France coach Laurent Blanc: I considered resigning

AP, Saturday 14 May 2011

Coach Laurent Blanc apologises for harsh language at a meeting, bordering on discrimination over imposing quotas for dual-citizens at training academies, but he maintains his point is valid

Laurent Blanc

At a meeting between Blanc and colleagues from the French Football Federation in November, discussions centred around whether quotas should be introduced at academies for young French players with dual nationality, many of them black and Arab.

“It crossed my mind, yes, I must admit it,” Blanc said Friday on French national news. “Because becoming coach and going through that kind of situation … You don’t become a coach for that. But I think resigning would not have been the right answer.

“I would like to say sorry for the words that were said during this meeting. It’s true this meeting got a bit out of hand. There’s a lot of anger toward myself, first of all, for having said these things. Hurtful for the people I know, but above all hurtful for the people I don’t know or who don’t know me.”

Investigative website Mediapart published the discussion last month involving Blanc, FFF technical director Francois Blaquart, under-21 coach Erick Mombaerts and under-20 coach Francis Smerecki. Blaquart is suspended pending an ongoing investigation.

Plans were reportedly made to limit to 30 per cent the number of players of African and North African descent in academies once they reached the age of 13. The idea was to reduce the number of players who go through France’s junior ranks before later deciding to play for another country at senior level.

Blanc was quoted in Mediapart’s transcript as objecting to the idea of dual nationals being in the French system.

“In my opinion, you have to try and eradicate it. And this has no racist connotation whatsoever,” Mediapart quoted Blanc as saying at the meeting. “When people wear the national team jersey from the ages of 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, under 21s and then that afterward they go and play in North African or African teams; that bothers me enormously.”

The revelations were widely condemned throughout France, however the FFF backed Blanc on Thursday. He was also cleared of any discrimination claims by a separate FFF inquiry and by French sports minister Chantal Jouanno earlier this week.

Blanc says that while the crude language used was deeply wrong and offensive, the debate is still valid.

“Either, as I often hear, it’s a false debate and it’s a false problem … at which point the debate is closed, there’s no swapping [of ideas],” Blanc said. “Or you can admit there’s a problem and [with] that problem you have to have an exchange; you have to talk, it’s a serious problem, complicated.”

In the full transcript published by Mediapart, an angry Smerecki calls the proposal a “discriminatory” idea that should never see the light of day, but Blanc said there is a need to “refocus.”

“I’m out on the pitches every Saturday, I see a few training academies and I get the impression we’re really forming the same prototype of players: tall, strong, powerful,” Blanc says. “Who is there currently who is tall, strong, powerful? The blacks. And that’s the way it is.

“I think you have to refocus, especially for boys who are 13-14 years old, 12-13,” Blanc continues, according to Mediapart, “to have other criteria, modify [things] with our own culture. I will mention the Spaniards as an example — they don’t have these problems.”

Blanc believes his comments were unfairly seized upon, even though he also admits he should not have made them.

“The climate is very tense with regards to these subjects,” Blanc said on Friday. “In our country, it’s hard to have a debate … without the interpretation of your words being different to what you think.”

Mohamed Belkacemi, a district coach, recorded the November meeting because he was shocked at what he had heard at some FFF meetings.

Blanc’s former teammates on the 1998 World Cup-winning team have been divided in their responses.

Midfielder Patrick Vieira and former defender Lilian Thuram have been critical, particularly Thuram, while mercurial playmaker Zinedine Zidane, defender Bixente Lizarazu and forward Christophe Dugarry have defended Blanc.

With France resuming its qualifying campaign for the 2012 European Championship next month against Belarus, Blanc intends to be in charge against Belarus on June 3.

“It’s an objective that has to be reached for French football,” he said. “I am involved with other people in taking up this challenge and we have to go right until the end. That’s motivated me to continue.”

Short link: