Clément Pernia is the author of The Republic of Football, a book that says more about the links between politics and football. Since the advent of the Fifth Republic, it has become a major political instrument of the Presidents of the Republic.
Why do you want to write a book called “The Republic of Football”?
Clement Pernia: Personally, these are two subjects that interest me. I have talked about football in my books and my podcasts. I said to myself with Jean-Baptiste Guegan that in the context of the French presidential election, the legislative elections and the World Cup, it was time to write a book on the links between politics and football. We set out to investigate the close and distant ties that football provides to the political class.
“Paradoxically, Chirac and Macron are not big football fans”
Only two Presidents have won “a World Cup” it is Chirac and Macron in two completely different contexts…
Paradoxically, they are not the two most passionate football presidents. Far from there. Chirac does not know much about it before becoming interested in it for political purposes. Macron is interested in football through OM. But he is not a buff like Sarkozy or Hollande.
In 1998, the political benefits are numerous for Chirac with a popularity at half mast, a political cohabitation. In fact, Chirac created an unprecedented link with sport for him. He makes the effort to take an interest in it thanks to these relatives. In 1998, the President met the French team a year before the World Cup, helped by his Minister of Sports, Jean-François Lamour.
He does not know the coach or the captain personally. It is his relatives who push him to create a close bond with the Blues. In the context, black, white and butter of the Blues, Chirac was clever compared to the World Cup.
For Macron, there is no political benefit since there was the Benalla affair (Benalla is at the origin of the acceleration of the bus parade on the Champs-Elysées). In addition, the crisis of yellow vests in the fall cancels the positive effect of the victory. In this episode, President Macron stages himself like any President but nothing more.
“Zemmour is nostalgic for the Platini years”
You paint a detailed portrait of the political forces and their links with their football, what did you want to tell the viewer?
The goal is to tell the personal links that some have with football. We focused on certain candidates like Zemmour, deputies, elected officials like Karl Olive. There are absolute fans in the National Assembly. We managed to investigate the links of football on our elected officials. It should be added that we are before a controversial World Cup, then two years from the Olympics.
It was an opportunity to highlight in this book the people who were running for election, what is their vision of things on football and sport in general. It should be remembered that sport was not mentioned during the campaign. It is a question of understanding this proximity between our elected officials and football.
“Hollande would win 10-0 against Macron in a football quiz”
Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Mélanchon have no connection with football. The matter was quickly settled. We spoke with their teams and they themselves told us that there was a total lack of interest in football. It’s a great paradox when you know that it’s the most popular of all. Especially since the electorates of Mélenchon and Le Pen love football.
While this sport brings together all strata of society, regardless of their political opinion. Mélanchon, takes football as a political recovery, especially when he appears at the Vélodrome between 2017 and 2022.
Zemmour loves football, even if it was a flop, especially in Marseille. Zemmour has a real nostalgic relationship, he loved Rocheteau and Platini. He does not recognize himself in the Bosman judgment. He lives completely in a nostalgia for football. Despite everything, among the extremes, there are football enthusiasts. We will have to be wary before the World Cup. People see directly what political recovery is in football.
“Hollande loves Monaco, it’s strange when you know the 75% tax…”
Emmanuel Macron is less a football fan than Hollande? What are the differences between the two men?
Hollande is the President who knows the most about it. He reads L’Equipe, he wanted to be a professional player for a very long time. He gave it up to go into politics. What is strange with Holland is that few people know that he is a big football fan. Afterwards, it is difficult to identify Hollande in his supporter side. He is close to AS Monaco, which makes you smile when you know that there was the 75% tax from which ASM was exempt. He was a supporter of Nantes and Red Star for a while to stand out from Sarkozy’s PSG. If we do a quiz between Hollande and Macron, Hollande wins 10-0.
Macron loves football thanks to the Tapie years at OM. He fell in love with OM. But he knows less about it. He is a man who has a distanced relationship with football. He couldn’t do 3 hours of football. Macron practices sport, he does a little boxing. Hollande did not practice sports in power.
“Sarkozy is a child of Paris and the Parc des Princes”
Finally, what does the identification of our Presidents with a football club tell us about them?
There is a lot of data that comes into play. First a generational aspect. Sarkozy is a child of Paris, he has been at the Parc des Princes for years. He is a child of the Park. Macron is the quadra who likes to kick the ball. Of course, there are political aspects.
Macron, for example, has always used Marseille to get closer to people and show proximity. It is the embodiment of the province in relation to the city. This is an important aspect for him. Moreover, his mandate clearly reflects his love for OM. He wants to erase his image of Jupiter.
“Chirac had a special bond with athletes”
Finally, what is the anecdote that surprised you the most?
If I may say so, I have two. Zinedine Zidane in 2006 when he was sent off. We do not see Chirac in the image. The President asks Jean-François Lamour (Minister of Sports) what happened. At the end of the match, Chirac goes into the locker room and locks himself in an adjoining room with Zidane for 10 minutes.
Chirac and Zidane will never talk about this meeting in 2006. Nobody knows what was said. We used to say that Chirac liked sportsmen while Jospin liked sport. This must have created a unique relationship between the two men. It’s a bit like Macron and Mbappé, the geniuses find each other, they feel and tame each other. Another anecdote is a dinner at the Elysée between Chirac and sportsmen. He goes to see a sportswoman from Sierra Leone, Eunice Berber.
She starts crying when he comes up to her. Chirac asks him what is going on. She explains to him that there is war in Sierra Leone and that her family is stuck. Chirac asks to call the French ambassador to Sierra Leone. The latter, unavailable, the Elysée contacted the nearest Embassy. President Chirac asks that the family be sought. A few days later, Eunice Berber finds her family in France before flying to England. This testifies to Chirac’s availability for athletes.