Abrupt exit for a controversial keeper

April 30, 2007

Barthez earlier this year before the match against NiceFabien Barthez: will he be remembered as an eccentric genius, or as just plain eccentric?

The former France keeper looks to have played his last game after he was attacked in his car by drunken supporters on Saturday, and ended up punching one of them. It happened after Nantes lost 2-0 to Stade Rennes, a result meaning the eight-times champions will almost certainly be relegated for the first time after a record 44 consecutive years in the top flight.

The next day, Barthez handed back the keys to his Nantes home and drove off for good. He’s 35 and a flamboyant career marred by controversy looks all over.

Some French fans would forgive him anything, as they remember the fantastic saves that helped France become world champions for the first time in 1998.

Others will have a less kind view. This is a man who was suspended for five months for spitting at a referee in 2005, and never apologised. The list of his recent antics includes hurting a team mate with a dangerous tackle in training and saying afterwards he had had fun.

What did Barthez have in mind when he decided just before Christmas to come out of retirement to help Nantes in their relegation struggle? He was probably missing a game he truly loves but soon enough he was making embarrassing blunders reminiscent of his worst days at United.

Then came trouble with his team mates. An individualist, which I suppose you have to be, up to a point, when you’re a goalkeeper, he never won acceptance from the rest of the team. And the atmosphere, already bad before he came along, reportedly became rotten.

Now Barthez is gone and Nantes are getting ready for Ligue 2. “When we see our Beaujoire stadium three-quarters empty next season, it’s going to hurt”, a distraught Nantes fan said. At least the Canaries might have a more reliable, if less recognisable, goalkeeper.

Patrick Vignal is a Reuters sports correspondent based in Paris

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