Eric Cantona has moved to explain his criticism of France boss Didier Deschamps’ decision to leave Karim Benzema and Hatem Ben Arfa out of Euro 2016.
The former Manchester United star suggested in an interview that Benzema and Ben Arfa had been overlooked for the finals on home soil due to their north African heritage.
Cantona also said of 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.”
The comments caused a storm in France, with Deschamps threatening legal action against Cantona, while French Football Federation president Noel Le Graet branded the remarks “a pathetic attack”.
The 50-year-old, who had a fractious relationship with the national team during his playing career, has now ridiculed any suggestions of an “anti-white” agenda.
He has also said Deschamps should be “flattered” to be compared to Mormons in the United States, given that Hollywood star Ryan Gosling was raised in a family that followed the faith.
“In this period of disorder and division, I would wish for all of France to be represented in the France team,” he said in a message published in Le Journal du Dimanche.
“For me, football is a great vehicle for integration and it can serve to unite, to unify.
“This opportunity was missed by not selecting Benzema and Ben Arfa, two of the best French players. Firstly, I think this is a mistake in a sporting sense. Furthermore, the European Championship – in France, moreover – is a festival in which there is an extraordinary opportunity to send a clear message to extremists of any kind.
“Incidentally, those who want to attach any label to me, or to use my words for their own purposes, I want to clarify that I am not a puppet of any ideology. I am an atheist: I am, and always will be, a free man!
“And what’s more, when I speak of Mormons, Mr Deschamps should feel flattered: Ryan Gosling is Mormon and is the fantasy of every woman.
“And for those who want to believe that I added to anti-white racism, my answer is nothing but contempt.”