Marseille president Vincent Labrune has said he feels like “a shopkeeper extorted by the Sheriff of Nottingham” with regard to the French government's proposed 75 percent rate of income tax.
French President Francois Hollande is determined to press ahead with the measure that would see all earnings over one million euros hit by the hefty tariff, and would affect some 15 French clubs -- who would pay the tax rather than the players themselves -- bringing the state an additional 44 million euros.
The rate would apply only to earnings of this year and 2014, but professional clubs in France's top two tiers believe the move would prove disastrous for football in the country, and made their opinions clear in an open letter to Hollande published in the media last weekend.
Hollande has agreed to meet representatives of the professional clubs' union, the UCPF, this Thursday in a bid to stave off the menace of a boycott of matches on Nov. 30.
While the proposal is popular with the French public, who see footballers as a privileged class in under-privileged times, Labrune, 42, told RTL that, with clubs already contributing some 700 million euros to the state's coffers in tax, the reality is different.
“I see myself rather as a small shopkeeper in Robin Hood who has just been extorted by the Sheriff of Nottingham,” he said. “I can no longer stand this rabble-rousing that allows people to think that it'll be the players earning more than a million euros who will pay this tax. They won't pay a thing!”
Labrune also lambasted Sports Minister Valerie Fourneyron for comments she made comparing the financial troubles of France's professional clubs, who have a cumulative debt in excess of 100 million euros, to the banks that provoked the current global economic crisis.
“There's no sector that shows more solidarity with the national cause than professional football,” he said. “Personally, I have no lessons to be taught by anyone in that regard. It's something that shocks me. There's no reason that we don't participate more in the national effort, but we have to do it within a precise framework and timeframe so that we can act as responsible heads of businesses.”
Though acknowledging it is not against the tax in principle, the UCPF wants Hollande to recognise the specific situation in which clubs find themselves: legally bound to fixed-term contracts with salaries that have already been negotiated without the tax having been taken into account.
The UCPF’s proposed strike is an attempt to force the government's hand into changing the immediate and retroactive application of the tax to clubs, who have said they would agree to the measure applying to new deals, and will undoubtedly form the central basis for this week's discussions with Hollande.
After announcing earlier this month that the clubs' contributions would be limited to a percentage of their turnover, Fourneyron warned the UCPF the strike would not shake Hollande's resolve to introduce one of the biggest headline-grabbing measures of his election campaign.
“The strike serves no purpose and isn't a good way to respond to the president's open door,” she told football365.fr, adding that clubs should co-operate with a working group she established in September to look at making French football economically viable in the long term.
“The president's position is clear: the tax will be applied. We have taken into account the figures which led to us making it a percentage. It's about national solidarity. The French public would not understand if they were able to escape this measure. A door was opened six weeks ago. I hope we'll be able to continue working on this, which is going to allow us to develop a model more in keeping with modern-day football.
“For several years now, deficits have been growing with the explosion of salaries and transfer fees.”