20 years apart, but the same story: two footballers – Eric Cantona and Karim Benzema – exiled from the French national team for a World Cup campaign

Didier Deschamps did an a-la Aime Jacquet when the French national team coach decided against picking Karim Benzema for France for the 2018 World Cup.

Jacquet, the French World Cup winning coach in 1998, did the same with Eric Cantona. The Manchester United legend was suspended for eight months in 1995 for a kung-fu attack on a Crystal Palace fan. He was leading the French national football team then, under Jacquet. But the suspension by the English Football Association forced the French national team to strip him of the captaincy. He was never considered for the national team after that.

Karim Benzema was suspended from the France national team in 2015 over his alleged involvement in the sex-tape blackmailing of his teammate Mathieu Valbuena. The Real Madrid man was immediately dropped from the team and never found his way back. Benzema was not considered for the 23-man squad for Russia by Didier Deschamps, the manager.

The similarities are many. While Cantona was a star for a big club like Manchester United, Benzema is a leading member of Real Madrid, the most successful club in European football. Both Cantona and Benzema could not find a place in the France team to play Euro 1996 and 2016 respectively. Their coaches cited almost the same reason for dropping both of them.

When he did not take back Cantona, Jacquet said that the group had done exceptionally well without the then Manchester United man and they deserve their places in the team.

An important member of the team was Didier Deschamps who took over the leadership armband after Cantona’s suspension. Under Didier, France won back to back World Cup (1998) and Euros (2000). However, Cantona never liked him. The Manchester United legend said Deschamps was a “water-carrier” who would take the ball and pass it to better players immediately.

Having selected his squad for the ensuing World Cup, Didier said to the French media, “for me, Karim Benzema is not a problem. Why would it be? I am here to make choices. Choices with the sole intention of what is good for France. I only make sporting choices, never personal choices. If I trained Karim Benzema in a club, like Zinedine Zidane, obviously the situation would be different. But here I lead the selection for the national team. When the sex-tape was published in the media in September 2015, it was necessary that France continued to live well, and maintain a dynamism before Euro 2016. After reaching the final, it was necessary to keep it. I trusted players who met my expectations on and off the pitch. Why will I change? Nothing is more important than the group.”

Jacquet had other choices, too. A footballer of the stature of Zinedine Zidane had already taken the place of Cantona in the national team. Antoine Griezmann is there for France now, as the chief goal-scorer. There are two exciting prospects in Kylian Mbappe and Ousman Dembele. A strict disciplinarian, Deschamps, thought it right not to allow Benzema back for the national team.

Cantona decided to quit football early when he realized that he would never be considered for the French national team. Following their unthinkable hat-trick of Champions league crowns, will Benzema be doing the same?

More importantly, when Jacquet did so, France had won the World Cup in 1998.

Now when Benzema is dropped for the 2018 World Cup, can France win it?

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