Blanc 'regrets certain opinions' at meetings

Under-fire France coach Laurent Blanc told a hearing on Monday he “regretted that certain opinions” were made at a meeting last November which allegedly discussed introducing quotas on the number of dual-nationality players at youth training centres, according to a source close to the enquiry.

Blanc confirmed to the joint hearing of the French Football Federation (FFF) and the sports ministry that the discussion had taken place on November 8 last year but he emphasised that the discussion did not concern him directly.

The source told Agence France-Presse the enquiry has notably pointed the finger of responsibility for the manner in which the matter was discussed at Francois Blaquart, who has been suspended as national technical director, and also highlighted a lack of communication within the FFF.

Blanc returned to Bordeaux after the hearing in Paris, which was held at a top secret address.

Blanc was the last witness to be heard leaving sports ministry inspectors to write up their report, with Sports Minister Chantal Jouanno holding a press conference on Tuesday morning to give a presentation of the findings.

The two-pronged inquiry was launched after the Mediapart website 10 days ago released a transcript of the meeting last November.

A number of players have come through French academies in recent years, and represented France at youth level, only to switch allegiances to the senior sides of different countries.

Ruptures
The controversy comes less than a year after the debacle of their 2010 World Cup campaign in South Africa when the France team went on a training ground strike.

Former captain Patrice Evra was one of four players punished for the strike, which was called in protest at the exclusion of striker Nicolas Anelka from the World Cup after he clashed with former coach Raymond Domenech.

Blanc took over from Domenech with the task of rebuilding the squad and they are currently top of their Euro 2012 qualifying group.

The report has caused huge controversy and created ruptures among the multi-racial France team that won the World Cup in 1998.

Several members of France’s 1998 squad have since spoken out about the affair including Zinedine Zidane, the iconic star of that side, who on Saturday voiced his support for the beleaguered Blanc.

Public backing
Asked if Blanc’s words in the meeting were discriminatory, Zidane said: “No, and concerning Laurent, let’s be straight and clear: I know him well, of course he’s not racist.

“I’ll go even further: he never even thinks like that because it’s not an issue for him. I think that’s why he got drawn into a discussion like that.”

Lilian Thuram and Patrick Vieira have both strongly criticised Blanc, with Christophe Dugarry, Marcel Desailly, Bixente Lizarazu and World Cup winning coach Aime Jacquet rallying to his defence.

However, public opinion has been overwhelmingly behind the France coach with a poll carried out by the free sheet 20 minutes finding that 71% think he should remain as coach, with just 7% calling on him to quit and 22% having no opinion.—AFP

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