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By ESPN Staff

Barthez resumes career at struggling Nantes

PARIS, Dec 17 (Reuters) - Former France goalkeeper Fabien Barthez confirmed on Sunday he had decided to come out of retirement to help Ligue 1 strugglers Nantes in their bid to escape relegation.

'If they had called me two months ago, I would probably have said no,' Barthez, who had announced his retirement in October, told French television channel TF1.

'Some 15 clubs called me but I was not ready. Now I am. Nantes are a great club and their president found the right words.'

A prominent member of France's 1998 World Cup-winning side and the team who reached the final in Germany this year, the 35-year-old Barthez had been without a club since leaving Olympique Marseille at the end of last season.

Barthez, won also won the 2000 European championship with France, won the last of his 87 caps in the World Cup final lost to Italy on penalties in July.

He said he had not ruled out playing for his country again.

'The priority is to be back at the highest level,' he said. 'The rest is not for me to decide but no, I'm not ruling that (playing for France again) out.

'After the World Cup final I did not think I would play football again,' he added. 'I needed time, distance.'

Olympique Lyon's Gregory Coupet has taken over from Barthez as France's number one since the World Cup.

France captain Patrick Vieira said he was not surprised that Barthez had decided to resume his career.

'It does not surprise me because he's got football in his blood,' Vieira told TF1.

'I think he was excited by the challenge Nantes offered him.'

Barthez started at Toulouse before joining Marseille and lifting the Champions League trophy in 1993. He then moved to Monaco and Manchester United before returning to Marseille.

Nantes president Rudi Roussillon said Barthez would sign an 18-month contract and would start playing for the club after the winter break.

Eight-times French champions Nantes are second from bottom in Ligue 1.

'Our situation is worrying and we count a lot on Fabien,' said Roussillon. 'We need his talent, his experience and his enthusiasm.'

Roussillon dismissed reports that Barthez's former France and Manchester United team mate Laurent Blanc could be appointed coach and said Georges Eo would remain in charge of the team.

'All the rumours which have been circulating are totally false,' Roussillon said. 'Georges Eo is our coach and he's doing a good job. He has the backing of everybody at the club.'