THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

No one else would do it, so Neil McCarthy felt compelled to hand out some awards to the French presidents who have so enriched the past season

Each season, the French Players’ Union stage Les Oscars du Foot, televised live and attended by the squads of all 38 professional clubs. This year, Bor­deaux’s striker Pauleta won player of the season and Djibril Cissé won best young player. For some reason, though, none of the 38 club presidents turned up for the Oscars and only two sent apologies. France Football magazine remarked on this and suggested that per­haps the organisers would have more success in at­tracting them if they awarded an Oscar for president of the season.

It was meant to be ironic, but it’s not such a ridiculous idea. French presidents are much more visible and much more powerful than chairmen in British football. As France Football’s sarcasm suggests, they also aspire to media attention and public recog­nition for their role in football. So, without further ado, the nominations for president of the 2001-02 season.

First, Gérard Bourgoin, for failing to be the presidents’ president. Elected as president of the National League in July 2000, Bourgoin was backed by the pres­idents of France’s richest clubs (the league is governed by an electoral college made up of presidents, coaches, players and referees). The first two years of his four-year term of office were so catastrophic, how­ever, that the whole management committee, and notably the presidents who initially supported him, resigned en bloc in April 2002 to force him to step down.

Rather than running the league in the big clubs’ interest, Bourgoin proved to be a total maverick. In his own words he ran the league “alone, with my cock and my knife”. With disastrous results. But the mass resignation necessary to oust him will probably mean that the big clubs will lose their stranglehold on the league itself and, for that alone, Bourgoin’s reign should be remembered as a big success.

Second candidate is Robert Louis-Dreyfus, for lay­ing the ghost of Bernard Tapie to rest. In April 2002, Ta­pie an­nounced his resignation as director of football at Olympique Marseille in order to concentrate on his acting career. OM’s president, Louis-Dreyfus, who re­placed Tapie at the head of both Adidas France and OM, is not expected to beg him to reconsider. The return of the prodigal son has been a failure. With more than £30 million spent in transfers – including bungs, allegedly – OM are possibly worse off today than they were a year ago.

However, there is one big difference as far as Louis-Dreyfus is concerned: the fans can no longer call for Tapie to come back. Many suggested that Tapie’s ap­pointment in 2001, with total control over the football side of OM, was Louis-Dreyfus’s Machiavellian plan to give Tapie enough rope to hang himself. Tapie’s leg­endary reign as president of OM’s most successful team (albeit one tainted by corruption) now has a less glorious footnote and Louis-Dreyfus can concentrate on a less exciting, long-term rebuilding of OM without the fans expecting miracles.

Third nomination is Jean-Louis Aulas for winning the league. Olympique Lyonnais won the champion­ship on the very last day of the season, beating Lens 3-1. It was an exciting finish, as Lens were top going into the match and Lyon second, but disagreeable for many French supporters. Not just because Lyon are France’s richest club and naturally hated for it, but also because of their president’s interference in football’s politics over the season.

Aulas is the leader of the big clubs’ pressure group mentioned above and being vice-president of the league has not prevented him from regularly accusing referees of incompetence and cheating. With TV rights to be negotiated soon, he has also accused Canal+ of organising tele­vised matches to favour Paris St-Ger­main (a club they own). PSG’s manager Luis Fernandez re­plied that Aulas “lies with every breath. He has ambitions and is ready to do any­thing to achieve them. It is unacceptable.” It was Ber­nard Tapie who first said: “To succeed in football you have to con­trol your own domain first.” Aulas, it appears, has tak­en this to heart and, with Lyon’s first title, his club has seen a concrete result. Frightening for the others.

And the winner is... Jacques Chirac. Well, you’ve got about as much chance of finding a member of the French national squad who voted for Le Pen as you have of finding a footballer who would vote for a club president – unless it was his own and he was in contract negotiations. Furthermore, Chirac has a long record of using football for his own ends, in­cluding suspending this season’s Cup final for 20 minutes because the Bastia fans (from sep­aratist-inclined Corsica) booed the nat­ional anthem, and using the live broadcast to address the nat­ion. Em­broiled in financial scan­dals, ready to do any­thing to sate his am­bit­ions and untouchable by the law, he is a model to them all.

From WSC 185 July 2002. What was happening this month

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