Blaise Matuidi: When You’re a Football Fan, You Can’t Accept Racism

Blaise Matuidi: When You’re a Football Fan, You Can’t Accept Racism

Tuesday, 6 March, 2018 - 08:30
Juventus and France midfielder Blaise Matuidi. (AFP)
Rome - Paul Doyle
The Juventus and France midfielder Blaise Matuidi says that abandoning a match in the event of racist abuse by fans at this summer’s World Cup could be “the correct course of action”.

“Not necessarily if it’s two or three people [perpetrating the abuse] – even though that’s two or three too many – but if it’s maybe 100 or so, then that’s different,” says Matuidi. “Abandoning the match could then be the correct course of action [Fifa now allows referees to make that decision]. But let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.”

Matuidi does not enjoy having to denounce racism. Speaking to the Guardian at Juventus’s training center just outside Turin before Wednesday’s Champions League showdown with Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley, the Frenchman explains that he takes more pleasure in showing what he is for than what he is against. But being targeted for racist abuse by fans during two matches in Serie A this season forced him to make a stand.

Verona received a €20,000 fine and a suspended partial stadium closure when a portion of their fans abused the midfielder after he scored against their team in December. Two weeks later, during Juventus’s win at Cagliari, Matuidi appealed to the referee to act after a number of home fans aimed similar abuse at him. Cagliari issued a public apology to the player “if you were insulted at the Sardegna Arena because of the color of your skin”, although no sanction was imposed against the club because match officials said they did not hear any abuse.

After the Cagliari match Matuidi responded with eloquence on Facebook, declaring: “Weak people try to intimidate with hate. I am not a hater and can only be sorry for those who set bad examples. Football is a way to spread equality, passion and inspiration and this is what I am here for. Peace.”

Juventus have been among the most proactive clubs in tackling racism in Italy. In 2015 they worked with Unesco to investigate the causes of racism in football and recommend ways of addressing it. They run a Gioca con me (“play with me”) scheme with local schools with the aim of “mixing children with very different upbringings” and “breaking down dangerous prejudices”. So the club was vexed by the abuse aimed at Matuidi, who, at the age of 30, moved to Juve last summer having spent all of his previous career in France, including six highly successful seasons at Paris Saint-Germain.

“This was the first time I’ve experienced such abuse personally – it never happened to me in France, although I do know of others to whom it did happen there,” he says. “I’ve kind of turned the page on the incidents here but they are certainly things I don’t want to see happen again. Nobody should want it to happen. When you’re a football fan – and above all, when you love others – you can’t accept that.”

“But it’s important to remember it’s only a minority. Italy is a great country with people who adore football – that’s one of the things that has struck me, how deeply people care about football here. It’s different to France. Football really has a strong hold on society here and that’s beautiful to see because football is a magnificent sport.

“In general I’ve been really well welcomed. Yes, there is that minority and I’ve said what I think about them. Ask the authorities whether there is more they could do about them. I’m a player and what I try to do is give pleasure to people who come to support us, as well as to myself and my team. That’s how it’s been throughout my career. The most important thing is to be able to turn the page on bad experiences. I hope we can do that.”

Matuidi is moving on well with his team. On Wednesday, he played all of Juve’s Italian Cup win over Atalanta, keeping the club in contention for trophies on three fronts. The match was Matuidi’s first since damaging a hamstring a month ago, an injury that forced him to sit out the first leg of the tie with Tottenham, which ended in a 2-2 draw. He was sorely missed by his team, as Spurs, thanks notably to Mousa Dembélé, dominated midfield for most of the match in Turin. Matuidi’s return is well timed and he is relishing his duel with the Belgian.

“He is a super player,” Matuidi says. “He has great technical qualities and a lot of composure. But Tottenham are a very good team overall. They have been showing that all season and they confirmed it in Turin. They go into the second leg with the advantage of two away goals, so we have to score at Wembley. And that’s what we plan to do. We are going there with the intention of showing that we are Juve, we can score anywhere.”

He has been making that point privately to his friends in the Spurs ranks. He is close to his fellow France internationals Hugo Lloris and Moussa Sissoko, and also to two former PSG team-mates now at Tottenham, Serge Aurier and Lucas Moura. “As soon as the draw was made we began teasing each other,” he says. “And after the first leg they teased me a little harder. But I just said: ‘Be careful, this is far from finished.’”

Matuidi is especially close to Aurier, describing the 25-year-old as his little brother. Aurier, like Matuidi, left PSG last summer but, unlike Matuidi, Aurier departed with a reputation as a trouble-maker, with the full-back’s offenses including a conviction for assaulting a police officer during a night out (his suspended sentence was downgraded to a fine) and a ludicrous online Q&A in which he disparaged several of his PSG team-mates and referred to the club’s then-manager, Laurent Blanc, as a “faggot”.

“His reputation is false,” says Matuidi. “Yes, he has made mistakes in his life but the errors of his youth do not reflect the man he is. I’ve never seen him as a bad person. On the contrary, he’s a very good person which is why I am happy to call him a little brother, although calling him a little brother is a little strange because he’s actually very mature.

“He is very intelligent and thoughtful. When you talk to him you see he understands things quickly. He works hard and leads a settled life. He deserves to be congratulated. He got a little pigeon-holed in France, which is a pity. But I think it’s done him good to go to the Premier League and experience new pastures. And he has joined a fine team.”

Matuidi was also approached by Premier League clubs last summer – he declines to specify who – but opted for Juve after talking to the manager, Max Allegri, and two fellow Frenchmen who played for the Turin side, Paul Pogba and Patrice Evra. “They told me that if I wanted to win titles, including European titles, then this was the place to come. As soon as I got here I could see they weren’t wrong.”

There is a certain irony to Matuidi’s transfer, in that PSG were willing to sell him because they fancied an upgrade but Matuidi has moved to the sort of club PSG aspire to become. “Juve is an institution and has been for many years. That’s the difference in the clubs’ levels. You can see when you come that Juve has vast experience. All the titles, the rigor, the workload. PSG is a great club too, of course, and hopes to become a giant – and they will succeed because they have the money and some exceptional young players who could go on to win the Ballon d’Or. But Juventus is already a giant.”

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