France ban Anelka for 18 games over rebellion

Evra and Ribéry also among the players forced to miss qualifying matches for roles in World Cup players' revolt
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The Independent Football

The bizarre and bewildering story of the French players' revolt at the World Cup continued yesterday when the French Football Federation made the meaningless gesture of handing an 18-game ban to Nicolas Anelka, a player who had already announced his retirement from international football.

The Chelsea player was not present in Paris for the inquest into the events that surrounded France's early exit from the competition in South Africa, although he did send a representative.

"We wanted Anelka's sanction to set an example," disciplinary commission president Jean Mazzella said.

The other players in the farce were treated more leniently. The French captain, Patrice Evra, was suspended for five matches for leading a boycott of a training session in South Africa in June in support of Anelka, who was banished from the squad for insulting the former coach Raymond Domenech.

The FFF's disciplinary commission also gave a three-match ban to Franck Ribéry and a one-match suspension to Jérémy Toulalan. Eric Abidal, the fifth player summoned to the hearing, escaped sanction.

The Barcelona defender Abidal, Manchester United defender Evra and Toulalan, of Lyon, appeared at the hearing, while Ribéry of Bayern Munich sent a representative.

The former France team director, Jean-Louis Valentin, said: "The players now realise that they should never have done such a thing. We have to acknowledge that and they deserve another chance. Let's close this chapter and start another one.

"As a lover and supporter of the France team, everyone deserves a second chance. The players are truthfully sorry and have been left damaged and mortified at what took place, they were conscious of a collective meltdown. Now they must know how to turn the page and move on. There was a very good dialogue."

No other official or player talked to the media after the hearings, during which Domenech and the outgoing FFF president Jean-Pierre Escalettes also spoke.

The five-match ban for Evra came after the former French captain apologised for his behaviour. France's record appearance maker Lilian Thuram had called for the United defender to be banned for life, saying: "Evra must never be called up again."

The trigger for the players' revolt was the half-time row during France's 2-0 defeat to Mexico between Anelka and Domenech. The manager had firmly but politely asked Anelka to stay in his position but the Chelsea striker responded with an insult and was promptly told in front of his team-mates he would replaced by André-Pierre Gignac for the second half.

The respected French newspaper L'Equipe splashed the alleged insult across the front page, prompting Evra to say there was a "traitor" in their ranks who had leaked the story to the press.

Anelka refused to apologise, and was sent home by the FFF, a decision which sparked a protest from the players who refused to train days before their match against South Africa. Evra was also filmed having a fight with French fitness coach Robert Duverne during a training session and was dropped from the team that lost 2-1 to the host nation.

Anelka has since started legal proceedings against L'Equipe, saying that the paper got the insult wrong.