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Cantona backs Benzema over Deschamps comments

Eric Cantona has defended Karim Benzema over the Real Madrid striker’s comments that France coach Didier Deschamps “bowed to racists” by leaving him out of the squad for Euro 2016.

Benzema claimed on Wednesday there were no sporting reasons to omit him from France’s squad for the upcoming tournament, stressing Deschamps’ decision was influenced by the political climate.

The forward’s comments resulted in an angry reaction from France Football Federation (FFF) president Noel Le Graet, but Cantona feels Benzema had every reason to speak up.

“I am absolutely not surprised by Benzema’s comments. I’d like to point out that – like me – he has at no point accused Deschamps of racism,” Cantona told Liberation.

“He has only said that Deschamps’ decision was influenced by the public opinion, which is the result of the current political climate in France.

“Benzema showed courage with his comments, because he is still playing and is still available for the national team. But it is only normal that he thinks like a French citizen before thinking like a player. He has responded to a certain problem.”

Cantona previously sparked outrage when he suggested Deschamps had snubbed Benzema and Hatem Ben Arfa because of their African heritage, but he has no regrets over his comments and is adamant he only meant to spark a debate over the attitude toward people of foreign origins.

“It is clear that when you discard a player like Benzema, you take away an entertaining player. For me, it was an unfair decision, so I asked questions about it,” he added.

“I don’t care about the reaction to my comments. Controversies like this last 24 hours during which the morons speak up and then people move on.

“I said it was possible Benzema was left out because of what happened with [Mathieu] Valbuena. But that does not mean I cannot ask questions. The minister of sports and two members of the government wanted Benzema out of the Euros. That is enough for me to question the independence of Deschamps.

“Benzema was suspended in between regional elections. The mood has changed in France since Charlie Hebdo. There is a certain attitude toward people of north-African origins.

“But Benzema is presumed innocent until proven otherwise. If he is found innocent, he will still have missed the Euros. As for Ben Arfa, he is only guilty of being one of the best two or three best French players out there.”

Deschamps intends to take legal action against Cantona for his remarks, but the former Manchester United star does not fear the potential consequences of his comments.

“Deschamps seems to be willing to sue me. It will be the first time he moves from a defensive position into an attacking one… He will find out whether it’s easy,” Cantona continued.

“Between the three of them, Deschamps, his agent and his lawyer, they should be able to see the difference between defamation and discussing a problem in a society.

“I don’t have scores to settle. I just give my opinion.”

Thu 2 Jun, 2016
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