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Macron, Algeria, Deschamps and Benzema

Karim Benzema’s return to the French national team after being excluded for five and a half years coincides with significant political moment – it is the 60th anniversary of the disastrous decolonisation of Algeria, a wound which remains open for both countries. France committed terrible atrocities before withdrawing, acts which were considered high treason by the French right wing and particularly by the Pied-noir, Algerians of European origin (mainly from Alsace on the French-German border), who had been forced to migrate to the big city. Such was their irritation that they formed a terrorist group, the Organisation Armée Secrète (OAS), who spent years plotting and carrying out numerous failed attacks on French President Charles De Gaulle.

[Current French President Emmanuel] Macron is in the delicate process of reconciling and atoning for that sorry episode and so Benzema's return to the national team comes at an opportune time. Karim is of Algerian origin as we all know. So it’s no surprise that the French Football Federation and national team coach, Didier Deschamps, have dropped their stance on keeping Benzema away from the side. As for his role as a go-between in the nasty extortion case involving his international team mate Mathieu Valbuena, the allegations were very serious. For that reason, he was banished, which was understandable until a judicial decision was made. His legal team have managed to prolong the process with a series of procedural objections, but a verdict is imminent.

Macron even offered words of understanding with Deschamps: “Our roles are very similar, there are 70 million French people who think they have better ideas about how to do our job”. Excluding Benzema while he hasn’t been proved guilty was always for the millions of people of Algerian descent who live in France. Now more than ever, just as Karim, at 30 years of age, is in probably the best moment of his entire career. That incident, for which he has still not been found guilty, is very much in the past and Valbuena is no longer in the national team and is playing in Greece. So Benzema is back. That’s good news for Euro 2020. A verdict on the Valbuena case is expected in October, but whatever the outcome, at least some kind of a gesture has been made.