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Under-fire Blanc set for race row grilling

sports Updated: May 09, 2011 17:07 IST

AFP
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Under-fire France coach Laurent Blanc is set to be grilled before a joint hearing of the French Football Federation (FFF) and the Sports Ministry later on Monday in the race row which has rocked French football.

Wearing a white shirt and black trousers, a sombre looking Blanc left his home in Merignac near Bordeaux on Monday morning to travel to the hearing which could decide his future at a secret location in the Paris region later in the day.

Asked where he was going, Blanc who was behind the wheel and alone in his car before boarding a plane for Paris, said, "You know very well where I'm going."

A ministerial source has revealed that the meeting will take place in the capital, but not at FFF headquarters.

"It won't be at the INSEP (National Sports Institute), nor the Ministry (Sports) nor the CNOSF (French National Olympic and Sports Committee)," the source added.

Blanc will not be heard before midday with Sports Ministry inspectors having until on Monday evening to establish their report, which is expected to push back minister Chantal Jouanno's final presentation of the findings until Tuesday.

The two-pronged inquiry was launched after the Mediapart website ten days ago released a transcript of a meeting last November in which Blanc and French officials allegedly discussed introducing quotas on the number of dual-nationality players at youth training centres.

A number of players have come through French academies in recent years, and represented France at youth level, only to switch allegiances to the senior sides of different countries.

The controversy comes less than a year after the debacle of their 2010 World Cup campaign in South Africa when the France team went on a training ground strike.

Former captain Patrice Evra was one of four players punished for the strike, which was called in protest at the exclusion of striker Nicolas Anelka from the World Cup after he clashed with former coach Raymond Domenech.

Blanc took over from Domenech with the task of rebuilding the squad and they are currently top of their Euro 2012 qualifying group.

Francois Blaquart has already been suspended as national technical director, as the report has caused huge controversy and created ruptures among the multi-racial France team that won the World Cup in 1998.

Several members of France's 1998 squad have since spoken out about the affair including Zinedine Zidane, the iconic star of that side, who on Saturday voiced his support for the beleagured Blanc.

Asked if Blanc's words in the meeting were discriminatory, Zidane said, "No, and concerning Laurent, let's be straight and clear: I know him well, of course he's not racist.

"I'll go even further: he never even thinks like that because it's not an issue for him. I think that's why he got drawn into a discussion like that."

Lilian Thuram and Patrick Vieira have both strongly criticised Blanc, with Christophe Dugarry, Marcel Desailly, Bixente Lizarazu and World Cup winning coach Aime Jacquet rallying to his defence.

However, public opinion has been overwhelmingly behind the France coach with a poll carried out by the freesheet "20 minutes" finding that 71% think he should remain as coach, with just 7% calling him to quit and 22% having no opinion.