French newspaper.

(L-R) French assistant coach Alain Boghossian, Pierre Mankowski, Bruno Martini and coach Raymond Domenech stand on the pitch at the Fields of Dreams stadium in Knysna on June 20, 2010. AFP

The forward, who plays for English Premier League champions Chelsea, arrived back in London early Monday, after his teammates had refused to take part in a session on Sunday.

Amid extraordinary scenes at their training base in South Africa and in full view of TV cameras, team captain Patrice Evra had a shouting match with fitness coach Robert Duverne before the scheduled session, forcing Domenech to intervene.

When the players refused to train, a furious Duverne stormed off and threw his stopwatch across the pitch in frustration.

The players' mutiny prompted top French Football Federation (FFF) official Jean-Louis Valentin to resign, saying he was "disgusted" by the players.

Domenech read out a statement from the players expressing their opposition to the decision to kick Anelka out of the squad and said they deplored the way the dressing room bust-up between him and Domenech had been revealed by sports daily L'Equipe on Saturday.

"We regret the incident at half-time of the France v Mexico match, but we regret even more the divulging of an event which was only the squad's business and was part and parcel of the life of a top-level team," the statement added.

"The FFF did not at any point try to protect the squad," the players said.

"It took a decision based solely on facts reported by the press, without consulting the players."

Anelka, 31, was sent home after refusing to apologise for the expletive-laden outburst at Domenech after the coach had criticised his low-key first-half performance in the 2-0 defeat to Mexico on Thursday.

France, the 1998 World Cup winners and 2006 runners-up, are supposed to be preparing to face host nation South Africa on Tuesday in their final group Group A game with qualification on the line.

If Mexico and Uruguay draw their match the same day, France are out of the tournament regardless of the result against South Africa.

Evra refused to blame Anelka on Saturday, saying the real problem in the squad was a "traitor" who had leaked the incident to the media.

French Sports Minister Roselyne Bachelot said the nation felt "great indignation" at the implosion of the squad and said she would hold crisis talks with the players and Domench in South Africa on Monday.

Domenech, an eccentric man who has admitted he consults astrological charts, said he believed he had taken care of Anelka's outburst before it found its way into the press.

"He did not react in the most suitable fashion, but it was just a guy sitting in his corner and muttering - that would not have mattered had it stayed there," he told TF1 television.

"What was important was that it made the front page of a newspaper, and that exposes the internal life of the squad.

"I sorted out the problem internally, and as far as I was concerned it was done and dusted."

The press poured scorn on the squad.

"This France team has shamed us all" commented tabloid Le Parisien which had a front-page headline saying simply: "Mutiny".

"Each day, the Blues set new standards of unacceptable behaviour," it said.

Sports daily L'Equipe, which revealed the Anelka outburst, blamed Manchester United defender Evra, the captain of the French team, for leading the revolt.

"Patrice Evra definitively showed that he confused the role of captain with being a leader of a gang.

"He has neither the capacity, nor the charisma nor the qualities to don the captain's armband."

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