PARIS (AP) - Former France coach Raymond Domenech broke his silence over the team’s World Cup debacle, labeling the players “stupid brats” for going on strike at a training session to make “a laughingstock” of their country.
He now says in an interview to be published Wednesday in L’Express magazine that the players were to blame for ridiculing a once-proud national team that won the 1998 World Cup and European Championship in 2000.
“They knew perfectly well what they were doing. They even closed the bus curtains to hide from the cameras,” Domenech said in excerpts on the magazine’s website. “Looking back, I see them above all as a bunch of irresponsible, stupid brats.”
The team shocked the nation and provoked the ire of politicians and fans by refusing to train after Nicolas Anelka had been sent home for insulting Domenech during halftime of France’s second group game against Mexico.
Anelka was subsequently suspended for 18 matches by the French soccer federation. Former captain Patrice Evra (five games), Franck Ribery (three games) and Jeremy Toulalan (one game) were also banned for their part in the boycott.
On the day of the strike, hundreds of locals from the town of Knysna gave the French players a rousing reception when they stepped off the team bus. After quickly shaking hands and signing autographs, they all returned to their bus.
“At that point, I’m telling myself that they’ve gone mad and they don’t realize (what they are doing),” Domenech said. “Now I know I was wrong.”
Evra also clashed with fitness coach Robert Duverne, forcing Domenech to intervene.
While Knysna locals looked on in confusion, French fans back home watched the scenes unfold live on television.
Further adding further to the drama, Domenech then unfolded a sheet of paper and slowly mumbled a speech written collectively by the players explaining their reasons for striking.
“We’d been there for more than an hour. Somebody had to take responsibility and stop this masquerade,” Domenech said. “We were the laughingstock of the world. I said, ‘Stop this, I can’t take any more of it!’”
Domenech, however, accepts he made mistakes at the World Cup.
“I messed up. I didn’t choose the right players or find the right words,” he said. “I don’t accept criticism from politicians, nor from former players who have turned to journalism, but that doesn’t stop me making my own assessment.”
Domenech, who was replaced by Laurent Blanc after the tournament, had often been derided throughout his time in charge.