French federation head apologizes after uproar over Zidane

LE PECQ, France (AP) — The president of France’s soccer federation apologized Monday after Kylian Mbappé, the French sports minister and Real Madrid all took him to task for brusque comments that he “couldn’t care less” about Zinédine Zidane’s future as a coach.

Noël Le Graët said his comments in a radio interview were “clumsy” and “absolutely don’t reflect my thinking nor my consideration for the player he was and the coach he has become.” Le Graët’s apology was widely reported in French media.

Le Graët, who recently extended France coach Didier Deschamps’ contract until July 2026, was a guest on RMC radio’s talk show Sunday and was asked about rumors linking Zidane to Brazil’s national team.

“I’d be surprised if he went there. But he can do what he likes, it doesn’t concern me. I’ve never met with him (Zidane), and we (the FFF) never considered parting ways with Didier,” Le Graët told RMC.

Quizzed about whether he’d be upset to see Zidane coach Brazil, he said: “I couldn’t care less. He can go where he likes.”

To a follow-up question about whether Zidane called him recently, Le Graët added: “Certainly not, I wouldn’t even have picked up the phone.”

Without mentioning Le Graët by name, World Cup star Mbappé posted a message on his Twitter account late Sunday saying: “Zidane is France, you don’t disrespect a legend like that.”

France sports minister Amélie Oudéa-Castéra went a step further, asking Le Graët to apologize to Zidane for his “shameful lack of respect.” On Twitter, Oudéa-Castéra barely disguised disdain for Le Graët, using inverted commas to refer to his role at the FFF.

“A ‘president’ of the top sporting federation in France should not say that. Apologies, please, for going too far on Zidane,” she wrote.

Le Graët has faced claims of sexual harassment and the FFF is the target of an investigation ordered by Oudéa-Castéra.

The minister piled yet more pressure on Le Graët by calling a news conference on Monday evening where she tore into his stewardship, accusing him of “damaging the image of our country.”

France’s players “deserve better,” the minister said. She urged the federation executive committee to step in, and even invoked French President Emmanuel Macron, saying he was “very disappointed” and “shocked, as we all were.”

Real Madrid also spoke up in defense of Zidane, its former star player and title-winning coach, saying: “These remarks show a lack of respect for one of the most admired figures by football fans around the world and our club is awaiting an immediate correction.”

Former playmaker Zidane led Les Bleus to their first World Cup title in 1998 and starred again when they won the European Championship in 2000. He scored in two World Cup finals and was on the losing side once.

Le Graët made his apology in a statement to French news agency Agence France-Presse that other French media then relayed. The federation press office refused to share Le Graët’s apology directly with The Associated Press.

Le Graët’s statement also sought to shirk some of the responsibility by shifting blame to RMC interviewers: “I gave an interview to RMC that I shouldn’t have given because it sought a polemic by opposing Didier against Zinédine Zidane, two monuments of French football. I admit that I made clumsy remarks which created a misunderstanding. Zinédine Zidane knows the immense respect I hold for him, like all French people.”

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Jerome Pugmire in Paris contributed.

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More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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