(Update 1: Adds detail, alters lede, head)
Paris, Jan 9 (EFE).- The head of the French football federation on Monday apologized after comments he made about France legend Zinedine Zidane were widely construed as disrespectful and prompted a hail of criticism from the likes of Kylian Mbappé, Real Madrid and even the French government.
Noël Le Graët said he had made “awkward remarks” that could have been misunderstood, and insisted he held Zidane in high esteem, L’Equipe reported.
The controversy arose following a radio interview with RMC on Sunday, a day after the FFF confirmed a contract extension for the national team’s current head coach Didier Deschamps until 2026, the year of the next Fifa World Cup.
Pressed for his opinion on Zidane’s chances of managing Brazil now that the France job was taken, the FFF chief said o that he did not “give a damn, he can go where he wants.”
Le Graët, 81, added that he “wouldn’t even pick up the phone” to Zidane if the former Real Madrid player and manager had called to discuss the role of France coach.
“To say what? Hello sir, don’t worry, look for another club, I’m sticking with Didier,” he said.
France’s talismanic forward Mbappé voiced his disapproval in a tweet to his over 11 million followers Sunday saying: “Zidane is France, don’t disrespect a legend like that.”
Retired France stars including Franck Ribery and Djibril Cisse also came to Zidane’s defense.
On Monday, French sports minister Amélie Oudéa-Castéra called on Le Graët to apologize for his “shameful” statements.
Real Madrid, where Zidane holds legendary status as a former player and manager, released an official statement urging Le Graët to rectify his “inappropriate comments.”
“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.
“Zinedine Zidane, World and European champion representing his country, amongst many other honors, embodies the values of the sport and has proven this throughout his professional career as a player and as a coach.”
Often regarded as one of the best midfielders of all time, Zidane secured hero status at Juventus and Real Madrid in a career that lasted until 2006. Zizou also made 108 appearances for France and lifted the 1998 World Cup after scoring twice in a thrilling final against Brazil.
After hanging up his boots, Zidane returned to the bench as a coach, working his way up to manage Real Madrid’s senior team from 2016-18 and again from 2019-21, in which time he won three Uefa Champions League titles. EFE