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Bordeaux boss Sagnol apologises for comments on African players

Jean-Pierre Muller / AFP (file photo) Bordeaux coach Willy Sagnol has apologised for controversial remarks on African players

Bordeaux coach Willy Sagnol was forced to apologise on Thursday after comments he made on African players earlier this week sparked a major racism row within French football.

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The former France international made headlines when he appeared to suggest African players lacked intelligence and discipline in an interview with a local newspaper on Tuesday.

Sagnol told the Sud Ouest daily [link in French]: "The advantage of the typical African player is that he is not expensive when you take him, he's generally ready to fight and he is powerful on the pitch. But football is not just that, it's also technique, intelligence, discipline."

The former Monaco and Bayern Munich full-back said a good team needed "Nordics” as well.

“Nordics are good. They have a good mentality,” he said. “A football team is a mixture, it's like life, it's like France. You have defenders, attackers, midfielders, fast ones, big ones, small ones and technical ones."

Speaking Thursday at a pre-match news conference ahead of Saturday’s game with Lens, Sagnol said if “I may have shocked, humiliated or hurt people then I am sorry.”

Authorities urged to take ‘appropriate action’

The 37-year-old’s comments in Tuesday’s interview provoked stern rebukes from anti-racism groups and a host of prominent figures in French football, including his former Monaco teammate Lilian Thuram.

Thuram, who is now a leading anti-racism campaigner, told radio station Europe 1 he was "surprised" and “disappointed" by the remarks.

"Unfortunately there is always prejudice about people coming from Africa, black people. We always talk about their strength and never their intelligence,” he said. “These comments only back-up such prejudice.”

SOS Racisme, a French anti-racism watchdog, denounced Sagnol for "crassly associating 'Blacks' and 'Nordics' with being physical and intelligent respectively."

It called on the French Football Federation (FFF), the French League (LFP) and the government to "take immediate and appropriate action", adding that it was "studying the possibility of filing a complaint in the coming days".

Others have leapt to Sagnol’s defence, however. Bordeaux’s president, Jean-Louis Triaud denounced the “malicious” interpretation of Sagnol’s remarks, while France’s Sports Minister Thierry Braillard, described Sagnol’s comments as “mere clumsiness”.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP, REUTERS)

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