“I don’t give a damn about Zidane.” The phrase, pronounced by the president of the French Football Federation, Nöel Le Graët, in the course of a witty telephone interview with Radio Monte Carlo last Sunday, was the trigger for the biggest crisis that French football has experienced in years. Yesterday, Le Gräet left office after Emmanuel Macron’s government led a demolition campaign that included the public testimony of women who denounced having been victims of alleged sexual harassment at the hands of the outgoing president who, at 82, leaves as a legacy the World Cup obtained in Russia in 2018.
“Le Graët had been meeting with the executive committee of the FFF for three days when he gave the interview,” say Radio Monte Carlo sources, “it was in the afternoon, after a cocktail, they drink a lot of champagne there…”. When the most powerful man in French football, Kylian Mbappé, intervened on Twitter, Le Graët’s words took on the dimension of a national catastrophe: “Zidane is France and he deserves respect.”
At 50 years old, Zinedine Zidane meets all the conditions of a myth of the Republic. His prestige and his influence in France are enormous, and he uses them to cultivate an obsession: becoming a coach. It is his aspiration since in 2018 he presented the first of his two resignations as coach of Real Madrid. He just missed her timing: a month later France were proclaimed world champions in Moscow led by Didier Deschamps, Zidane’s former teammate on the 1998 champion team. With the title in hand, decorated as an Official of the Legion, the astute Deschamps not only did not close his cycle but became strong in office. Deschamps only put himself in danger when he agreed to listen to Zidane, who advised him to call up Karim Benzema for Euro 2021. Sentenced to a year in jail for blackmailing a teammate in 2016, Benzema was poorly received by most of a squad that showed signs of disintegration until the team was eliminated in the round of 16 by Switzerland.
Zidane did not park his aspiration. Unlike. To be available to occupy the bench of France, last spring he renounced an offer from Manchester United, which paid him 20 million euros net per year -double that of Ten Hag-, refused to go to Juventus and dismissed the proposal of Paris Saint-Germain. The emir of Qatar invited him to Doha to pay him his respects and the details of a contract that guaranteed him an annual salary of 70 million gross if he took over the Paris club.
Zidane, who since winning three Champions Leagues in a row with Madrid has become the most coveted coach in the world, along with Guardiola, preferred to play the national team card. According to sources from the French federation, before the World Cup in Qatar, the coach signed a declaration of intent through which he promised to take over as coach and the federation assured him to hire him. This formal agreement did not have an indemnity clause and was conditional on Deschamps, who ended his contract in December, not renewing it.
Zidane already saw himself directing Griezmann and Mbappé when last Friday, without consulting his executive committee, Le Gräet renewed Deschamps until July 2026, the end of the World Cup in Mexico and the United States. The best informed people in the French federation explain that Noël le Graët, who was the socialist mayor of Guingamp between 1995 and 2008, very close to former president François Hollande, limited himself to making a political calculation. “Le Graët”, they say, “decided to keep Deschamps the day France qualified for the final for the second consecutive World Cup. He thought: ‘Will Zidane be able to improve on Deschamps by winning one World Cup and losing the next on penalties?’
Zidane felt betrayed and with him the whole multitude of supporters, a true industry within the industry —editors, politicians, agents, businessmen, former players and coaches— who hoped to accompany him in the vicinity of a position that only resembles that of the president of the Republic. Immediately after the announcement of Deschamps’ continuity, they began to call Le Graët asking him to reconsider. They say in the federation that they warned him that Zidane would now become the coach of Brazil —the Brazilian Football Confederation is looking for a coach— and that, faced with such a historical aberration, he would be forced to resign. That – the possibility of Zidane ending up on the Brazilian bench – was precisely the question that drove Le Graët crazy during the humorous interview on Radio Monte Carlo. “I don’t give a damn, let him go wherever he wants!” he replied. “If Zidane tried to contact me? Of course not, he would not have even picked up the phone from her.
The ease of Le Graët would never have penalized him in the same way if Mbappé had not censured him in public. Mbappé, according to his lawyers, feels indebted to Zidane for the wise and disinterested advice that he believes the coach gave him when he was debating between renewing for PSG or signing for Madrid. As a champion of Emmanuel Macron, with whom he frequently chats, Mbappé’s influence transcends the field of play.
Zidane c’est la France, on manque pas de respect à la légende comme ça… 🤦🏽♂️
— Kylian Mbappé (@KMbappe) January 8, 2023
From the Elysee to the saucepan
After the council of ministers at the Élysée Palace, this Wednesday, the spokesman for the French government, Olivier Véran, was subjected to the big question of the day: “Should Nöel Le Graët resign?” When asked about the fate of the president of the French Football Federation, the politician replied without hesitation: “A federation like the FFF deserves a president who is up to the task and who allows French football to be portrayed throughout the world.”
On Monday, in the wake of the scandal unleashed after the words that Le Graët dedicated to Zidane — “I don’t give a damn” — the Minister of Sports, Amélie Oudéa-Castéra, ordered the FFF to be audited. Until yesterday, the most serious thing that the researchers discovered was confined to the already well-known area of the intense relationships that the 82-year-old federative president had with the opposite sex. The player’s agent Sonia Souid provided the most devastating testimony, according to the newspaper L’Equipe: ”He told me face to face, in his apartment, that if I wanted his help I had to go through the saucepan”.
On Wednesday, the FFF’s executive committee resolved to suspend Le Graët and put an interim president in his place. The federation issued a statement: “Noël Le Graët has chosen to withdraw from his duties until the final communication of the audit carried out by the Ministry of Sports.”
Now the new executive committee of the FFF is considering reviewing Deschamps’ contract in search of loopholes to open a path to the incorporation of Zidane. Legally, the problem has no solution without further moral trauma. Meanwhile, Zinedine Zidane has returned to the market.
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