PARIS // Jeremy Toulalan, the France midfielder, admitted yesterday that he played a direct part in Les Bleus' boycott of a training session during their disastrous World Cup campaign in South Africa and deeply regretted it. The Olympique Lyon player, 26, had been regarded by French media as one of the "nice guys" put under pressure by senior players. Roselyne Bachelot, the sports minister, described the older players as "immature gang-leaders".
Toulalan told the weekly Journal du Dimanche that his private press officer helped with the writing of the players' statement on the boycott of a training session in support of Nicolas Anelka expelled for insulting Raymond Domenech, the coach. "With a few players, we wrote down a few ideas to explain our views, then with the help of our press officers we gave them some shape to be sure people would understand our approach," he said.
"We didn't approve of what Nicolas Anelka had said. It's bad but it can happen. When the incident made the front page of L'Equipe things moved really fast. "We heard Nicolas was about to be kicked out. We tried to arrange a meeting with the coach. It never took place because the decision had already been taken." Anelka's dismissal and the boycott of the training session two days before the last group game against South Africa caused an uproar in France. Toulalan said the players did not realise how serious the situation was. "I'm not proud of what I did but I accept responsibility," he said. "There were no ringleaders and no slaves, no good guys and no bad guys. We were all involved and we are all responsible because nobody said a word [against the boycott]."
Toulalan also denied that Yoann Gourcuff had been ostracised and even physically threatened by more senior players such as Franck Ribery or Anelka. "It's totally untrue. I even heard that I had to pull apart Franck and Yoann. It's a load of rubbish. They never had an argument," he said. Toulalan said that he was deeply affected by Les Bleus' first-round exit without a victory. "We should have talked to each other on the pitch and shown during the games the solidarity which was ours in support of Anelka," he said. "I'm going through a nightmare. I'm still wondering how we managed to do such things. It's a stain on my career and it will be very difficult to wipe it off."