Vol. 5 Num 135 Fri. October 08, 2004  

FIFA Fussball-Weltmeisterschaft Deutschland 2006
Pires goes ballistic

Midfielder Robert Pires launched an angry attack on Spain coach Luis Aragones on Thursday over racist comments apparently aimed at his France and Arsenal teammate Thierry Henry.

"He should be sued for racial aggression," Pires told reporters at France's training ground.

"He shouldn't be allowed to get away with it. He needs to be cornered on this."

Television microphones picked up the Spanish coach trying to convince striker Jose Antonio Reyes in training on Wednesday that he was a better player than "that black shit", seemingly referring to Reyes's club teammate Henry.

Aragones later said his comment was "a joke" aimed at motivating Reyes but Pires said: "What he said is not funny at all."

Henry is the English Premier League's leading scorer with seven goals, one ahead of his closest rival Reyes after eight games.

The jibe made back-page news in tabloids in Britain, where a former manager, Ron Atkinson, resigned as a soccer television pundit in April after making racist comments over the performance of Chelsea's captain last season, Marcel Desailly.

Reaction to Aragones' comments in Spain, however, was relatively muted although one sports daily, As, criticised him for "obscene" language.

Aragones, interviewed later by Radio Marca on Wednesday, insisted the comments were in no way racist. The 66-year-old did not deny that his comments were made in reference to Henry.

That was accepted by all Spanish newspapers on Thursday but As was nevertheless strident in its criticism of the coach.

"Luis used inappropriate words, more inappropriate still when he was in front of millions of eyes and ears hidden behind the television cameras," As editor Alfredo Relano wrote.

"I'm aware that Luis is not a racist ... but you cannot speak as he spoke. I'm sure he chose his words without any wish to offend ... but his obscene, outdated language gives him, and us, a problem.

"A national team coach has a representative role and he has to know this. He must also know that speaking like this is out of order, whether it is in private or in public, whether the cameras are present or not."

Other newspapers came directly to the coach's defence.

"It goes without saying that Aragones's intention was not to bring racist overtones to the matter," Spain's bestselling newspaper Marca wrote.

"The coach expressed himself in his own way, with vehemence, to get the message through loud and clear to Reyes."

Sport newspaper stressed that the tone of the comments was humorous.

"Out of context, the comment might sound aggressive but everyone understood immediately the tone of humour that Aragones wanted to use to motivate the player," Sport said.

The country's two leading daily newspapers made no comment on the affair.

El Pais relegated the story to a few lines, while El Mundo had a picture of Aragones talking to Reyes on its front page but declined to make any comment.