Football: The worm in the fruit?

AA Tunis/ Slah Grichi (**)

When Qatar presented its candidacy for the organization of the 2022 World Cup, no one – or almost – would have bet a penny on its victory, against tough competitors, such as Australia, Japan, South Korea and, above all, the United States whose master of the lobbying campaign was neither more nor less than former President Bill Clinton.

-The past illuminates the present

One of the most smirking about this candidacy was 1970s-80s star Michel Platini. Less than a month before the vote by the 24 members of the FIFA Executive Committee, of which he was a member as President of UEFA (European Football Federation), described it as « crazy » and judged the very idea to organize a World Cup in this « small desert state, scorching and devoid of infrastructure », if it were to come true, as « the biggest snub for the world of football ». He did not hide, moreover, that he had already opted for the American file, although the vote was secret.

Ten days before the ballot and after lunch at the Elysée with President Nicolas Sarkozy, where he discovered, according to his very late declarations, the presence of the Qatari Prime Minister and the close collaborator of the ruling family, Nasser Al -Khélifi -future boss of PSG, the team dear to Sarkozy-, Platini made a total, spectacular and… bewildering turnaround. From crazy and snub, a World Cup in Qatar became for the emblematic ex-captain number 10 of the French selection and the prestigious Juventus of Turin, « a democratization of football », « a necessary inclusion of the Arab world in a universal event »… The laconic opponent had turned into a voluble ally who contrived to find the « good » arguments.

We will not dwell on the suspicions of corruption that weighed on him, which, without having legally confused him, dragged him into investigations and trials, which earned him his ousting from UEFA and, even worse , the virtual certainty of succeeding Josep Blatter, at the head of FIFA. It is that the conflict of interest proved, if only through the commitment of his son in Qatari companies, with staggering emoluments. But we will just dwell on, first, the ease and lack of embarrassment that characterized the volte-face of this footballing reference, then on the political interventionism in sport, even if Platini denied any direct recommendation of Sarkozy to give his voice to Qatar. He will admit, however, that it was « clear that this was what he wanted. You are not invited to a lunch with officials of this level, so that you oppose their dream », as he will say, years later. Not stupid the Platini… In any case, the French justice will show that the French president did not « push » on the Qatari side, out of magnanimity. Far from there.

-Le Graët raises the mud

Last week, without anything forcing him to do so, Noël Le Graët, the octogenarian president of the French football federation, targeted Zinedine Zidane for free, whom many gave as successor to Didier Deschamps, at the head of the Tricolores. « There was never any question of recruiting him… Zidane in Brazil? I don’t care… That he goes and seeks to train whoever he wants… I wouldn’t even have taken him on the phone »… Even more derogatory and almost hateful remarks were still made against one of the greatest French players of all time, former captain of the selection, Ballon d’Or, champion of the world, undisputed star of the unrivaled Real Madrid, of which he was the most capped coach, with three European Champions Leagues. An icon in France and in the world of football, coupled with a modest, correct and pleasant man. A real gentleman.

What has stung Le Graët to attack him, when he never asked for anything, even if he is said to be tempted by the idea of ​​coaching the France team? Did he need this surge to justify the extension of Didier Deschamps’ contract until the 2026 World Cup, he who hesitated to keep him for the 2024 European Cup? By the onset of senility, perhaps? Or would it be to « please » its president Emmanuel Macron who, after the defeat of France in the final of the Qatar World Cup, clearly praised, in his « speech » in the locker room, the work of Deschamps, calling for he continues his task? Another context, but it reminds us of the Platini-Sarkozy « collusion ».

Another similarity lies in the total reversal of the president of the French federation who suffered a real correction from the Minister of Sport, Amélie Oudéa-Castéra, who denounced « a shameful lack of respect for a legend of sport « . Hugo Lloris, the captain of the France team reacted, declaring that « this kind of statement does neither the coach nor football a favor and that we must not divide around the France team. As for the nugget of hexagonal football, Kylian Mbappé, he rebelled against Le Graët, obscuring both his age and his position: « Zidane is France … We do not disrespect a legend like that » … A sample reactions to the outcry he caused. Realizing his huge blunder, he completely recanted, going from disrespectful denial to praise and throwing « roses » at the one he insulted, two days before: « …my These words do not reflect thought or the immense esteem I have for him… ». Doesn’t this remind us of Platini’s dual position in Qatar and the 2022 World Cup?

In any case, the damage is done and as the analyst-editorialist, Daniel Riolo, said so well: “Le Graët shook French football and he smeared Deschamps. Except that the latter has himself devalued, by making himself very small in front of « his » president and giving the impression that he has granted him a great favor, by renewing him. A great coach who manages stars does not publicly state: « I am going to announce something to you which gives me great pleasure, namely that MY president has decided to renew me until 2026 ». Players, especially the talented ones with strong personalities, don’t like ‘prickly’ coaches who cling to their positions. Also the relationship of Deschamps to his group will no longer be the same and he will no longer be able to control them. Provided he does not succumb to the temptation to coax a « close guard ». It would be the implosion. This is what provoked Le Graët … which we will not ignore, either, the indirectly derogatory comment towards Benzema (like another Ballon d’Or and Franco-Algerian too). Indeed, he almost congratulated himself on his injury and his departure from Doha, on the eve of the World Cup: « Who knows, if he had stayed, Giroud might not have played and we would not have scored so many goals, » he said. Here, what if the gentleman was racist, or rather Arabophobic?

Anyway, that the young Mbappé dared to answer him, shouting the value of Zidane, it will reflect on Deschamps and on the France team. And when we know that this player, very talented but not lacking in arrogance, had already set three conditions for mocking PSG in order to stay (departure of Neymar, despite Messi’s veto, recruitment of English captain Kane and commitment of Zidane who has already rejected this proposal), we see that he does not spare anyone, not even the coaches or the presidents of whom he is not convinced. It’s not to please anyone, including his teammates. Decidedly, there is « crazy » in French football.

** Slah Grichi, journalist, former editor of the newspaper La Presse de Tunisie

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