The ego, said Emmanuel Macron, was at the center of the great human comedy of political life. It’s a rule he’s followed to the letter this year, whether channeling Volodymyr Zelensky’s look with a rumpled, unshaven photo shoot at the Elysee Palace, or ushering in his second term as French president by comparing to the Greek god Hephaestus, forging economic prosperity with his anvil and tongs.
He cultivates greatness so diligently that it’s no surprise that Macron got to Qatar faster than Kylian Mbappe flaying a nervous right-back. With France favorites to become the first consecutive World Cup winners since Pele’s Brazil 60 years ago, the chance to bask in reflected glory is priceless. During the 2018 tournament, he became the unofficial mascot of the Blues with the photo of his extravagant fist celebration in the Moscow VIP box. This time he did better, announcing the French advance to another final by showing up in the dressing room.
Even in his sharpest suit, Macron was quite happy to be photographed embracing the players as Olivier Giroud bounced on the table behind him, the energy drinks flying through the air. He also reportedly visited the quarters of despondent Moroccans, telling Sofyan Amrabat he was the ‘best midfielder in the World Cup’. While the sentiment was noble, it smelled of the president trying a little too hard to jump on every passing train.
While Macron’s love of football has long seemed sincere – he has played as a left-back and is a self-proclaimed Marseille fan – there is also some shrewd calculation at work here. The success of the France team is automatically equivalent to a rebound in the polls for the incumbent leader: take Jacques Chirac, who admitted in 1998 not knowing half the names of the players but whose political troubles have practically disappeared with the triumph of ‘Love Jacquet. side on the floor of the house.
It makes perfect political sense for Macron to line up with such a young, exhilarating and ethnically diverse team. With the unstoppable rise of Mbappe, the ‘Bondy boy’, they are seen as the epitome of ‘suburb spirit’, where a successful generation can strive beyond the confines of their origins in the inner suburbs. most difficult in Paris and Marseille. “Our country needs simple, pure joy – sport provides it, and football in particular,” he said, in the euphoria of beating Morocco. “I’m very proud of this team.”
So far, so commendable. Where the waters get a bit muddy is over Macron’s relationship with the World Cup hosts. The eagerness with which he arrived in Doha speaks volumes about the close relationship between France and Qatar – so close, in fact, that the French have sometimes been held directly responsible for bringing the tournament here first. venue. Sepp Blatter, under whose rule the decision was made in 2010, recently claimed that Michel Platini led the vote in favor of Qatar on the orders of then-President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Platini denies the allegation, but he admitted to attending a lunch at the Elysée with Sarkozy and Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, the Qatari crown prince at the time. “[Sarkozy] never asked me to vote for one country or another, but I got the impression that he supported Qatar,” he said. With Macron, whose re-election campaign Sarkozy backed, those loyalties are not even thinly disguised.
Despite calls from Eric Cantona to boycott this World Cup, and resistance from Paris to broadcast matches on giant public screens, Macron had nothing but praise for Qatar, insisting that he had “very well organized” event. There are economic ties to protect here, given that Qatar has just signed a £1.2bn deal with France’s TotalEnergies. But the situation threatens to play into his opponents’ hands, in a week when Qatar has been embroiled in a major money-for-influence investigation in the European Parliament. The country denies any wrongdoing. “Compliments for Qatar even as a serious corruption scandal has exploded in European institutions seem particularly out of place to me,” said Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s far-right.
But now Macron reads in a well-worn script that sport should not be politicized. “Whether it’s climate or human rights,” he argued, “you shouldn’t be asking those questions when the event is happening.” The man has some nerve, you have to admit. On the one hand, he is campaigning for a complete separation of sports and politics. But on the other hand, he doesn’t hesitate to use the ruthless success of the Blues to restore his own cult of personality. After briefly leaving for Brussels, Macron will be back in Doha on Sunday to get a makeover. Truly, the ego has landed.