BLOEMFONTEIN, June 22 – France coach Raymond Domenech on Monday described the French players' refusal to train in protest at Nicolas Anelka's expulsion from the World Cup squad as "unspeakably stupid".Domenech also said he fully supported the decision taken by the French Football Federation (FFF) to banish the controversial Chelsea star as punishment for his foul-mouthed outburst at the coach during the 2-0 defeat to Mexico.
"First of all I would like to say that the sanction against Nicolas Anelka is justified. I support the federation in this decision," Domenech told reporters in Bloemfontein ahead of Tuesday’s clash with South Africa.
"Nobody can behave in such a way in the dressing room or elsewhere and high-level sportsmen and women have to lead by example through football.
"We tried to convince the players that what was happening was irregular, that their actions were unspeakably stupid. I told myself this masquerade had to be stopped. No way would I back this action."
Domenech was appearing alone at the team’s pre-match press conference with skipper Patrice Evra nowhere to be seen.
The Manchester United defender had been at the centre of Sunday’s drama when the squad refused to train at their base in Knysna.
Evra then had a shouting match with fitness coach Robert Duverne before the scheduled session, leading Domenech to intervene. A furious Duverne stormed off and threw his stopwatch across the pitch in frustration, in full view of TV cameras.
The players’ mutiny prompted top FFF official Jean-Louis Valentin to resign, saying he was "disgusted" by the players.
Domenech read out a statement from the players expressing their opposition to the decision to kick Anelka out and said they deplored the way the dressing room bust-up between him and Domenech had been revealed by sports daily L’Equipe on Saturday.
Defending his decision to read out the players’ words, Domenech told reporters Monday: "The French people had a right to know what was happening" but he said he regretted not distancing himself from the statement.
When asked why he was speaking to reporters on his own, Domenech offered only a cryptic reply, demanding acceptable behaviour from his captain on the pitch.
"All I expect of the players and what the French people are expecting of them is not excuses and more words but behaviour and results on the pitch," he said.
He said his responsibility was to prepare for the game in Bloemfontein, adding: "They will have to play their hearts out tomorrow on the pitch and we can still dream at this stage," he said.
To squeeze into the last 16, France must defeat South Africa by a wide margin on Tuesday and hope that the game between Uruguay and Mexico does not end in a stalemate.
When asked whether those responsible for the disruption would be punished, Domenech said: "I will try to put together the best possible team so that physically and psychologically we will have players who will be able to overcome this very difficult experience which is extremely exhausting for everybody."
"The reputation of the French team is at stake over this next match," he added.
France’s sports minister Roselyne Bachelot held a meeting with the players on Monday and told them they had damaged France’s image.
"I told the players that for our children they are probably no longer heroes," Bachelot said. "You have crushed the dreams of your partners, your friends and your supporters. You have tarnished the image of France."