PARIS (Reuters) - French President Emmanuel Macron oozes self-confidence, has outwitted his opponents and shrugs off public criticism, but there’s one other high-pressure job even he doesn’t like the look of: coach of the national soccer team.
“There are always 60 million people who believe they can do better than either,” Macron quipped to journalists before lunching with the French squad at their training camp.
“That’s why I’d never look to be the team coach,” he laughed.
The presidential visit to Clairefontaine ahead of a World Cup has become a ritual for French leaders ever since Jacques Chirac visited the squad in the run-up to the 1998 tournament.
France went on to triumph on home soil and Chirac’s popularity soared - just the tonic Macron might be wishing for with his own ratings after a year in power hurting from a raft of economic and social reforms that have earned him the tag “president of the rich” among left-wing voters.
Macron, a fan of southern France’s Olympique Marseille, told the young squad the nation was behind them as they head to Russia for the biggest event of the global football calendar, which opens in mid-June.
“You’re all huge stars,” Macron told the players, among them Paul Pogba, Olivier Giroud and Kylian Mbappe. “The French team has shone when it is united. But when egos have emerged, when there have been rifts, it didn’t work out so well.”
France was humiliated in South Africa in 2010, when a meltdown in the dressing room left the team rooted to the bottom of its group and admonished by then president Nicolas Sarkozy.
Macron has defied calls from rights groups to boycott this summer’s World Cup because of Moscow’s involvement in Syria’s civil war, and told the team he would be in the stands for the final stages of the tournament to spur them on.
“I said I’d come to see you when you got through the quarter final. Note that I said ‘when’ and not ‘if’,” he told players, flanked by his wife Brigitte and coach Didier Deschamps.
Reporting by Brian Love; editing by Richard Lough