PARIS – France soccer coach Didier Deschamps will file a legal complaint against Eric Cantona after his former national teammate suggested the squad selection for Euro 2016 was racially motivated, Deschamps’ lawyer said on Friday.
The two men, who played 34 times together for France, have a history of animosity since the mid-1990s when Deschamps replaced Cantona as France’s captain, going on to lead the team to World Cup and European Championship successes in 1998 and 2000.
In an interview with British daily the Guardian on Thursday, former Manchester United star Cantona questioned the motives of omitting striker Karim Benzema and forward Hatem Ben Arfa, both of North African origin, from the final squad of 23.
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“Benzema is a great player. Ben Arfa is a great player,” Cantona told the Guardian.
“But Deschamps, he has a really French name. Maybe he is the only one in France to have a truly French name. Nobody in his family mixed with anybody, you know. Like the Mormons in America.
“So I’m not surprised he used the situation of Benzema not to take him. Especially after Valls said he should not play for France.
“And Ben Arfa is maybe the best player in France today. But they have some origins. I am allowed to think about that.”
Noël Le Graët, the head of the French Football Federation, immediately described the comments as “ridiculous.”
Deschamps’ lawyer, Carlos Brusa, told French sports daily L’Equipe and news channel BFMTV that he was launching proceedings against Cantona to penalise “the unacceptable slanderous and defamatory statements that harm Mr Deschamps’ integrity”.
Despite Cantona’s claims, the 23-member squad includes a mix of players from various ethnic origins.
Deschamps this week also called up Adil Rami, who is of Moroccan origin, to replace injured centre half Raphael Varane.
Benzema was not picked after his ban for his involvement in an alleged blackmail scandal was upheld by the FFF in April.
Ben Arfa is among eight reserves that could yet be called up for the tournament if a player among the 23 gets injured.
Cantona, who is known for his controversial outbursts, once described Deschamps negatively as “the water-carrier” suggesting that his sole role was to pass the ball to better players.
He was dropped from the national team in 1995 after being suspended from football for eight months for launching a kung-fu style kick and punching a fan who had shouted abuse at him from the stands.
He never played for France again.