Marcus nastily scowled at the team’s physician when he was informed of yet another injury within the camp. This time, it was Lass Diarra. The coach reluctantly dismissed Diarra and retired to his room to have a meeting with the twin. Replacing Diarra was no easy task, but in the end, they decided on Morgan Schneiderlin. Ray made the call and Morgan was most delightful when he was told to join the team in Austria as soon as possible. He arrived the very next day with the biggest smile on his face.
Amid the little activities and training, the team had their official photo taken something which displeased Marcus because he wanted to take it back in Nantes. He didn’t dwell on it for long because Karim Benzema went to Marca accusing him of bowing to racist pressure akin to Euro selection. Ray angrily shook his head at Benzema’s implement and blamed Eric Cantona for starting the drama. Marcus didn’t take too kindly to it and when he was seated at a press conference prior to France’s last friendly against Scotland before the big opening game on June 10th, he didn’t hold back.
“Benzema thinks you should’ve taken him to the Euro base on his Champions League campaign. Do you agree?”
Marcus rested his hands on the desk. “First, congratulations Benzema, but this is the real world and unfortunately, things don’t work like that here. Had Benzema been mature and a true sportsman, he wouldn’t be accusing me of bowing to racist pressure. He would be telling his fanboys and fangirls to throw their support behind the team no matter what and to stop booing players. His accusations show how little he has grown in his twenty-eight years on this earth. Playing the race card shows real maturity.”
“Marca also says…”
Marcus cut the journalist off. “I know what Marca said, I read the article. Marca is a nosy paper. They’re always looking to start something that isn’t there. Benzema would know. He plays for their favorite team. We made this decision given our history of internal strife at previous tournaments. This was the safest choice to make.”
Marcus continued to entertain light banter. “I know there are people who are happy that he isn’t playing because he doesn’t have a French name or he don’t doesn’t sing the anthem but was that any worries when I made him my first choice striker? In 2008, Benzema made a statement and I quote: “Algeria is my country. France is just a sporting choice.” Did we kick him to the curb then? Benzema has a child’s mentality. He goes on and on about winning titles and his 40 million social media fans, but it isn’t everything when you lack humility. Lloris could probably teach him some of that.
“I don’t think Benzema will like me when I’m angry. He’s hiding behind papers and smearing false accusations concerning his selection on the team. I’ll like him to grow a pair and come say that to my face. I don’t see Valbuena whining about not being chosen!”
Murmuring went around the conference room before another question was asked. “How is Giroud holding up?”
“Is he sick?” Marcus retorted.
The red-faced woman blanched. “I was talking about the boos,”
“Yes, but he isn’t sick. There is no need for him to hold up. He is a professional player through and through. We are with Ollie one hundred percent. If the fans think booing him will destroy his confidence, they’re wrong. It’s only making him stronger. Boo boys will get something to boo about at the Euro. They tend to forget that Giroud originally came from the French national league. He had to work his way to the top. How many players from the tier of French football can claim to reach the level he has reached? His only problem is trying too hard to live up to the likes of Trezeguet, Henry, and Van Persie at Arsenal.
“There was a moron at the Cameroon game with a banner praying for Giroud to get injured. He must be really stupid. I hope he had injured himself on the way out of the game.”
“How has the team reacted to Benzema’s claims?”
Marcus grinned. “They think he is nuts. Some are unhappy and disgusted, but it’s not going to put a damper on our campaign. Let Cantona and Benzema play their childish games. Cantona has ADD so he’s getting what he actually wants from this. I’m the one that’s actually making him quite popular and not the other way around.”
And with that statement, the French coach lived up to his outrageous quotes during interviews that day.
Olivier Giroud was buzzing after the game against Scotland. France won 3-0 and he scored a brace. Everyone congratulated him, but it was his Coach who said it best when he told the media, “Did you see Giroud’s brace? Well, eat that,” and walked off without waiting to be interviewed.
“That was one boring match!” Marcus told the team afterwards in the locker room. “The most important thing was the victory, but I wasn’t moved or excited. You can’t score three goals in the first half and don’t score any in the second half. The way Neymar looks at Messi like a schoolgirl with her first crush, I want you to do the same with the ball.” Some of the players snickered, but Coach did not. “You have a day off tomorrow so make use of it. “
Adil Rami smiled and reached for his phone when Coach left the locker room. “I’m going to tell Sidonie to come visit,” he stopped smiling when he saw Evra skeptically looking at him. “What? Why are you looking at me like that for?”
“Did you ask the man if you could invite your girlfriend here?”
“I don’t think it’ll be a problem,” Ray said as he entered the locker room with a bouquet of red and yellow roses.
Pogba perked up. “Is it your birthday or something?”
“No, my birthday has already passed,” Ray absentmindedly said, his mind elsewhere even as he looked around the room.
“Why didn’t you tell us!”
Ray waved a hand in dismissal. “We had no games in April and it was no big deal.”
Griezmann pointed at the roses. “So what’s the occasion?”
“A girl gave them to me,” Ray waved the bouquet about and grinned. “She asked me out too, but I told her I’m already taken,”
“You’re married?” Evra asked.
