France coach Didier Deschamps has defended Karim Benzema’s character amid an extortion case involving international team-mate Mathieu Valbuena.
Real Madrid striker Benzema has been charged with complicity in an attempt to blackmail and participating in a criminal conspiracy as part of an investigation into a sex-tape plot involving Valbuena.
He was consequently banned indefinitely by the French Football Federation (FFF) back in December.
But Deschamps, who could be without Benzema for Euro 2016, is determined not to play judge and jury.
“I always defend my players,” he told L’Equipe. “I have already said before that Karim has made a mistake. But it is not up to me judge how bad it was.
“There has been a lot of attention for this case in the media, too much in my opinion. This is a private matter between two individuals. The judicial system will deliver a verdict.
“Of course, it concerns two players who have been very important for us. People might say that I am always defending Karim, but he is innocent until proven otherwise. We cannot act like nothing has happened, but we don’t know all the facts.
“Karim has already said that he should not have talked about Mathieu like he did. But players these days use words that I would never have used when I played. But Karim’s public image does not correspond at all with how he really is. I don’t want to say too much about it or people will start saying I defend him too much. I love Karim just like I love all the other players.
“I try to understand him. There’s the man Benzema and then the player. I know what he’s been through, his qualities, but also his flaws. That interests me. I am not only talking about Karim, even if his situation gets a lot of attention. But I am not saying he does not deserve this, because he was the one who made a mistake.
“I am not worried that my stance on this matter could hurt my image. I pay attention to what I say and do. I said in the past that I would be very strict toward those who hurt the team’s interests. I always think about the team’s best interests.
“I respect the public opinion, but it does not have any influence on my decisions. Euro 2016 without Benzema would not be the same for France. I want to have the best players at the Euros.”
Benzema’s chances of playing at the Euros in France received a boost this week after a Versailles court lifted restrictions on him making contact with Valbuena, although his suspension from the national team remains in place for now as the FFF has yet to lift the sanction.
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