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May 8, 2011

Zidane backs Blanc over racism row

Zinedine Zidane has given strong support to Laurent Blanc and says his former colleague is "not racist" after the France coach was embroiled in a row that has shocked French football.

• France commission to meet
• Marshall: Blanc caught in storm
• Vieira shocked by Blanc row

Blanc's future as France coach is believed to be in some doubt after he was secretly taped debating whether to introduce a quota at national youth academies in a discussion that involved allusions to ethnicity.

An official at the French Football Federation has already been suspended after transcripts of the controversial meeting were published, while Blanc insists his intention was only to ensure that an emphasis was on producing smaller, more technical players, irrespective of race.

Blanc allegedly said: "You have the feeling that we are producing really only one prototype of player: big, strong, fast ... and who are the big, strong, fast players? The blacks. That's the way it is. That's the way things are today."

Though a spokesman for the French national side has denied Blanc is considering resigning, it is reported that the coach could yet decide to step down and that even French president Nicola Sarkozy is ready to try and prevent him from doing so.

Zidane, who played alongside Blanc as France won the World Cup in 1998 and was urged earlier this week by another veteran of that side, Emmanuel Petit, to help solve the row, says a change of coach is not required.

"Of course not," Zidane told L'Equipe. "But I can tell you that he's been really, really affected. I think he'd started to do a great job. We should leave things as they are. It would be mad for him to leave over this. He must continue."

Zidane, who is of Algerian heritage himself and became an icon of multiculturalism following France's triumph in 1998, admitted to being uneasy at discussions of quotas for Arab and African players, but strongly refuted suggestions that Blanc was a racist.

"When you see this craziness, these approximations ... Yes, they are really heavy subjects, subjects that touch me, but there is also a bad process regarding Laurent Blanc," he said.

When asked if Blanc's statements in the contentious meeting were discriminatory, he added: "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.

"Lolo (Blanc) is someone spontaneous, who talks openly and who doesn't think for a second that his words could be misinterpreted. And clearly, his words here were not only very clumsy but they also came during a discussion where other expressions were really borderline, such as this word 'quota'. The idea of selecting or discriminating against kids over their dual-nationality is, for me, absurd."

Blanc has also found support in the shape of Arsene Wenger, although the Arsenal manager also expressed his strong opposition to any quota system.

"I was surprised by his comments but I know Laurent Blanc well," he said. "At the start, it was a technical debate that has turned the wrong way and that they should have kicked out straight away. I personally believe that France is not a racist country at all. The preferred personality in France is Yannick Noah. The captain of the French national team is Alou Diarra.

"I believe the racism issue that has been raised is wrong because France is not a racist country. But the least you can say is that the discussion at the FFF was clumsy and should not have existed at all.

"I feel your national football has to be identified by the culture of the football and the quality of your education, not by where people come from. No matter where you come from, if you are good enough you play.

"That's why it is so important that politics is not involved in that. The quota system is an open door to mediocrity and doesn't reward quality. We have one advantage in sport, it's only down to quality."

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