Sponsors desert France as Sarkozy and Zidane chastise players

When last we looked in on the seething hive of mutiny that is France, the team was refusing to train, the team director was resigning and manager Raymond Domenech was reading the players’ revolutionary manifesto to the press while fitness coach Robert Duverne hurled his stopwatch into the bushes. Now Domenech has called his team “stupid” and admitted that some French players might refuse to play in Tuesday’s match against South Africa. And you thought getting Anelka out of the locker room was supposed to improve team chemistry.

Today, the fallout has only continued over the incredible implosion of a team that finished second in the World Cup just four years ago. The players returned to training, but their sponsors are abandoning them. Crédit Agricole, the largest bank in France, suspended a TV campaign that revolved around the team. Nicolas Anelka was dropped as a spokesman for the fast-food company Quick. Adidas has reaffirmed its support for the team, but on Sunday, according to the AFP, the players wore the logos of Gaz de France Suez and Carrefour, and on Monday, all trace of those sponsors had mysteriously been removed from their shirts.

In the meantime, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and former star Zinedine Zidane criticized the players’ refusal to train and questioned the way the squad is run. Zidane called the player revolt “sad” and offered lukewarm support for Domenech, but agreed with Patrice Evra that the real problem was that someone in the team setup had leaked news of the conflicts to the press. “In a locker room a lot of things are said, but they should never come out,” he said.

Sarkozy ordered French sports minister Roselyne Bachelot to stay in South Africa to restore some semblance of order to the team. “We are taking note of the indignation of the French people,” Bachelot said, adding that “it is not yet the right time to take disciplinary action, but that time will come very soon.”

The French media reacted to Sunday’s melodrama with unchained fury, calling the team “spoiled,” “stupid” and “shameful.” L’Equipe described the squad as “a stink bomb that keeps exploding.” Le Figaro went even farther:

“The ‘field of dreams’ became the set of a living nightmare. It was almost hallucinatory. This is a psychodrama that will go down in the history of the World Cup. The French team has been reduced to ashes.”

Amazingly, France could still qualify for the knockout rounds with a convincing win over South Africa on Tuesday. What happens then is anyone’s guess. But the drama may not be over.

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