Willy Sagnol, the manager of Ligue 1 side FC Girondins de Bordeaux, has apologised for the way in which remarks he made recently appeared to some to be racist when he suggested that African players are "powerful" but "lack technique, intelligence and discipline".
|Willy Sagnol (screenshot BFM TV report)|
"I apologise if my comments were misinterpreted and if I offended some people," he said at a press conference on Thursday.
"I was referring on a purely sporting level and not on either a political or social one."
The 37-year-old former French international was referring to comments he made while being interviewed by the regional daily Sud Ouest earlier this week - comments that angered some.
“The advantage of the typical African player is that he isn't expensive to recruit," he said.
"He’s generally ready to fight and is powerful on the pitch.," continued Sagnol.
"But football is not just about that. It's also about technical skills, intelligence and discipline.”
The proverbial "you know what" soon hit the fan.
Lilian Thuram, a former international team mate of Sagnol's from 2000-2008, and arguably one of the most articulate men in the game, said he was both "surprised" and "disappointed" by the Bordeaux manager's comments.
|Lilian Thuram (screenshot Bourdin Direct, July 2014)|
"There has always been a certain prejudice about players originating from Africa, and that has always focused on strength over intelligence," said Thuram who, since he retired, has been active in the fight against both racism and discrimination.
"When you read or listen what Willy Sagnol said, you can see that it simply reinforces those preconceptions," he continued.
"That surprises me as he has never made such comments in the past. It is true, unfortunately, that we live in a country in which prejudice remain. And such comments simply strengthen that."
Thuram : "Sagnol renforce les préjugés" sur les... by Europe1fr
It strengthens them. I am extremely surprised that he can keep that kind of talk . Because , whether the national team or club , he ( Willy Sagnol ) had to play with players of African or African origin and had found that there was intelligent players , disciplined and tactically very good .
Others were less gentle in their criticism with the French anti-racist French NGO SOS Racisme calling on the Fédération française de football (the French football federation, FFF) and the minister of sports to take action and labelling Sagnols comments as, "Laid-back racism".
And Pape Diouf, the former president of Olympique de Marseille, called on all African players in Ligue 1 to boycott one day's play in the championship.
Not everyone was so incensed by Sagnol's comments - least of all the president of Bordeaux, Jean-Louis Triaud.
"We don't want to widen the scope of what was happened especially as we find it totally unjustifiable," said Triaud.
"I'm angry because anyone who knows Willy Sagnol knows he is anything but racist. The interpretation of his statement was totally wrong."
Meanwhile sports journalist Jean-Michel Larqué went a step further.
|Jean-Michel Larqué (screenshot BFM TV report)|
"I'm sure that Willy Sagnol was referring to the 'intelligence of the game'," he said.
"A couple of decades ago young African players were referred to as 'rough diamonds' because they had learned the game on the streets and had little knowledge on the tactical level: they didn't know 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 meant. Was that racism?"
"Let's just stop with all this polemic."
So there you have it. Sagnol's comments were clearly "laid back" or "non-racist" - depending on whose arguments you follow.
Or better still, they were accurate - as some of these Bordeaux supporters seemed to think, when questioned.
"Much ado about nothing," says the first man interviewed.
"What he says is simply the truth," says the second.
"There's a little bit of everything - African and European - in the side and there's no need to get into an argument about anything," says the third.
The bottom line?
Already expressing racist (and maybe now would be a good time for those naysayers to reach for their dictionaries to discover the definition of racism) thoughts in private is indefensible and against so much of what the so-called beautiful game has tried to combat over the past decades.
But to express them publicly is both inexcusable, ignorant and downright stupid.