London: Former France international Eric Cantona yesterday accused coach Didier Deschamps of racial discrimination in his choice of players for Euro 2016, claiming he snubbed Karim Benzema and Hatem Ben Arfa because of their ‘north African origins’.
France’s head coach Didier Deschamps (left) with forward Hatem Ben Arfa during a training session in Clairefontaine recently. pic/AFP
“One thing is for sure —Benzema and Ben Arfa are two of the best players in France and will not play the European Championship. And for sure, Benzema and Ben Arfa, their origins are north African. So, the debate is open,” Cantona, who won 45 caps for France between 1987 and 1995, told British daily The Guardian.
“Benzema is a great player. Ben Arfa is a great player,” continued the 50-year-old former Man Utd legend. “But 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. So I’m not surprised he used the situation of Benzema not to take him. Especially after (French Prime Minister Manuel) Valls said he should not play for France. And Ben Arfa is maybe the best player in France today. But they have some origins. I am allowed to think about that.”
The exclusion of Benzema, of Algerian descent, follows his implication in an alleged attempt by one of his friends to blackmail international teammate Mathieu Valbuena over a sex tape. Ben Arfa, of Tunisian origins, had been hopeful of making the squad after relaunching his career at Nice but instead had to settle for a place on Deschamps’ standby list of eight players.