French Football Federation (FFF) president Noel Le Graet has offered another olive branch to Karim Benzema, suggesting he has been subjected to unfair criticism.
Benzema, 28, has not played for France since being charged with conspiracy to blackmail as part of an investigation into an alleged extortion attempt on his international teammate Mathieu Valbuena.
The Real Madrid striker was left out of Didier Deschamps’ Euro 2016 squad as a result, but Le Graet has frequently championed Benzema’s cause, stating as recently as September that “when the court of justice has ruled on the case, then it will be down to Didier to bring him back or not.”
Speaking to Le Telegramme, the FFF chief hit back at criticism of his handling of the affair, and played down the seriousness of Benzema’s situation.
“I don’t ask to be believed all the time, I’m not always right, but I do stick to what I believe in,” he said. “And I know that boy a lot better than all those who criticised him.
“There was an incident which still hasn’t been sorted out and I’m sorry for that. It’s a case, yes, it’s not the biggest case of the century. As it’s Benzema, who was more criticised than others before the affair…”
After being left out of France’s Euro 2016 squad, Benzema told Marca that Deschamps had “bowed to the pressure of a racist part of France,” provoking a further wave of criticism of the former Lyon striker.
Le Graet, however, took a more sympathetic view, turning his ire on the critics rather than Benzema, who has scored 27 times in 81 international appearances for France.
“When you see all those people talking every evening on the TV, they would be better advised sometimes to chew chewing gum or to think about things,” Le Graet said. “He said that, but he regretted it five minutes later. He was disappointed not to have been picked.”