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A letter to French President François Hollande.

After François Hollande was quoted this week in a new book deriding footballers by saying they need to exercize their “soft” brains, the Union Nationale des Footballeurs Professionnels has issued a poetic response.

The UNFP represents 94 percent of professional footballers in France. Here we present an English translation of its letter to Mr Hollande which it says was written by a ball:

Dear Mr Hollande,

I thought at first it was a joke, the kind I sometimes hear when I am wandering round the dressing room, especially in winter, to keep warm, close to my teammates.

Normally the Hollande crowd like me, even if they miss the elegance of Cruyff or Van Basten or the precision of Bergkamp; they are kind and affectionate to me on the field, and the fact that despite your repeated efforts you have never managed to do anything but abuse me is no reason for you to take it out like this on people who know how to show me respect, whether they are players, managers, trainers, bosses or even supporters.

I would not like to be sitting where you are — and I do not mean in the presidential box at the Stade de France or the Parc des Princes, where I regularly see you, with your scarf and your obligatory smile — governing a nation of toothless proles and loving — yes, loving, and please reassure me that it is not just for electoral reasons — a sport practised by feeble-minded individuals, assuming they have minds at all, if I have correctly understood what you really think. But I have learned not to trust politicians, who come onto the pitch some evenings, shake hands, wave to the crowd, and do not spare me a glance, not even a friendly little kick with the toe of their shoe, equally polished, but without studs. I did not say without ties...

Hollande 2 pu 265I am told you belong to an intellectual elite, which came together when you were younger in a club, ENA (École Nationale d'Administration) where you all learn the same things but clearly don’t understand them the same way, since when you leave you are signed up by different teams for championships that sometimes last a whole lifetime, whereas a footballer’s career, in France, is no more than seven years, on average. So I am surprised you do not understand that my fellow professional footballers also belong to an elite, relatively speaking, of course. A child’s dream, that dream you shared, I am told, is usually unattainable.

If it were so easy to practise this profession, and bearing in mind the ever increasing number of those who aspire to do so — particularly, from what I hear now and then, thanks to your work over the past nearly five years, since to be a footballer you have to be “badly educated, with no standards or values”, and of course “come from a housing estate” — there would be more professional players in our country today than French people who support your performance, judging from the latest opinion polls. A football, true, but not all that... Well, enough said.

So what have my fellow footballers done to you to make you so gloomy? So wrong? Is it the 94% membership rate of their union, the UNFP, their solidarity, that you find so hard to swallow? And yet they helped you turn the corner in the summer, though we should not assume that the success of Deschamp’s boys in Euro 2016 has necessarily cleared your way to a second term. You do not hold that against them, I hope, since you thanked them for that moment by inviting them to the Elysée.

The French are not sheep, and with all due respect footballers, with whom you like posing for posterity on the steps of Clairefontaine or of your own palace, are not idiots. Their balls are not like the balloons decorating the halls at your rallies, which float away, like your promises, at the first gust of wind.

My fellow footballers are certainly not the only ones you like to denigrate like this, offering them up to popular condemnation for no reason, because some of them — a minority, a very small minority, if you see what I mean... — are fabulously rich, according to you, and so famous that they cannot even travel by metro or bus like ordinary mortals, unless they wear a helmet like... Daft Punk.

I have always found it difficult, and still do, to tell where Pelé, Maradona, Platini, Ronaldo, Zidane, Messi or others were or are trying to lead me, but for you, Mr Hollande, things are simple, clear, easy to understand. With the art and style of a Pierre Poujade, though I do not recall having met him, you sprint to the left wing of the pitch you once used to play on, and with the finest populist fervour, the very thing you criticise your opponents for, there you are overflowing, but slowly, with denunciation of the well-off, the privileged, thereby joining the ranks of those who think that footballers, who have no education, make too much money. Easy money, too, since all you have to do is knock a ball around...