France midfielder Jérémy Toulalan admitted yesterday he played a direct part in the national squad's boycott of a training session during their disastrous World Cup campaign in South Africa and deeply regretted it.
The 26-year-old Lyons midfielder had been regarded by French media as one of the "nice guys" put under pressure by senior players branded as "immature gang leaders" by the French Sports Minister, Roselyne Bachelot.
But Toulalan told the weekly Journal du Dimanche that his private press officer had helped with the writing of the players' statement on the boycott of a training session in support of Nicolas Anelka, who was expelled from the squad for insulting the coach, Raymond Domenech.
"With a few players, we wrote down a few ideas to explain our views, then with the help of our press officers we gave them some shape to be sure people would understand our approach," he said.
"We didn't approve of what Nicolas Anelka had said, it's bad but it can happen. When the incident made the front page of L'Equipe things moved really fast," he added.
"We heard Nicolas was about to be kicked out, we tried to arrange a meeting with the coach. It never took place because the decision had already been taken."
Anelka's dismissal and the boycott of the training session two days before the last group game against South Africa caused an uproar in France.
Toulalan, however, said the players did not realise how serious the situation was. "I'm not proud of what I did but I accept responsibility," he said. "There were no ringleaders and no slaves, no good guys and no bad guys. We were all involved and we are all responsible because nobody said a word [against the boycott],"he said.
The midfielder also denied that the playmaker Yoann Gourcuff had been ostracised and even physically threatened by more senior players like Franck Ribéry or Anelka.
"It's totally untrue. I even heard that I had to pull apart Franck and Yoann; It's a load of rubbish. They never had an argument," he said.
Toulalan added that he had been deeply affected by Les Bleus' winless first-round exit from the tournament. "We should have talked to each other on the pitch and shown during the games the solidarity which was ours in support of Anelka," he said.
"I'm going through a nightmare. I'm still wondering how we managed to do such things. It's a stain on my career and it will be very difficult to wipe it off."
The French Football Federation has announced an official investigation into the boycott and even the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, got involved, asking Bachelot to meet with the key people involved in the row.
"We are taking note of the indignation of the French people and ... calling for dignity and responsibility," the Sports Minister said. "It's not yet the right time to take disciplinary action but that time will come very soon.
"I told the players they had tarnished the image of France. It is a morale disaster for French football. I told them they could no longer be heroes for our children. They have destroyed the dreams of their countrymen, their friends and supporters."
The Monaco coach, Guy Lacombe, has hinted he would be prepared to allow the South Korea forward Park Chu-young to leave the club for a move to the Premier League if the right offer was made.
The 25-year-old impressed at the World Cup for the Taeguk Warriors and the former FC Seoul player has been linked with a move to the likes of Fulham, Aston Villa and Everton.
After Monaco played a pre-season friendly against K-League team Incheon United yesterday, Lacombe was asked about Park's future by the local media.
"I don't know anything about transfer rumours," he said. "Even if an offer came we have no mind to sell the player. but in football I think there is no such word as 'never'."
The friendly ended 2-2 at Incheon's World Cup Stadium. Park came on as a second-half substitute and Do Hwa-sung scored through a 50-yard strike.
"Our young players looked good," Lacombe said, "but it's true that they are not experienced. Incheon's first goal came from our mistake but it was a very good goal."