Ray held up his right hand and displayed a gold band on his fourth finger. “As the ring sayeth,” he rested the flowers on the table as some of the younger ones murmured about never noticing the ring. “We just got word that the President of the Republic wishes to dine with us tomorrow evening.”
A ripple of excitement went through the players.
“Rami, you can still invite Sidonie though. As a matter of fact, why don’t you all invite your travelling loved ones to spend the morning here at Clairefontaine before dinner with the President? We’ll make it a family day.”
The next morning, wives, girlfriends, and children of the French footballers descended upon Clairefontaine. The atmosphere was ripe with chatter and laughter, but a little brown-haired girl was stealing the show all by herself. She went around introducing herself to all the players and by the time she latched onto N’Golo Kanté calling him her boyfriend for the day, everyone knew the little cutie was Ashley da Díxon, daughter of Ray.
Pogba turned to Giroud and Digne. “That means…”
“Her mother’s here!” Digne exclaimed.
Jallet folded his arms. “What is your problem with Ray’s wife? You three have been bantering about her ever since that training session.”
“Yeah, please enlighten us,” Griezmann intervened. “Have you never seen a woman before?”
“That is not the point,” Giroud defiantly puffed out his chest. “If you had seen the photo you too would’ve thought she was an illusion. However, Ray said she is real.”
“Then let’s go find Ray so we can put your doubts to bed,” Jallet started for the stairs just as Marcus, a Spanish woman and a girl and boy twin pair walked out into the stinging sun. They were communicating in Spanish and had Marcus not have a hand resting lovingly on the woman’s back, the boys would’ve assumed otherwise. Bodacious midnight black hair cascaded down her back in thick waves, framing her round rosy cheeks and full lips where they curled into a smile for her husband who was gazing lovingly into her eyes. When she directed her gaze to their children, thick, long lashes highlighted her round bright eyes the color of honey. She wore jeans and a white off-the-shoulder blouse which fell gently over her slightly swollen stomach which Marcus was gently rubbing.
The boys awkwardly looked at each other thinking they’ve intruded on an intimate moment, but at the same time, it was nice to see the Coach in this light other than the stern military man that he was.
“Where are you boys off to?” Marcus asked, breaking into their thoughts. Just as Jallet open his mouth, Marcus held up a hand. “Wait, don’t tell me because I don’t want to know. This is my wife, Jessicia,”
“Hello, Jessicia!” the boys echoed warmly. “It’s nice to meet you,”
Jessicia smiled pleasantly and shook their hands in turn. Marcus then whisked his wife and children away leaving the boys up to their own device. “I bet they’re looking for Ray,” he shook his head as his wife looked at him. “Trust me, they’re always looking for Ray.” He chuckled and headed in the direction of the field where other families were mixing and mingling.
“Should we be even knocking on his door?” Griezmann asked suddenly. “What if he and the wife…” he allowed the rest of his thoughts to trail off, but it was enough to stop the others in their tracks.
“Um, maybe we should head back out there,” Giroud pointed and about turned coming face to face with a ravishing beauty. His unmanly squeal caused the woman and his mates to laugh. He dramatically placed a hand over his heart and let out a breath. “This is not funny and if word gets out I’m going to hold all of you accountable!”
The exotic woman shrugged. “Then it’s a lucky thing I’m not one of the guys!” she smiled and it was easy to see why Ray must have fallen for her line, hook, and sinker. They stepped back and finally took her in from head to toe. She appeared just as she was on Ray’s screensaver, but she was attired in a yellow pleated midi skirt that reached her calves, a black motorbike jacket that was zipped up over her well-endowed chest and black biker booties. She was curvaceous and the skirt was doing nothing to hide her big, round bottom.
“Hi, I’m Ray’s wife, Diana,” the woman spoke with an accentuated Asian tongue. The boys finally came out of their reverie and took turns shaking her hand. She was warm and outgoing just like her husband and by the time Ray walked down the empty hall, the boys were bantering with Diana.
“Such an irony that our first match is against your home country, though,” Griezmann was saying. “Are you coming to see us win?”
Ray shook his head as he came to his wife’s rescue. “Shouldn’t you boys be at the picnic?” he stepped up next to his wife’s side, a little baby boy propped on his left hip as he tried to take his tablet back from the child’s grip. “I uploaded the tenth episode of our Euro documentary on YouTube so you guys can check it out later.”
The guys nodded, but they were staring at the baby, who had relinquished the tablet to his father and was now stretching his hands out towards Giroud.
“Oh, this is Étienne,” Ray kissed the child’s chubby cheek.
“He’s so cute,” Giroud reached for the baby and the other guys gushed over him as they headed back into the open air. Ray and his wife followed shortly.
That evening, President François Hollande greeted the team with enthusiasm and delivered a rousing message at the dinner table. Marcus thought he could’ve done better for Hollande had wasted his time to visit Clairefontaine.
^ I wanted to write a light-hearted moment/banter within the team hence the family theme for this chapter. Plus, I wanted to introduce Ray’s wife. A reader saw her feature in the previous chapter on Ray’s phone and was intrigued.
^ Jessicia (Jessi-see-ya) name is not a typo.
REMEMBER, THIS IS FICTION & IT IS IN NO WAY ASSOCIATED WITH LES BLEUS OR THE FFF.