France’s star striker Thierry Henry made a silent exit from a meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the Elysée palace on Thursday, where he and the president discussed the team’s dramatic World Cup exit.
France’s star striker Thierry Henry left the Elysée palace without comment after meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday to discuss the team’s dismal World Cup performance in South Africa.
The French football team, Les Bleus (The Blues), arrived home earlier in the day after a miserable World Cup encounter that has prompted anger and condemnation from across the nation, including from Sarkozy.
Riot police were deployed at Le Bourget airport north of Paris as the team arrived, although fans were conspicuous by their absence.
Sarkozy met veteran striker Thierry Henry at the player’s request to discuss how and why things went so wrong for the team.
Even the president’s personal intervention is seen in some quarters as adding to France’s embarrassment.
Daily newspaper Le Parisien quoted a French member of the European Parliament, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, as saying that a meeting of ministers on Wednesday to discuss events at the World Cup was “the pinnacle of the ridiculous”.
“The President of the Republic is there to deal with problems faced by the French people, not to get personally involved in the running of the French Football Federation,” he said.
“Sport is entertainment, and [Sarkozy’s] involvement in it risks politics becoming entertainment as well,” Cohn-Bendit added. “Sarkozy is debasing himself to Anelka’s level,” a reference to the star striker whose temper seemingly started Les Bleus’ decline.
Les Bleus crashed out of the tournament in South Africa on Tuesday having scored just one goal in three matches and suffering the embarrassment of a sacked striker and a team in mutiny.
Striker Nicolas Anelka was sent home after firing off some choice words at coach Raymond Domenech in the locker room on June 17, living up to his reputation as the “enfant terrible” of French football.
The rest of the players subsequently went on strike by refusing to train ahead of France's 2-1 loss to South Africa, which left the team in last place in Group A.
"In 11 days of competition, Raymond Domenech's gang has succeeded in becoming the laughingstock of the entire world, a mix of arrogance, incompetence, a lack of talent and professionalism," France Soir newspaper declared.
France winger Florent Malouda apologised to his country and its football fans, and conceded that restoring the team’s battered reputation would now be a priority.
“It's a complete disaster that we chose to express ourselves like this,'' said Malouda, who flew out on his own before the rest of the team. “We honestly didn't know it would affect people so much. …We're really sorry for the French population and the French fans.”
“The image we have shown to the world, the way they see France right now, is a disaster,” Malouda went on to say. “As players, we are primarily responsible for that. Before the World Cup we had great expectations, and we are leaving without winning a single game.''
Malouda was the only French player to score at the 2010 World Cup. When the final whistle blew after the loss to South Africa, the enormity of his team’s embarrassing exit hit him hard.
“It's just like you get knocked out,'' he said. “When you feel the atmosphere in the stadium, you want to stay in the competition -- but we know we haven’t earned it. What can we do? Go home. We deserve it.''
But not all the players were as willing as Malouda to accept the blame.
Many observers, including former French stars Zinedine Zidane and Bixente Lizarazu, blamed Domenech for letting the situation spiral out of control and the French Football Federation for retaining him, even after the team failed to make it out of the group stage at Euro 2008.
Domenech ended his six-year reign without a trophy and in contentious style, refusing to shake the hand of South Africa's coach -- a move that only brought more public derision to the French team’s handling of this year’s World Cup.