France Football Federation (FFF) president Noel Le Graet apologized to Zinedine Zidane on Monday after comments he drew on the former Real Madrid coach from players, politicians and even the Spanish club.
Zidane was one of the favorites to take charge of the national team if Didier Deschamps stepped down but his contract was extended after he led France to the World Cup final, where they lost to Argentina in Qatar last month.
When asked if Zidane, a World Cup winner with France in 1998 and a national icon, would now manage the Brazilian national team instead, Le Graet told RMC: “It doesn’t matter, he can go wherever he wants.”
Le Graet added that he wouldn’t even pick up the phone if Zidane called, prompting backlash and his subsequent apology.
“I would like to offer my own apologies for these statements, which do not reflect my thoughts at all, nor were they the consideration of the player and the coach,” Le Graet said in a statement reported by L’Equipe.
“I admit that I made uncomfortable words that made a mistake. Zidane knows the immense esteem I have for him, as do all the people of France.
On Sunday, Le Graet said that Zidane was on the radar and had plenty of support, but there was no chance of replacing Deschamps.
“Who can make serious reproaches to Descartes? No one… If Zidane tried to contact me? Of course not, I would not pick up the phone,” he had said.
Zidane was the first coach to win the Champions League three times in a row when he was in charge of Real Madrid.
The 50-year-old, who also won 2000 European Championships with France during his brilliant playing career, is now unemployed after leaving his role with the Spanish club last year.
France forward Kylian Mbappe was one of the first to voice his disapproval after Le Graet’s comments.
“Zidane is France, we don’t despise stories,” Mbappe said on Twitter.
Le Graet’s dismissal of Zidane as a potential successor to Deschamps comes two years after the 81-year-old official had backed the former midfielder to take over if he was available.
In addition to real coaching, Zidane also played five seasons as a player in the LaLiga club where he won the league and the Champions League. The Spanish club described Le Graet’s comments as ‘unfortunate’.
“These statements show a lack of respect for the most admired figures of football fans around the world and our club expects immediate correction,” Real Madrid said.
“The words of the president of the French Federation of Evangelicals are incongruous that they have someone holding such a representation and incompetent.”
France’s Minister for Sports Amelie Oudea-Castra was one of many politicians who carried Le Graet’s comments, saying the president had crossed the line as “the biggest joker of the federation”.
“However, the touching comments and the super ugly lack of respect, which hurts us all, to the story of football and sport,” he wrote on Twitter.
French politician Pieyre-Alexandre Anglade had also demanded an apology from Le Graet, saying via Twitter: “Zidane is a symbol of French sport and sport. Our person is loved by all French people… Our football deserves better than that.