The World Cup struggles of the English and French soccer teams extend beyond the soccer pitch, where both are winless heading into the final group games.
France’s squad declined to appear for training yesterday, hours after striker Nicolas Anelka was sent home following a dispute with coach Raymond Domenech. England players were to meet last night with coach Fabio Capello to discuss why the team has failed to win either of its matches.
“All the players in the French squad without exception wish to affirm their opposition to the decision taken by the French Football Federation to exclude Nicolas Anelka,” the French team said in a statement, after they refused to take part in a public training session in Knysna, near Cape Town.
Anelka was ejected from the camp for refusing to apologize to Domenech after arguing with the coach at halftime in the team’s 2-0 loss to Mexico on June 17. The players’ refusal to train led the team’s liaison officer, Jean-Louis Valentin, to quit with immediate effect.
“I am ashamed, I am leaving immediately for Paris,” Valentin told reporters. “What has happened is a scandal for the federation, for the French team and for the whole country. They do not want to train, it is unacceptable.”
The French team had been under scrutiny before the World Cup, after former captain Laurent Blanc was appointed to replace Domenech before the start of the tournament. The 1998 world champion scraped into the finals with a playoff victory over Ireland that was earned after striker Thierry Henry admitted to handling the ball to set up the decisive goal.
The French Football Federation said it will investigate the team’s actions after the end of France’s participation in the tournament.
“The FFF, speaking through its president, apologizes for the unacceptable conduct of the players that are representing our country,” according to a statement last night on its website. “A federal council shall be convened immediately on the completion of the French team’s campaign to draw all the conclusions of the crisis that has been created.”
If Mexico and Uruguay draw in their final group match on tomorrow, France, which faces host South Africa on the same day, will be eliminated.
While England’s problems haven’t been played out in the public spotlight, U.K. newspapers have reported disharmony in the camp.
Defender John Terry said there was “no unrest at all” at a televised news conference yesterday. Even so, striker Wayne Rooney was forced to apologize after mouthing criticism toward England fans who jeered the team off the pitch following a 0-0 draw with Algeria three days ago.
Capello, who is paid 6 million pounds ($8.9 million) a year by England’s Football Association, said after the match that players were unrecognizable from the ones who topped their qualifying pool.
“We need to be unified, stay together,” Terry said. “The game against Algeria wasn’t acceptable, but we go into our last game knowing a win would see us top the group and that is what is keeping us going.”
Capello is ready to quit as coach if England exits the tournament after group play, the People and the News of the World newspapers reported yesterday.
The Italian refused to commit to the post after the 0-0 draw against Algeria, although he is looking for the team to respond against Slovenia to reach the last 16, the newspapers said.
General manager Franco Baldini is already considering his future, according to the News of the World. He has offers from several clubs and will make a decision after the World Cup, the newspaper said.
“I am here on behalf of the players and we are all fully behind the manager,” Terry said.