France coach leaves out Mathieu Valbuena amid Karim Benzema extortion case
Didier Deschamps chose to “give him a breather”, saying Lyon winger will not be in the right frame of mind to perform on the pitch
France coach Didier Deschamps left out winger Mathieu Valbuena for friendly matches against Germany and England amid an ongoing police investigation involving international teammate Karim Benzema.
Benzema was charged on Thursday with conspiracy to blackmail and participating in a criminal group as part of an investigation over a sex tape involving Valbuena – a regular in Deschamps’ side.
Benzema was also placed under judicial supervision, meaning he cannot meet with the victim or other people charged in the case.
That precluded Deschamps from using both players at the same time, while the investigation goes on.
With Benzema recovering from injury, Deschamps could have picked Valbuena, but said on Thursday that he prefers to “give him a breather” considering the media scrutiny.
France plays Germany next Friday and then England at Wembley on November 17.
Deschamps started his news conference by speaking about the case, carefully measuring his words about Benzema, who has been sidelined since hurting his hamstring against Armenia last month, when he scored twice in a 4-0 win.
“He wasn’t available anyway for these two matches. With regards to the ongoing case, I obviously don’t know the [full] details,” Deschamps said. “The best thing is to let the justice system do its job and take the decisions it deems fit.”
The Lyon winger Valbuena, who has 52 caps for France, has been one of France’s most consistent players since Deschamps took charge after the 2012 European Championship
“You can easily understand that he’s not in the right psychological state to play given this affair,” Deschamps said. “So I’ve taken the decision to give him a breather.”
Then, he urged reporters not to ask questions about the case.
“I don’t doubt you have lots of questions not relating to football. I won’t answer them,” he said. “I am not getting into conjecture with a load of ifs and buts. It serves no purpose. However, I will happily answer questions about my squad list.”
Still, he spent the next few minutes fending off questions regarding Benzema and Valbuena. Getting visibly annoyed, Deschamps said with a rueful grin “are there any questions about my squad?” before talk finally turned to football.
His squad list included a first call up for 19-year-old winger Kingsley Coman, who has impressed in recent weeks for Bayern Munich.
There were also recalls for winger Hatem Ben Arfa, who has scored seven goals for Nice this season, and for striker Andre-Pierre Gignac, who has scored 10 goals in 13 league games for Mexican side Tigres this season.
With Benzema sidelined, and his immediate future with the national team uncertain, Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud has a chance to push his claim for a starting place at next year’s European Championship.
Giroud scored Arsenal’s goal in a 5-1 defeat away to Bayern in the Champions League on Wednesday, his seventh goal in seven games for club and country.