On a training ground called The Field of Dreams France's national football team disintegrated yesterday.
The squad first refused to train and then forced their beleaguered manager, Raymond Domenech, to read out a statement condemning the French Football Federation's (FFF) decision to send Nicolas Anelka home. The team director, Jean-Louis Valentin, resigned in tears and the fitness coach, Robert Duverne, after a furious altercation with the team captain, Patrice Evra, was seen storming off the training ground throwing away his whistle and his accreditation.
Duverne was incensed at accusations that he had leaked the half-time confrontation between Domenech and Anelka during France's 2-0 defeat to Mexico in which Anelka is said to have called his manager "a son of a whore".
Then the players got back on the bus – which bore the slogan "United for a New Blue Dream" – closed the curtains and forced Domenech to read out a prepared statement condemning his own employers. There have been plenty of insults heaped on the manager – in France there is a computer game in which you can aim a football at his genitals and, if you succeed, the prostitute at the centre of the sex scandal involving Franck Ribéry and Sidney Govou removes an article of clothing. But this was the last humiliation.
Tomorrow, this team will have to fight for its life in the World Cup. In resigning, Valentin said: "What has happened here is a scandal. They don't want to train and that is unacceptable. I am broken-hearted and disgusted."
Domenech read the statement twice: "All the players in the France squad want to declare their opposition to the decision by the French Football Federation to exclude Nicolas Anelka from the squad. If we regret the incident that occurred at half time in the France-Mexico match, we regret even more the leak of an incident which should have remained within the squad and which is quite common in a high-level team.
"At the request of the squad, the player in question tried to have a dialogue with the FFF but this approach was ignored. The FFF has made no effort to protect its squad. It made the decision to send Anelka home without consulting the players but on the basis of facts reported by the press. To mark our opposition to those at the highest level of French football, we refuse to train."
Earlier, Domenech, who will make way for Laurent Blanc at the end of the tournament, had given an interview in which he confirmed that there had been a stand-up row with Anelka at Polokwane but said it had been the Chelsea striker's refusal to apologise that had been decisive in his dismissal. "People out there cannot imagine the pressure. When you are in the dressing room and the coach says something to a player who is under pressure himself, you can have moments of electric tension. The argument is between us but the only thing I can criticise him for is that he did not accept he had to apologise. But when it came out in the press, the decision to exclude him from the squad was the right one."
Duverne denied he had leaked the row to the media, an action that Evra described as the work of a "traitor". Duverne said: "I have children and I don't want to be sullied by rumours that I am the traitor. The row was because Patrice told me the players were not going to train. I was angry because we have a big game in two days and we have no right to destroy our last chance."