The quintessential French pastime touches the beautiful game…
In the week when Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored four in the Champions League, professional French footballers are about to take strike action over the government’s latest piece of tax legislation. In the year that two clubs alone spent nearly £250 million on transfers, it’s hard to believe there is much financial injustice in French football. Yet for the first time since 1972 the top two professional leagues are boycotting a weekend of scheduled games in protest.
The announcement came from the president of the UCPF – the union for French professional football clubs – Jean-Pierre Louvel, following talks between both clubs and players. François Hollande’s government-imposed 75% rate of income tax for wages over €1 million has disgruntled many footballers, with the cost to the PSG squad alone estimated at nearly €20 million over the season.#
François Hollande’s government-imposed 75% rate of income tax for wages over €1 million has disgruntled many footballers
Yet whilst the champions boast owning the world’s highest-transferred player in Ibrahimovic, AS Monaco have attracted a host of internationally renowned footballers on tax-free salaries. Former Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri’s squad are exempt from tax due to Monaco’s principality status, but is the strike action from every league club finally really opening the discussion on the pay of footballers?
Football is undisputedly a huge sport in France, but with many identifying themselves equally with rugby, handball and basketball teams, football is still not the stand-out sport in the nation – despite the millions spent. The funny old game has been transformed in the last 25 years through financial changes, due to both Bosman and more recently Financial Fair Play, but the thought of strike action in a country where 11% of people are unemployed seems to have caused unrest.
French people already have difficulty identifying themselves with their national team. Gone are the glory days of the 1998 World Cup side when so much was made of the “black blanc beur” team that took on the world and won. Fast forward three campaigns and the national side is a mess in South Africa with players refusing to play for coach Raymond Domenech. According to a BVA survey for French newspaper Le Parisien-Aujourd’hui en France, 82% of French people have a negative opinion of the national side, now under the tutorage of 1998 World Cup winner Didier Deschamps.
For the most part, many French people see the money pumped into the sport as an unnecessary waste during one of the country’s most troubling economic periods.
So what is the cause of this negative image of French football? For the most part, many French people see the money pumped into the sport as an unnecessary waste during one of the country’s most troubling economic periods. As multimillion-pound footballers prepare themselves for a weekend on the picket lines, millions will be without work. The pride of the French sports fan is instead reserved for their rugby players, handball heroes or basketball legends.
Louvel, however, makes the point that football is already responsible for €750 million of tax contribution, as well as pledging billions to charities. Yet with 86% of people believing French footballers are overpaid, going on strike for a weekend will not persuade them to change their opinions. The rupture between the French and their football has now become much more of a political issue, one which many hope will be resolved before the country hosts the European Championships in 2016.