Fifa World Cup 2014

France eager to bury ghost of Knysna revolt

Veteran Bacary Sagna insists players have learnt their lesson after infamous 2010 protest when they refused to get off bus over coach sending home Nicolas Anelka

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 June, 2014, 9:05pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 June, 2014, 9:05pm

France's World Cup squad are doing their best to bury memories of the infamous "Knysna" player revolt that brought shame on the 2010 tournament.

France coach Didier Deschamps said he did not want to talk about the public revolt by French players, when they refused to train at their Knysna base in South Africa.

But veteran fullback Bacary Sagna, one of the few players to have spoken out, said the team must stay "humble" to win back public trust.

Even if it was gross professional misconduct at the time, we must stop talking about Knysna
Noel Le Graet

France, with several players who took part in the 2010 protests - including Patrice Evra, who was sacked as captain and given a five-match ban - have been set a target of reaching at least the quarter-finals in Brazil.

However, they will be judged by their ability to avoid anything like the events of June 20, 2010, as much as any success on the field.

Led by Evra, the 2010 players refused to train at Knysna in retaliation for the sending home of striker Nicolas Anelka for a foul-mouthed outburst at then coach Raymond Domenech.

The players refused to get off their bus and delivered an ultimatum to Domenech to read a letter with their demands on it to the assembled press. The coach humiliatingly complied.

To make matters worse, the protest was conducted on a rare day when the public was allowed in to watch training.

In one bid to bury the past, sports equipment giant Adidas - the French kit sponsor until 2010 - organised a symbolic burning of a replica bus in a Paris suburb last week.

France has tried and failed to turn the page.

Before the 2012 European Championship, some semblance of order was restored by Laurent Blanc, who took over as coach from Domenech.

French Football Federation president Noel Le Graet, who replaced Jean-Pierre Escalettes when he fell victim to the Knysna fallout, said the scandal was behind them.

"Even if it was gross professional misconduct at the time, we must stop talking about Knysna," he said.

However, Hatem Ben Arfa, Samir Nasri and Yann M'Vila all misbehaved, significantly weakening Blanc's standing.

Deschamps, who took over when Blanc did not sign a new contract, is adamant that the subject is done and dusted.

"We keep returning to this topic every time," he said last month. "If you can, can you please not talk about it. Turning point or not, we can do nothing about it now. What happened has happened.

"It is not by talking about it again that it will sort out or improve on the tasks awaiting us. And what is awaiting us is the World Cup in Brazil and the Euro in France in 2016."

Deschamps, who in the past has deplored the manner in which modern day players are cosseted, said the best way to divert attention was by winning games.

"Football has always been the object of political exploitation," he said.

"Not everything was sweetness and light either in 1998 [the year he captained Les Bleus to the trophy in France].

"But a team that wins are always as a rule loved. I have never seen a side that won not be loved."

Sagna, part of the French squad, but battling to get a regular starting spot, said Knysna should remain a lesson to all.

"It is imperative we remain humble," the 31-year-old full-back said when asked how the team could avoid a repeat.

"We had an inflated opinion of ourselves in 2010. We were too overconfident.

"To be brought crashing to earth did everyone good, that screwed our heads on right. We should have talked about it at the time because one has to be allowed to express oneself and today that is the case."