It is the saga that has rocked French football, barely weeks after narrowly falling short of a third World Cup triumph, and has left French Football Federation president Noel Le Graet fighting for his job.
Zinedine Zidane was one of the favorites to take charge of France if Didier Deschamps had stepped down, but Deschamps’ contract was extended after he led the team to a second consecutive World Cup final, where they lost to Argentina in Qatar last month.
French Football Federation executive committee members have called for an extraordinary meeting on Wednesday which could end with Le Graet losing his job.
How has it come to this? Sky Sports News chief reporter Kaveh Solhekol explains the fiasco that has engulfed Les Bleus since the turn of the year…
Why is Le Graet in danger of losing his job?
Le Graet is at the center of controversy after he said at the weekend that he would not pick up the phone if Zidane called him about the France job.
When asked whether Zidane, a World Cup winner with France in 1998 and a national icon, would now manage Brazil instead, Le Graet had told RMC: “I don’t give a damn, he can go wherever he wants.”
On Sunday, Le Graet had said Zidane had plenty of support but stood no chance of replacing Deschamps.
“Who can make serious reproaches to Deschamps?” he said.
“Nobody. He [Zidane] does what he wants; it’s none of my business. I’ve never met him, we’ve never considered parting with Didier. He can go where he wants, to a club … If Zidane tried to contact me? Certainly not, I wouldn’t even pick up the phone.”
How were Le Graet’s initial comments received?
Very badly. Zidane is considered footballing royalty across the world having become the first coach to win the Champions League three times in a row when he was in charge of Real Madrid.
The 50-year-old, who also won the 2000 European Championship with France in a glittering playing career, is without a job after he left his role with the Spanish club in 2021.
The star of the current France team Kylian Mbappe waded into the debate by taking to social media.
The Paris Saint-Germain forward was one of the first to voice his disapproval after Le Graet’s comments were aired.
“Zidane is France, we don’t disrespect the legend like that,” Mbappe said on Twitter.
How have Real Madrid responded?
A club statement read: “Real Madrid CF regrets the unfortunate statements made by the president of the French Football Federation, Noel Le Graet, about Zinedine Zidane, one of the greatest legends of world sport.”
Stating that Le Graet’s words demonstrate a lack of respect towards Zidane and what he means to the game, Real stated that they want the FFF president to rectify his statements.
“Zinedine Zidane, world champion and European champion defending his country’s jersey, among many other titles, represents the values of sport and has demonstrated this throughout his professional career as a player and as a coach.”
Furthermore, Madrid also criticized Le Graet for previous comments on current Real Madrid captain Karim Benzema. In 2018 he suggested the striker’s time in the international set-up was over, saying he had been “in declining form for some time”.
The reigning Champions League holders said: “The statements by the president of the French Football Federation [regarding Zidane] are inappropriate for someone who holds that representation and disqualify themselves, like the ones he also makes about our captain Karim Benzema, current Ballon d’Or, champion of the Nations League with France in 2021 and winner of five Champions League, among many other titles .”
Who else has responded to Le Graet’s comments?
France’s minister for sports, Amélie Oudéa-Castéra, was one of many politicians who reacted to Le Graet’s comments.
“Yet more out-of-touch comments and on top of that a shameful lack of respect, which hurts us all, towards a legend of football and sport,” she wrote on Twitter, also calling for an apology.
PSG manager Christopher Galtier was asked about the situation involving Le Graet and his comments on Tuesday.
“Zinedine Zidane deserves respect, and I am convinced that he has the respect of everyone,” the PSG boss said.
“He was an extraordinary player for the French team. He is a great coach with three league titles. Obviously the words that were said created a strong reaction.
“I’m not going to comment on the words, I simply say that Zinedine Zidane deserves great respect and he has the respect of everyone.
“I am not in the habit of shooting at an ambulance [the messenger]so I will not comment further.”
What has been Le Graet’s response to the backlash?
Le Graet apologised for his comments following the considerable public backlash.
“I would like to present my personal apologies for these remarks which absolutely do not reflect my thoughts, nor my consideration for the player he was and the coach he has become,” Le Graet said in a statement reported by The Team.
“I admit that I made awkward remarks which created a misunderstanding. Zidane knows the immense esteem I have for him, like all French people.”
Who could replace Le Graet if he leaves?
Le Graet’s dismissal of Zidane as a potential successor to Deschamps comes two years after he had backed the former midfielder to take up the reins if available.
One of the even more controversial candidates for the top job if Le Graet leaves could be Michel Platini.
French president Emmanuel Macron has also intervened in the growing controversy, reportedly sounding out Platini for the role of FFF chief.
A Swiss court cleared Platini of corruption and fraud charges in July last year.
According to reports in France, Platini would consider taking the position if offered it, although those around him aren’t convinced it would be a sensible move.