Kylian Mbappe and Real Madrid have jumped to the defence of Zinedine Zidane, with Noel La Graet accused of “disrespecting one of the greatest legends of world sport” as the French Football Federation (FFF) president issued an apology.
La Graet courted significant controversy with his recent comments regarding the links between Zidane and the Les Bleus coaching job, quipping that he would not pick up the phone if the Real Madrid legend tried to call him.
Zidane had been strongly mentioned in connection with potentially succeeding long-serving France boss Didier Deschamps after the agonising World Cup final defeat by Argentina in Qatar last month, but the latter has since agreed a new three-and-a-half year contract with the FFF to stay in the role until the summer of 2026.
“I know very well that Zidane was always on the radar. He had a lot of supporters, some were waiting for Deschamps’s departure... But who can make serious reproaches to Deschamps? Nobody,” La Graet told RMC.
“He (Zidane) does what he wants, it’s none of my business. I’ve never met him, we’ve never considered parting with Didier. He can go where he wants, to a club... If Zidane tried to contact me? Certainly not, I wouldn’t even pick up the phone.”
La Graet’s controversial comments have sparked outrage in France, with criticism from all corners including from the country’s minister for sports Amelie Oudea-Castera, who called for an apology for what she described as a “shameful lack of respect”.
Zidane c’est la France, on manque pas de respect à la légende comme ça… 🤦🏽♂️
— Kylian Mbappé (@KMbappe) January 8, 2023
Another French politician, Pieyre-Alexandre Anglade, said that the game “deserved more” as he hailed Zidane as a “monument of French football and sport” loved by all people across the nation.
Current Les Bleus superstar and World Cup Golden Boot winner Mbappe then tweeted to his 11.3million followers on Sunday evening: “Zidane is France, we don’t disrespect the legend like that.”
Real Madrid also weighed in on the controversy on Monday, releasing a public statement scolding La Graet for his comments about both Zidane and Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema.
“Real Madrid CF regrets the unfortunate statements made by the president of the French Football Federation, Nöel Le Graët, about Zinedine Zidane, one of the greatest legends of world sport,” Los Blancos said.
“These words imply a lack of respect towards one of the figures most admired by football fans around the world and our club expects an immediate rectification. Zinedine Zidane, world champion and European champion defending his country's jersey, among many other titles, represents the values ââof sport and has demonstrated this throughout his professional career as a player and as a coach.
“The statements by the president of the French Football Federation are inappropriate for someone who holds that representation and disqualify themselves, like the ones he also makes about our captain Karim Benzema, current Ballon d'Or, champion of the League of Nations with France in 2021 and winner of 5 Champions League, among many other titles.”
La Graet has now apologised for his comments, which came after he was asked if Zidane could possibly become the next head coach of Brazil rather than France.
"I would like to present my personal apologies for these remarks which absolutely do not reflect my thoughts, nor my consideration for the player he was and the coach he has become," he said in a statement reported by L'Equipe.
"I admit that I made awkward remarks which created a misunderstanding. Zidane knows the immense esteem I have for him, like all French people."
Additional reporting by Reuters.