Unforgettable World Cup Moments: the French team go on strike in 2010

With the 2022 World Cup in Qatar due to get underway in November, we're taking a look back through the history of the World Cup at the good, the bad and the amazing moments that remain in our memories to this very day and will live on forever.

The 2010 World Cup might be famous for the Vuvuzela horns and subsequent noises that echoed throughout the stadiums. However, the tournament was also famous for certain incidents involving high-profile players. And the one that we’ve picked to share with you today involves the French player, Nicolas Anelka. This French striker was fantastic for both club and country during his day, yet the 2010 World Cup would not be one that he wants to remember.

As you can see from the title, Anelka was sent home from the event in South Africa, causing a big blow to the strength of the French squad. And oddly enough, France’s World Cup campaign reflected the surprise departure of Nicolas Anelka perfectly. France failed to make it out of the group stages, which was pretty staggering for a squad as promising as France’s in 2010. Not only that, they only managed to pick up one point in three group games.

Nicolas Anelka 2010

This single point came in France’s opener against Uruguay, although the game did end in a goalless draw. France’s performances didn’t improve from there, unfortunately, as they found the back of the net on just one occasion in three games. And with Nicolas Anelka playing as a forward in that tournament, some might say that he underperformed.

However, as we all know, a striker is only as good as the players that feed the ball to him. Well, that’s unless he goes on to score an epic individual goal, which is tough to do in a World Cup. But besides the huge upset of France failing to make the knockout stages, it was Anelka’s dismissal that snatched many headlines in 2010. We’ve got the full story for you throughout.

Nicolas Anelka for the French national team – career overview

Anelka first received the call-up for France in 1997, representing the French under-20s team. He was already labelled as a promising striker, and many assumed he would be picked for the 1998 World Cup team the following year. As it happens, he wasn’t selected for this tournament, but he was first on the list for the Euros in 2000, especially since he started to play for the senior team during the 2000 Euros qualifiers. With this being the first time that he had played for the French national team in a major tournament, it’s fairly impressive that he managed to claim the title with them. 

Anelka proved pivotal in several qualifying games leading up to the tournament, and he played well in the main event too. But at that point, he still wasn’t the key man for France, mainly because he was so young. Anyway, they still won the tournament, and things were looking good for Anelka and his international career. The only problem was that Anelka wasn’t exactly killing it at club level, and he bounced around quite a bit because of this. He failed to really fulfil his talent at any club, which resulted in Anelka being absent from a call-up in both the 2002 and 2006 World Cup tournaments.

However, he was finally picked to be part of the main team for the 2010 World Cup, under the management of Raymond Domenech. These two always seemed to clash throughout Anelka’s career, which was probably a major reason why he wasn’t picked more for France. Of course, this was also the tournament where he was famously sent home! But all in all, Anelka played for France 69 times, scoring 14 goals. 

Anelka in 2010 – event breakdown

Given that Anelka had dipped in and out of the France national team during his career, the fact that he was officially picked for 2010 seemed promising. He was given a chance by Domenech to really make an impact for France on the biggest stage in world football. As for Anelka’s performances in the 2010 event, they weren’t exactly stellar. Then again, nobody in the French team seemed to be in form, which is why they bowed out in the group stages in spectacular fashion. Not only that, they didn’t win a single game, finishing dead bottom of their group and registering just one goal.

Anelka sent home

France drew with Uruguay in their opening game, resulting in a 0-0 draw. This was the only point that they picked up, and Anelka did start this match for France. However, he didn’t find the back of the net or create many chances at all. That’s why he was substituted during the match. And next up the French team, as well as Anelka, were to face a Mexican squad that was looking decent. This is where everything unravelled for Anelka. France was frustrated against the Mexican squad, and they found themselves 1-0 down at half-time. 

Now, that wouldn’t exactly be viewed as a disaster, and France had plenty of guys who could turn the game around. It’s just that one of these guys wouldn’t be Anelka. In fact, he would play no further role in the 2-0 loss to Mexico, and he was on the next plane home. But how did this happen, and why? We’re glad you asked!

The famous incident and subsequent dismissal

To talk about this incident with Anelka, we’ve got to rewind the clock back to June 19th, 2010. As you’ve seen above, France drew their group opener to Uruguay, which meant that they had 1 point. But heading into the game against Mexico, every team in the group had 1 point, so it’s not like they had the most horrendous start ever to a World Cup tournament. In fact, there was everything to play for, even if they were 1-0 down to Mexico at half-time. This brings us to our main story – Anelka being substituted at half-time and being sent home by France. 

Below, you can read through all of the important details relating to this incident:

Anelka’s eruption at the manager in the locker room

To reiterate once again, Anelka was substituted in the game against Mexico at half-time. And when France returned to the field without Anelka, many were surprised at his absence. After all, he wasn’t having a horrible game – not as bad as other guys in the French team. However, France came back out with a notable absence, and we would later learn why this was the case. According to first-hand accounts and other reports, Anelka had an outburst at the manager in the dressing room during the half-time interval.

The manager, Raymond Domenech, was reportedly angry with Anelka for what he called ‘playing out of position’. Therefore, Anelka was clearly interpreting this as though the manager felt he was responsible for the 1-0 position at half-time. Of course, we don’t know exactly what went on in the dressing room for those 15 minutes. But what we do know is that Anelka defended himself in spectacular fashion. As the official recall goes, Anelka said to the manager – “Go fuck yourself”. 

If this wasn’t bad enough, he continued to call the manager a ‘son of a whore’, which is the rough translation of a pretty intense insult in French! Furious, Domenech removed Anelka from the game, but that’s just half the story.

French Football Federation’s request for an apology

Although Anelka was substituted because of this outburst, he wasn’t actually going to miss the remaining game of the 2010 World Cup. In fact, he wasn’t even going to be sent home, although things were working behind the scenes that would ultimately lead to his dismissal. Given that news of this meltdown also spread to the president of the French Football Federation, Anelka was asked to make a formal apology, in public. This is another interesting part of the story relating to how this all became public knowledge in the first place (detailed in the next section).

Anelka World Cup 2010

Anyway, Jean-Pierre Escalettes (FFF president), had requested this apology from Anelka. However, Anelka flat-out refused to make a public apology, which didn’t go down too well.

Patrice Evra highlighting a ‘traitor’ in the squad

For the 2010 World Cup, the captain was Patrice Evra. And when he was asked in a media interview about the incident, he didn’t speak about Anelka, the manager, or the FFF’s president. Instead, Evra simply claimed that this whole problem had arisen and snowballed into something huge because of a ‘traitor’ in the ranks. To be honest, we can see his point. How would the media know what had happened if nobody from the team shared the story? After all, it happened in the French locker room in the middle of a match.

You have to respect Evra’s position and handling of the matter too. As the captain, he cannot villainize the players, the manager, or the federation behind the team. His job is to try and harmonize the team once again, especially since they had one more match to play at the time. But regardless of Evra’s public opinion, Anelka was banned from the next training camp, and he was subsequently ordered home by the French Football Federation.

Because of his maintained position of refusing to apologize, he was banned from the next 18 international games for France. 

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Gavin Davison

Gavin is a full-time copywriter based in the UK and has developed in-depth knowledge of the igaming world by working in the betting industry for over five years. During this time, he has written thousands of articles covering various topics, including bookmaker reviews, ‘how to’ guides, bonus comparisons and much more.