PARIS (AP) – As for many footballers, the day came when Anatole Ngamukol told his club that the time had come for him to move on.
While he was starting a new season in the French league, Reims had decided not to use the player who had helped the French team out of the second division. He had turned 30 a few months earlier and had not scored many goals. The club of the Champagne region, in the north-east of France, wanted to withdraw from the contract.
Ngamukol, however, had other ideas. Without attractive job offers from other teams, with a family to feed and another child en route, the player who previously had his job in Spain and Switzerland decided that he preferred to stay in Reims to spend the last year of both years. one-year contract that the club had signed with him less than 12 months earlier.
And that, he says, is where things got mean.
Ngamukol explained that Reims had taken him to purgatory instead of letting him attempt to return to the opposing camp, sending him to train with his reserve team, where he was forbidden to play matches and sometimes forced to train alone, looping through the field while the coaches were working with his former teammates, tweaking their techniques and tactics. He suspects, it seems, that it was he who was cold in the back, that is to say that he lobbied to make him resign, thus avoiding any danger. honor an agreement that was no longer appropriate for the club.
In France, footballers use an English word to describe this treatment: "the loft". Evoking the image of being locked in an attic, it refers to the no man 's land where clubs play players they no longer want but can not get rid of immediately. or who, for one reason or another, have fallen out of favor with coaches and club officials.
Exclusive to the first team, distant from their teammates, the players subjected to the most extreme forms of "lofting" described themselves as being suddenly ostracized, forced to train with teams of young people, alone or in reserve, and subjected to small humiliations, including the loss of access to lockers, car parks, showers and other facilities.
In an interview with Associated Press, Ngamukol said Reims officials had told him: "You will not have a minute, no play time, you will not even be part of it. professional team. "
The complete disappearance of the player who made 29 appearances for Reims the previous season, when the club had passed the Ligue 2 to win the promotion of the best player in France, did not go unnoticed. His son wanted to know why dad did not appear on TV anymore. He was stopped during his races in Reims to ask him why he was not playing.
"It's a tough experience, especially knowing that I did not do anything that deserves to be demoted to Team B," said the 31-year-old. "It's a punishment."
Players are often silenced and quietly agree to leave the club with a win, said the union of French players. He says that "lofters" are often afraid that complaining publicly dissuades other clubs from hiring them.
"Above all, they are afraid that if they sue their club, then all the football will say," We do not take this player because he does not comply and that he wants to defend his rights, and it will not overturn if "They prefer to take more malleable players," said David Terrier, vice president of the National Union of Professional Footballers.
"The players do not dare to stand up to the clubs, because they fear being imprisoned by the football system and being placed on a blacklist," he said.
He and another former "lofter" more famous, Hatem Ben Arfa, former star of Paris Saint-Germain, both turn to the French courts for compensation. In both cases, their lawyers argue that by excluding the players from the first team, Reims and PSG respectively subjected Ngamukol and Ben Arfa to workplace bullying.
Ben Arfa's complaint was filed on 1 February in a labor court in Paris. Considered as one of the most talented French players of his generation, Ben Arfa joined PSG, France's star club, in 2016. But after scoring twice in the quarter-finals of the Coupe de France in April 2017, he no longer played for PSG until the end of his contract in June 2018, an exile of nearly 70 matches.
Why? Apparently, the midfielder offended the PSG president by criticizing him in front of the club's owner, said Ben Arfa's lawyer, Jean-Jacques Bertrand.
"It was very commonplace, especially since it was said without malice," said Bertrand in an interview with AP. "Apparently, the president took it very badly."
Externally, Ben Arfa had a brave face. After the first 12 months without playing, he posted a picture of himself posing with a birthday cake and the caption: "A year in the closet must be celebrated."
But inside, says his lawyer, Ben Arfa was suffering.
"The goal is to crack it," said Bertrand. "The club did everything to push him to leave."
The lawsuit claims 7 billion to 8 million euros ($ 8 million to $ 9.1 million) to PSG in lost revenue and a symbolic euro in damages for harassment at work, he said.
Contacted for a comment, PSG said it was hoping to be justified and that it "regretted" what he called "stubbornness" of Ben Arfa and his attorney.
Ngamukol's prosecution, supported by the players' union, was filed Tuesday in a court in Reims. He says that by placing him on the reserves, the club sought to exert "psychological pressure" to make him agree to terminate his contract. He accuses both the coach and the general manager of Reims of workplace harassment, punishable in France by up to two years 'imprisonment and 30,000 euros' worth of imprisonment. # 39; s fine.
The club refused to comment on the case at the AP. The president of the club, Jean-Pierre Caillot, quoted by the newspaper of Reims to the Union, would have said: "We wanted to free him from his contract so that he could continue his momentum elsewhere. He did not understand that. We do not harass or discriminate against anyone.
The club sacked Ngamukol in conflicting circumstances in October 2018. After three months without a team, he found a new club in January and signed with German third division club, Fortuna Cologne, until the end of the season. season.
The rules governing French football, signed by the players' union, the French league and others, allow clubs to temporarily, but not permanently, send the players of the first team to train in separate groups. for example if they are not necessary. games to come or recover from an injury. And of course, coaches can choose, or not, who they want at the first team matches.
But the players' union says that French clubs are abusing the system and have more and more "lofters". According to his figures, 145 players in Ligue 1 and 2, more than 10% of the total strength of the 40 best clubs in France, have been stationed, more or less permanently, outside the clubs this season.
Some simply do not play well enough to be among the first teams in their club, the union said. But others are also punished for contractual disputes or other disputes with their clubs, and the young players of their first professional contract that the clubs have parked while waiting to sell them.
The most prominent player in the niche this season is Adrien Rabiot, PSG. Apparently for refusing to sign a new contract, the Paris club has not engaged Rabiot since December, punishing himself as much as himself, because the skills and presence of the 23-year-old have been sorely missed in the vulnerable midfielder PSG.
"Unfortunately, a lot of players end up in" lofts, "said AP Terrier, the union's vice president. "The impression, again, is that football is a legal no man's land".
Ngamukol hopes his lawsuit could change that.
"It's a collective problem. There are many other players going through this event and we have to say, "Stop!", He said. "It is not easy but I want my children to be proud of me and you have to defend your dignity. You are trampled every day, it hurts psychologically.
More football AP: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports