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As long as Les Bleus are around, soccer fans won’t get the blues

On Soccer

You’ve got to love the French.

No, really, where would soccer be in these post- World Cup doldrums without the ongoing soap opera of Les Bleus?

Never mind that on-the-rise Germany has decided to hang on to Joachim Loew as coach; never mind that Brazil’s shambolic soccer leadership has made a hash of its coaching change; never mind that Argentina still can’t rid itself of its Diego Maradona fixation. Never mind England and Italy at all.

It’s France that is the story of moment.

No other former world champion has had a couple of its players hauled into court in recent days to face charges of having sex with an underage prostitute.

No other former world champion has had one of its leading administrators call for the ringleaders of a World Cup boycott to be banished for life.

No other former world champion has had its new coach drop all 23 World Cup players ahead of the national team’s next game.

The French have done all that and more in the last week.

Bayern Munich’s Franck Ribery and Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema provided the titillation for the tabloids, with both men, according to Reuters, “placed under judicial investigation of soliciting sex with an under-age prostitute.”

The preliminary charges could still be dropped, especially since the teenager in question has said the players she allegedly slept with did not know her age at the time. Both players have denied any wrongdoing, but if convicted they could be looking at three-year prison sentences and $60,000 fines.

The story has gripped France since it first broke in early June, but Ribery, who is married but sought the teenager out as a birthday present to himself, according to the girl, this past week brushed the entire matter aside as merely an inconvenience.

“I am sure I will win back the confidence of the people who now perhaps have doubts about me,” he told the German tabloid Bild. “I am going to give them fun again. I will show them great dribbling, give them a positive feeling, and score goals. Like before.

“There are moments in life that are oppressive and burdensome. This moment is one of them. I have to overcome this low point. I have no fear about my future, about my career. Neither in the national team nor in Bayern.”

Meanwhile, Les Bleus will look a lot different when they take the field against Norway in Oslo on Aug. 11 for a friendly international. Coach Laurent Blanc has opted to leave all 23 World Cup players off his roster.

Elsewhere, Jacques Rousselot, a member of the French soccer federation’s federal council, has called for team leaders who organized a boycott of training during France’s World Cup meltdown in South Africa to be banned for life.

“We know the five leaders,” Rousselot told Reuters. “They must not play again for the national team.”

Starting goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, who took part in the one-day strike with the rest of the players, last week admitted the folly of the move.

“We went way too far,” he said. “It was a clumsy decision, a big mistake. It was totally stupid.”

Almost as stupid, in fact, as the manner in which Brazil on Saturday found a successor to World Cup winner and coach Dunga.

Ricardo Teixeira, president of Brazil’s soccer federation, on Friday offered the job to Muricy Ramalho, even though he knew Ramalho was under contract with the Brazilian club Fluminense.

Not surprisingly — and even after Brazil’s president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, had called it “a good choice” — Ramalho reluctantly turned down the job when Fluminense refused to release him from his contract.

On Saturday, Teixeira went to Plan B and named Corinthians Coach Mano Menezes as national coach. Menezes, 48, is under orders to “renovate” the Selecao while preparing it for the 2014 World Cup, to be played in Brazil.

He accepted being the second choice with grace. “We must have 30, 40 or 50 excellent professionals in Brazil,” he said, “so if I’m second on the list, that’s fine by me.”

His task begins Aug. 10 when Brazil plays the U.S. at the New Meadowlands Stadium in New Jersey.

Germany moved swiftly to retain Loew as coach after he had led the Mannschaft to third place in South Africa. The 50-year-old said the talks had been “uncomplicated” and that he was “very happy” to sign a new deal.

“Our team has an excellent future and it’s a great challenge to start preparing for the European Championship” in 2012, Loew said in Frankfurt, where he promised that the team would play “modern and attractive football.”

Argentina, meanwhile, is expected to decide in the next week or so whether Maradona will continue as coach after his team was drubbed, 4-0, by Germany in the World Cup quarterfinals.

Whether it will be Maradona’s decision or someone else’s remained unclear.

grahame.jones@latimes.com


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