Cantona suggests Deschamps dropped Ben Arfa and Benzema over race
Eric Cantona has suggested France coach Didier Deschamps omitted Karim Benzema and Hatem Ben Arfa from his Euro 2016 squad due to their African heritage.
Benzema was ruled out of the tournament on home soil in April, as the French Football Federation cited his need “to work towards unity” pending the outcome of a legal investigation into an alleged plot to blackmail fellow international Mathieu Valbuena, which had seen him suspended from international duty in December.
Ben Arfa still has a chance of featuring at the tournament, having been selected among Deschamps’ stand-by options after a remarkable resurgence in the 2015-16 season - in which he scored 17 Ligue 1 goals to fire Nice to fourth place.
Cantona says such form makes Ben Arfa France’s best player, while criticising Deschamps for listening to the French government in the case of Benzema.
“Benzema is a great player, Ben Arfa is a great player,” Cantona told the Guardian.
“But Deschamps, he has a really French name. Maybe he is the only one in France to have a truly French name. Nobody in his family mixed with anybody, you know. Like the Mormons in America.
“So I’m not surprised he used the situation of Benzema not to take him. Especially after [French Prime Minister, Manuel] Valls said he should not play for France.
“And Ben Arfa is maybe the best player in France today. But they have some origins. I am allowed to think about that.”
Asked whether he thought Deschamps’ decision was motivated by discrimination, Cantona added: “Maybe no, but maybe yes. Why not?
“One thing is for sure – Benzema and Ben Arfa are two of the best players in France and will not play the European Championship. And for sure, Benzema and Ben Arfa, their origins are north African. So, the debate is open.”
The France Football Federation (FFF) and Deschamps did not respond to Cantona’s comments when contacted by Perform.