Racism row

French coach sorry for African player comments

French coach sorry for African player comments
Bordeaux Wily Sagnol (right) talks to one his players Malia Abdou Traore. Photo: Mehdi Fedouach/AFP
After prompting a racism row with his comments about African footballers being "cheap and ready to fight", French coach Willy Sagnol issued an apology on Thursday, saying he's sorry if he "hurt or shocked" anyone.

Bordeaux coach Willy Sagnol issued an apology on Thursday for comments he made about African players after leading anti-racism campaigners called for action to be taken against him.

Sagnol, the former Monaco, Bayern Munich and France full-back who took over as coach of Bordeaux in the summer, indicated that African players lacked "intelligence" and "discipline" in an interview with the Bordeaux newspaper Sud-Ouest as he declared that the scheduling of the Africa Cup of Nations puts him off signing players from the continent.

On Thursday Sagnol said: “I may have shocked, humiliated or hurt people then I am sorry."

Sagnol, a former France international who won 58 caps and was an integral part of the side that reached the 2006 World Cup final, had provoked uproar when he gave a rather blunt assessment of the qualities of the "typical African player".

"These are criteria to take into account when it comes to signing players," said the 37-year-old, who also won the 2001 Champions League with Bayern.

"The advantage of what I would call the typical African player is that they are cheap, ready to fight, always what you would call powerful on the pitch.

"But football is not just about that, it is about technique, intelligence, discipline, so you need everything.

"The Nordics as well, the Nordics are good. They have a good mentality. A football team is a mixture, it's like life, it's like France. You have defenders, attackers, midfielders, fast ones, big ones, small ones and technical ones."

A statement released by his club said that Sagnol was "angry and incredulous at the erroneous and shortened interpretation of his comments" while Bordeaux themselves said they were "astonished and indignant."

Thuram 'surprised' and 'disappointed'

France's most-capped player Lilian Thuram, who was born in the French overseas department of Guadeloupe in the Caribbean and is now a leading anti-racism campaigner, told radio station Europe 1 he was "surprised" and disappointed" by the remarks.

"It does surprise me, because he has never said anything like that before," said Thuram.

"Unfortunately there are always prejudgements about people coming from Africa, black people. We always talk about their strength and never their intelligence. These comments only back-up such prejudgements.

"I think that he (Sagnol) must have played alongside players of African origin whether at international or club level and might have noticed that there were intelligent, disciplined players who were very good tactically," added the former France captain.

"I am really surprised and disappointed at all this."

The French anti-racist NGO SOS Racisme, meanwhile, denounced Sagnol for "crassly associating the 'Blacks' and the 'Nordics' with being physical and intelligent respectively."

It called on the French Football Federation (FFF), the French League (LFP) and the country's Minister for Sport Thierry Braillard to "take immediate and appropriate action" and said it was "studying the possibility of filing a complaint in the coming days".

Sagnol's comments have drawn comparisons with the controversy surrounding then-France coach Laurent Blanc in April 2011, when investigative website Mediapart claimed he was involved in discussions to bring in quotas on the number of black and Arab players representing French youth teams.

Bordeaux have several African stars in their squad, including captain Lamine Sane of Senegal, Gabon midfielder Andre Biyogo Poko, Tunisia winger Wahbi Khazri and Mali duo Cheick Diabate and Abdou Traore.

The Africa Cup of Nations, held every two years, is set to be held in Morocco between January 17 and February 8.

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