The President thinks sport is the way to reach voters alienated by his aloof style
President Emmanuel Macron, defender of the political centre, will play in the centre of defence this week in a football team including the former Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger.
Macron, 43, hopes to play the full 90 minutes to raise money for a hospital charity — Les Pièces Jaunes (the small change) — headed by his wife, Brigitte.
Surely he will be the first French head of state ever to be seen in shorts and football boots?
The Emperor Napoleon? Non. Football hadn’t been invented yet. Charles de Gaulle? Unthinkable. Jacques Chirac? He preferred other physical activities.
In fact, Emmanuel Macron is not the first French president to play football while in office. Valéry Giscard d’Estaing turned out in full gear several times when he was in the Elysée Palace between 1974 and 1981.
Macron used to play on the left wing in his youth when he was a student at the Ecole Nationale d’Administration (ENA), the most prestigious of the finishing schools of the French governing elite. He is a football enthusiast. Although he comes from northern France, he is a fan of Olympique Marseille.
On Thursday he will play in the number 3 shirt, as a central defender, for the Variété Club de France, behind closed doors at a municipal stadium in Poissy in the western Paris suburbs. His team-mates will include Wenger and several ageing France internationals, Robert Pirès, Christian Karembeu, Alain Giresse and Sidney Govou.
Might Macron have other motives for being seen (on film at least) playing football? The presidential election is only six months away. He has already been President for four years but he is 10 years younger than any of the other principal, likely candidates.
Marine Le Pen is 53. The centre Right contenders Xavier Bertrand and Michel Barnier are 56 and 71. The far-Right pundit Eric Zemmour is 63. The hard-Left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon is 70. The green candidate Yannick Jadot is 54.
Despite being the youngest, Macron can no longer claim to be a young outsider who will bring sweeping change, as he did in 2017. He evidently plans to make a combination of youth and experience a selling point.
Being seen playing football may also help Macron to boot into touch his reputation for aloofness and arrogance. Despite being slapped by a protester in the summer, he now frequently plunges into crowds during official visits.
Earlier this year Macron appeared in a video with two popular young French “youtubeurs”, McFly and Carlito. Opponents said he was debasing the prestige of the presidency. Macron’s ratings amongst young people leaped upwards.
The President remains reasonably popular amongst 18 to 24 years old — less so with 30 somethings. Unfortunately for him, the election turn-out amongst first-time voters in France is relatively poor.
President Giscard d’Estaing was also a youngish president with a reputation for arrogance and a passion for football. But his occasional forays onto the pitch while in office did not help very much. He was defeated by François Mitterand after one term of office.