‘Offside’?: Macron stirs critics with World Cup final role
From leaping from his seat in the VIP box to consoling crestfallen players on the pitch, French President Emmanuel Macron delivered a wide-ranging performance at the World Cup final that was not to everyone’s taste.
The 44-year-old was an unmissable presence at the game at the Lusail stadium in Qatar on Sunday, even making an appearance in the team’s changing room to deliver an emotional post-game pep talk.
“You’re an amazing team,” Macron told the players, pounding his fist in his hand for effect. “No other team would have got here and come back on two occasions and being so close to winning it.
“You had the heart, the hunger, the desire and the talent to get here and that’s why I wanted to come and say thank you,” he added, according to a video posted on his social media accounts.
France were 2-0 behind until the 80th minute before a quickfire double by Kylian Mbappe levelled the game.
In extra time, Argentina went ahead 3-2 thanks to a second goal from Lionel Messi before another Mbappe penalty led to a shoot-out to settle the final.
Macron strode onto the pitch after the game, notably grabbing Mbappe in front of the TV cameras and holding the striker’s head to his chest.
He talked animatedly to the distraught player who showed little inclination to exchange pleasantries with the head of state on the pitch and barely acknowledged him.
“It was a bit disturbing to see him stuck like glue to Mbappe,” the far right opposition MP Sebastien Chenu told the LCI channel.
– ‘Over the top’? –
The famously tactile leader also stood next to the emir of Qatar in the line of VIPs as they handed over awards and medals to the players in the closing ceremony.
“We must not politicise sport,” the incoming leader of the ultra-left France Unbowed party Manuel Bompard, wrote ironically on Twitter, using a phrase used by the president himself on November 11.
Macron had made the comments about the World Cup when asked about Qatar hosting the competition despite its human rights record.
“Macron did he go over the top?” asked the BFM news channel, adding he had acted like France’s “12th man” throughout the evening.
Macron is a passionate follower of the national team who also made headlines in 2018 leaping to his feet in the stands as France won the World Cup in Russia.
“The president is not on the pitch,” read a commentary in the SoFoot.com website under the headline “Macron, miles offside”.
“His role and position should not be seen like this, at these sort of moments which, whether tragic or glorious, belong only to the players and maybe to the staff,” it added.
The president also travelled to Qatar to watch France beat Morocco in the semi-final on Wednesday, after which he made another changing-room appearance.
As the team travelled back to Paris on Monday, the president travelled to the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, which is anchored off the coast of Egypt, for the traditional Christmas meal with French troops.
Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera told France Inter radio he would formally congratulate the players in the New Year.