The inquiry by the French Football Federation (FFF) into whether its national team manager, Laurent Blanc, is guilty of racism begins in earnest today, but we do not need a French politician to tell us that the man who wanted secretly to limit the number of black and Arab footballers in academies is guilty of sheer stupidity.
The leaked recording of the FFF meeting in which Blanc bemoaned a trend of young French players of African and Arab dual nationality opting to play for their other country has potentially destabilised one of the most glittering talent production lines in world football. Had this been the manager of the England team he would have been sacked long ago, or at least asked to resign.
If the racial profiling of academy admissions were not bad enough, Blanc, who today meets Patrick Braouezec, the man heading the inquiry, also bemoaned what he believed was the dominance of "big, strong, fast" black players in FFF academies who, in his view, had marginalised the smaller, more skilful players. By his readiness to stereotype we can tell that, as Lilian Thuram has pointed out, Blanc harbours some pretty sinister misconceptions. But, if it is possible to put to one side for a moment the offensiveness of a comment like that, consider what damage Blanc is doing to French football and its development of elite young players.
The French academy system for which Blanc was proposing his unofficial 30 per cent racial quotas differs from those run by English clubs, in that French academies admit boys at the age of 12 and release them back to their clubs at 15 to 16. The academies serve different regions, the most famous being Clairefontaine, which has an intake of boys from Paris and its hinterland and has Thierry Henry and Patrice Evra among its alumni.
Blanc was proposing screening those 12-year-old boys on the basis of what their future intentions in adulthood might be towards international football. That is not just racially discriminatory. It is ridiculous.
On that basis any number of great French footballers might, in the modern day, have missed out on a place at an FFF academy. Raymond Kopa, or Kopazewski to give him his full name, the star of France's 1958 World Cup team, was the child of Polish immigrants. Michel Platini's father Aldo, a former professional, was of Italian descent. Zinedine Zidane was born to parents who moved from Algeria in the 1950s. Robert Pires's parents are Portuguese.
That is before we even get to Thuram (born in Guadeloupe), Patrick Vieira (Senegal) and Marcel Desailly (Ghana). Without that last three, the team of 1998 would just have been Blanc, Didier Deschamps, the memorably ineffective Stéphane Guivarc'h and a few of their white-skinned pals.
Leaving aside for a moment the offensive nature of Blanc's comments, which he claims were taken "out of context", his entire premise does not make much sense. The consensus in French football is that not one single significant dual-nationality player produced by the French system who has been selected to play for France has turned them down. The players to whom Blanc is referring are those such as Marouane Chamakh or Sébastien Bassong, who were not regarded as quite good enough for France and so have explored their options elsewhere.
Of course, the person most likely to have damaged that immigrant loyalty to French football is Blanc himself. Worse yet, his proposals risk disenfranchising a whole generation of young French footballers by denying them the chance of an elite football education based on the colour of their skin.
The FFF has had no hesitation in claiming players such as Zidane, Samir Nasri and Karim Benzema to play for the France national team despite the fact all of them have strong Algerian roots. Now when the likes of Algeria and Morocco ask for those boys the FFF deemed inadequate to play for its team, the French respond by denying these aspiring young players access to their academies.
It has not gone unnoticed in France that when Blanc referred to dual-nationality players he left out those with white skin such as the Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny (who qualifies to play for Poland but has turned them down) or Ludovic Obraniak (the former France Under-21 at Lille, now a Poland international). They appear to be less offensive to Blanc.
Which brings us to Blanc's assertion that the "big, strong, fast" black players are too prevalent in France's academies. Or as Blanc delicately puts it: "The Spanish say to me, 'We don't have this problem. We don't have any blacks'."
It only needs a figure as prominent as Blanc to say something as stupid as that and suddenly the good work of the past unravels. Already Blanc's 1998 World Cup-winning team-mates, the brilliant "brown-white-black" team that was supposed to have put a multiracial face on conservative France, are fracturing along racial lines.
The 1998 veteran Thuram has been an outspoken critic of Blanc and called for him to resign. Vieira has also weighed in. Christophe Dugarry and Bixente Lizarazu have both hit back at Thuram for attacking Blanc. Suddenly those 1998 reunions are not looking quite such a cause for celebration for the FFF.
The funny thing about Blanc is that, for all his wacky ideas about what constitutes French nationality, his command of the French language is legendarily imperfect. French football reporters joke about his malapropisms in press conferences which belie the image he has cultivated of the bespectacled football intellectual.
Blanc's interrogator today, Braouezec, is the man whom the FFF selected to decide the punishments to those rebellious members of last summer's World Cup squad – in the main, Nicolas Anelka and Evra. Let us hope that for Braouezec race makes no difference when it comes to being tough and he sends Blanc packing.
Reformed Pennant issues Capello a timely reminder
His goal against Arsenal yesterday was just more evidence that Jermaine Pennant is having the best season of his life for Stoke City. He has never won a senior England cap before and Fabio Capello has proved resistant to picking bad boys – reformed or otherwise – but the Euro 2012 qualifier against Switzerland next month could be Pennant's time.
Pennant has hinted that he might be interested in playing for the Republic of Ireland but, if this is to be the late flowering of this erstwhile child prodigy, now 28, then it would be a shame for the England team to miss out. Pennant may not be everyone's cup of tea – and he has undoubtedly made some mistakes – but given the childhood he had, he has not done badly at all.
'Lucky' Grant must face facts: the game is finally up
Time is up for Avram Grant, who has now had three jobs in football management that many hard-working members of his profession will never accede to despite showing very little evidence that he is any good at his job at all.
Grant will always cite Chelsea's passage to the Champions League final and Portsmouth's FA Cup final in defence of his credentials. But the more you see of him, the more it seems that he does not know what he is doing. As Lee Dixon wrote in Saturday's Independent, the West Ham training session he witnessed was incoherent, badly organised and unproductive. And that was the one they put on as a spectacle for the fans.
English football being a fickle thing there may yet be another job for lucky Avram after West Ham. But you get the impression that most people see through him now.Reuse content