Kheira Hamraoui and Aminata Diallo are not Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding, the two U.S. figure skating rivals at the center of a soap opera-like attack in the 1990s. For starters, the two French midfielders are longtime friends. Still, while Diallo was released from custody, questions remain about possible involvement in the similar iron-bar assault on Hamraoui's legs.
PARIS — In the world of top-flight French women's soccer, Nov. 18 will be an important day. That's when French national team coach Corinne Diacre announces which players have been selected for the upcoming qualifying matches for the next World Cup.
On paper, Kheira Hamraoui and Aminata Diallo, two-star midfielders of the Paris St.-Germain (PSG) club team are more than worthy of consideration for the national team, for which each has played in the past. But on the field on Friday for their club practice in Paris, neither player was present.
Hamraoui is recovering from injuries to her legs sustained last week in an attack, and Diallo was just released from police custody without charges after being questioned in the case of the assault, which has been roiling the world of French sports the past week.
It was last Thursday, Nov. 4, when both players were returning from a PSG team dinner, with Diallo at the wheel. Suddenly, two hooded men appeared, pulled Hamraoui out of the car, and hit her on both legs with an iron bar, as reported by French sports daily L'Equipe.
A real friendship
Six days later Diallo was taken into custody for questioning over the attack. She has denied any involvement, and has since been released. Investigators made no statement about the release or other suspects, and say the probe continues.
The police initially investigated whether the attack was an attempt to secure more playing time for Diallo. As such, the incident could bear similarities to the 1994 Tonya Harding scandal, where the U.S. skater's ex-husband Jeff Gillooly orchestrated an attack on Harding's arch skating rival Nancy Kerrigan. Hit in the legs with a baton, Kerrigan was forced to withdraw from the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, paving the way for Harding's victory.
Whatever the outcome of the probe in the French case, the context is quite different. L'Equipe says the two players, who share the same agent, had developed a real friendship over the years — and were happy to be playing for the same club for the first time this season. "I don't see how it's possible that Aminata is involved in some kind of plot against Kheira," reported a source.
Nancy Kerrigan was front-page news in the U.S.
The attack on Nancy Kerrigan on the New York Daily News
Conflicting reports to police
Hamraoui and Diallo belong to the same group of friends, who play, or have recently played, for the French national team. "They go on holiday together, often. They get along great," Sonia Souid, the agent of the two PSG players told L'Equipe a few months ago — a claim seemingly supported by social media posts.
"Some people think that the attack was engineered by Aminata Diallo for a job, but that's not the case at all," said a close friend of the two players. "They are friends, they went through this together."
Why was Diallo driving so slowly?
Still L'Equipe, which first reported that Diallo had been a suspect in the attack earlier this week, reported Friday that the two players had given conflicting reports on Thursday when they were questioned together by prosecutors, with Hamraoui wondering why Diallo had been driving so slowly at the moment the attackers appeared.
Diallo and Hamraoui are both known to have hot tempers. The former was once expelled from the training center of the French club Olympique Lyonnais after physically threatening a player who had made a racist remark. Hamraoui was also known to have impulsive reactions when she was playing for French team, Saint-Etienne, but is said to have matured during her time at Barcelona.
Hamraoui (left) and Diallo (right) together in Dubai