The France manager, Raymond Domenech, is facing a revolt from within his squad, the players demanding that he reinstate Thierry Henry for their opening World Cup fixture against Uruguay.
Henry, who is being urged by his family to finish his career at Marseilles rather than accept a lucrative offer to join New York Red Bulls, has told journalists that he expects to start on the bench when France's chaotic World Cup campaign limps into Cape Town tomorrow.
Senior players have told Domenech, who will be replaced by Laurent Blanc at the end of the tournament, that they want to see Lyon's Sidney Govou make way for the 32-year-old Henry and have asked him to replace Yoann Gourcuff with Abou Diaby. During last month's laboured 2-1 victory over Costa Rica, Franck Ribéry snatched the ball from the Bordeaux midfielder just as he was about to take a free-kick and took it himself.
According to the French sports daily, L'Equipe, Domenech was "listening but holding firm". His senior players, who were not named by the paper but who are believed to include Ribéry and Nicolas Anelka, pointed out that Henry's experience and ability to find his form when it mattered were qualities that could not be lightly discarded.
France arrived at their headquarters in Kynysa, midway between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, beset by the sort of problems that make Fabio Capello's frustrations with England appear straightforward. Their form in their warm-up games has grown steadily worse with a 1-1 draw against Tunisia, where the French had to come from behind, followed by a defeat to China.
Their hotel, the £450-a-night Penzula Spa, was condemned by the French minister of sport, Rama Yade, as being overly luxurious, while the French Football Association was forced to issue a statement that William Gallas would no longer speak to the media; probably because he had been overlooked to captain the side should Henry not start.
If Domenech cannot be persuaded to alter his plans, Patrice Evra will wear the armband at Green Point Stadium tomorrow night. Domenech pointed out that the hotel was designed to "remove any excuses from the players." He added: "Everything has been put in place so we can function well."
In public both Bacary Sagna and Florent Malouda appealed for France to find some unity before they face Uruguay. "There is no debate," said the Arsenal defender. "The coach has to make his decisions and everyone has to accept it. We can maybe give him some advice but, even if we were to offer it, I don't think he would listen. The most important thing is the team."
Malouda was equally emphatic. "You have to be interested in your team-mates," he said. "You cannot think: 'I'm an attacker, so I only attack.' We are going to look ridiculous if we repeat what we did in Euro 2008 with each player staying in his comfort zone, interested only in good marks from the media."Reuse content