French PM opposes Benzema return to national team

Benzema, 28, is France’s leading goalscorer, but has been excluded from national duty since he was placed under investigation over an attempt to blackmail France teammate Mathieu Valbuena over a sex-tape.

France coach Didier Deschamps has made no secret of his desire to see Benzema return to the national team set-up, after the striker was indefinitely suspended in December.   -  Reuters

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls on Tuesday said Real Madrid star Karim Benzema should not be allowed to return to the France team while he remains at the centre of a sex-tape blackmail inquiry.

“I think that the conditions have not yet been met for Karim Benzema to come into the France team. He is still under investigation,” Valls told French broadcaster RMC.

Benzema, 28, is France’s leading goalscorer, but has been excluded from national duty since he was placed under investigation over an attempt to blackmail France teammate Mathieu Valbuena over a sex-tape. Benzema has been accused of complicity in the attempt.

“For young people, a great sportsman must be exemplary,” the Prime Minister said, adding “(football) is our heritage, it’s not something that just interests amateur sports fans, so we have to be careful, all acts and decisions have their importance”.

Valls, whose words echoed those of France’s Sports Minister Patrick Kanner on Monday, added: “At the same time it is a decision for the French football federation and the coach.”

Benzema’s hopes of playing at Euro 2016 received a huge boost after his bail conditions were eased last week.

France coach Didier Deschamps has made no secret of his desire to see Benzema return to the national team set-up, after the striker was indefinitely suspended by the French Football Federation (FFF) in December.

“On a sporting plan, I want to have the best players. You’re not a striker at Real Madrid for five years with (Jose) Mourinho, (Carlo) Ancelotti, (Rafael) Benitez and (Zinedine) Zidane for nothing. All the countries envy us,” Deschamps told French daily L’Equipe recently.

On Friday, an appeals court upheld an investigating magistrate’s decision to lift restrictions placed on Benzema that prevented him from coming into contract with Lyon midfielder Valbuena.

The FFF said the decision to lift the legal restrictions was “a first step”, but added that it would wait to see how the investigation unfolded before deciding whether to recall Benzema.

A final decision will be taken by FFF president Noel Le Graet.

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