France's increasingly fraught qualifying campaign for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ deepened on Monday when captain Thierry Henry denied he had criticised coach Raymond Domenech in front of the rest of the squad.
Squad-mate and fellow 2006 FIFA World Cup finalist Florent Malouda also revealed that he had only learnt he was not even among the substitutes for last Saturday's qualifier with Romania at the Stade de France when he entered the dressingroom and he saw there was no shirt for him.
Henry's denial - Le Parisien claimed on Monday that in Friday's team meeting the Barcelona star had publicly slammed Domenech - and Malouda's clear displeasure at the manner in which he learnt of his non-selection will do nothing for morale as they head for a crucial qualifier with Group Seven leaders Serbia on Wednesday.
Henry was forced to clarify what had gone on on Friday on the eve of the 1-1 draw which left the French four points adrift of the Serbs with just three matches remaining and in danger of having to go through a play-off to progress to South Africa.
"Nothing happened on Friday evening," protested Henry to French TV station TF1. "There was a discussion between the squad and the coach as is usual. It was a constructive discussion... which must stay between the players and the coach. I did not question the coach's qualities. There was never a clash between us," added Henry, who was quoted by Le Parisien as telling Domenech that the players had no idea where they were to play and lacked any direction.
Henry, who scored France's goal in the Romania match, insisted the camp was a happy one, something clearly not in Malouda's vocabulary. "I saw when I entered the dressingroom that there no shirt had been prepared for me," the Chelsea star - who has enjoyed distant relations with Domenech having criticised him - told RTL radio station in an interview recorded on Sunday but only broadcast on Monday.
"I deduced from that that I was in either the starting line-up or the substitutes bench, that is how I came to learn of it," he went on. "I was surprised, I thought at the very least I would feature at some stage. However, it is important to support ones friends, even from the stands, one has to get over one's disappointment.
"One is powerless to do anything sitting in the stands, one has fleas in ones pants, but that is how it is, it is the choice of the coach," Malouda added. "It is a delicate matter to discuss, and is not an agreeable experience to live through, but it is important not to think about it too much, even if it is disappointing."