Nicolas Anelka is a sacrifice for the greater good

If Nicolas Anelka’s international career wasn’t over with the 18-game ban he has been issued with by the French Football Federation (FFF), then his comments in reaction to them certainly sealed the deal. Anelka said today:

“For me, this whole commission thing is a nonsense, a charade not to lose face. The so-called punishment has no relevance whatsoever because, for me, the French national team was an issue which ended on the 19 July when I was kicked out of the training centre at Knysna. This is just to entertain the public, to turn the page because Laurent Blanc needs to be able to work in peace. These people are clowns, I am dying with laughter.”

Only the people involved during France’s camp in South Africa will really know what happened, but what we know is what the rest of the world saw: an embarrassment of the greatest proportions. What started as a fall-out between a player and his coach – Anelka had told Raymond Domenech to ‘Go f**k yourself, you son of a whore’ – during half-time in France’s game with Mexico, turned into a state of affairs where Anelka was sent home, the players went on strike, the head of the FFF resigned and eventually the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, stepped in to enquire as to what on earth was going on.

Whether Nicolas Anelka was willing to play for France after the incident is ambiguous, the issue seems to have been with Domenech, and as he no longer resides as the French coach, Anelka may have been happy to play under Blanc. However, the cold truth, regardless of Anelka’s intentions, is that the FFF had to make an example of someone simply to save face. Raymond Domenech’s reputation is in tatters (although it was pretty ropey to begin with) and so simply laying the blame on him would not have washed. If the players involved had got off scot-free what sort of example would that set in terms of dealing with in-house arguments? Anelka was the original offender and so suffered the brunt of the punishment, Evra got his ban (5 games) for his role as captain, Jeremy Toulalan (one) for writing the statement and Ribery (three) for I’m not quite sure why – maybe because he was vice-captain, maybe for allegations of underage prostitutes, or maybe because even amongst that squad, he stood out as particularly terrible at the tournament .

Laurent Blanc needed a clean slate, and after dropping every player for his first game in charge, he needs a sense of authority that exudes over his players i.e. that sort of behaviour will not wash regardless of whether you agree or not. By the same token, the FFF needed to get a grip on matters after they spilt out so disastrously in South Africa. Anelka is a good player, but at 31, he is expendable in the eyes of the FFF for their next qualifying campaign. Had it been England and Wayne Rooney, or a player of that importance to the French side, there is no way that player would have received that punishment.

Overall, the FFF had no choice but to make a big, public show of the punishment that they dished out. I will be very surprised if any French players do something similar again in the near future, although stranger things have happened in football, and the team now has an opportunity to leave this incident behind. Maybe this will be a stark reminder to players of what a privilege it is to be asked to play football for your country. Anelka has to accept that he is, rightly or wrongly, the fall guy. If his country is to get back on track, then they must now try to rediscover the success that they had at the turn of the century. This is the right step forward and Anelka is a sacrifice for the greater good.

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