France will host the European Championship next summer. With a team largely intact from the one that reached the quarterfinals of the 2014 World Cup and coming off a 2-0 friendly win over the World
Cup champion Germany, the Blues should be one of the favorites next summer.
There's only one problem: two of their stars, Mathieu Valbuena
and Karim Benzema
, are embroiled
in what the French are calling l'affaire de la sextape, and the national team, it seems, is not big enough for both of them.
The details of the case are by now well known. Valbuena was
last summer contacted by a man claiming to be in possession of a sex tape involving Valbuena and his partner and trying to extort money from the French star. Valbuena went to the police and told them
what happened, but the next thing he knew Benzema approached him at France's national team camp in October and told him he could help set up a meeting with those who were trying to blackmail him.
Early in November, Benzema was taken into custody and questioned over his involvement in the affair. What he did not know was that police were wiretapping a member of his so-called entourage
and others suspected to trying to blackmail Valbuena.
Neither Benzema nor Valbuena was called in by Coach Didier Deschamps
for France's friendlies against Germany (a game played
the night of the Paris attacks) and England (2-0 loss). And it looks less and less likely that they could ever play again on the same team.
In an interview published by Le Monde
, Valbuena spoke
for the first time about how Benzema tried to get Valbuena to do what the blackmailers wanted.
"There comes a time when you can't defend the indefensible. I wouldn't even do that to my
worst enemy," Valbuena said. "When I went to the first hearing, I couldn't imagine that Karim was involved in this. I can only feel very, very, very let down and now realize that my relationship with
Karim wasn't as sincere as he may claim."
Valbuena said he thinks Axel Angot
, a hanger-on, copied the tape off his cell phone.
"He's someone who hangs around players,"
he said. "I knew about him through Djibril Cisse
when we played together for Marseille. I had a new cell phone and I wanted to change all my contacts. I asked him to transfer all of that from
my computer to my new phone because he's good with technology."
Valbuena said Benzema approached him at the team's Clairefontaine training camp in early October.
"He told me
several times," said Valbuena, "that I was dealing with 'some serious thugs.' He told me, 'I know that if it was me, with my family and everything ... you'd need to be strong,' OK, he also said, 'If
you don't want to, leave them to it, no problem. But I can introduce you to my friend.' It always came back to that. I'm more than disappointed. It's quite simply a lack of respect. You don't behave
like that with anybody. At the end, when I was just leaving, Karim said, 'So what do I do? Shall I give him your number?'"
Valbuena said it was strange that Benzema even suggested he meet
with Benzema's friend.
"Karim knows full well — even if we never spoke about money — that if I go and meet this person it's not for peanuts," he said.
said Valbuena did not stop there. The Real Madrid star reached Valbuena on the phone of a Lyon staff member while Valbuena's team, Lyon, was about to face Zenit St. Petersburg in the Champions
"He said to me, 'Mat, my name's got out, what the hell's going on? I can't be dragged into something like this,'" Valbuena said. "Then [Benzema] told me, 'You're going to have to
issue a denial, this will take on huge proportions, I have a daughter and everything.' I told him, 'Karim, this didn't come from me. I just filed a complaint [with the police] like any good citizen
would. I can't help it if your name came up several times on the phone taps.'"
The affair, already a front-page story in the French press, escalated when a radio station, Europe 1,
published a transcript of a recorded conversation between Benzema and his friend.
"What he said shows a lack of respect," Valbuena said. "I respect everyone, but I get the impression I've
been taken for an idiot."
The idiot in his affair is Benzema, who was himself the victim of a blackmail
attempt in 2011
when someone tried to blackmail him for $1 million over some compromising photographs of a sexual nature. That case ended when the blackmailer was arrested in a set-up at a bar.
Benzema has been in trouble before. France teammate Franck Ribery
and he were acquitted in 2014 for the solicitation of an underage prostitute -- a case that dragged on for four
years. Paris Match recently published a devastating profile of Benzema
in which he is blamed for all
his problems, hanging around childhood friends from the rough suburbs of Lyon -- his infamous entourage -- and believing he can buy anything he wants.
Said his former agent Frederic
, "Karim Benzema's big problem is that he remained close to the mentality of the neighborhoods. He never adapted to the environment in which he lives today."
Benzema could face
five years in prison over an alleged sex tape blackmail plot and banishment from the national team. The French federation has petitioned the courts to gain access to the records.