Who is Noël Le Graët? The president who buried Benzema and humiliated Zidane

The businessman has generated a toxic climate in French football, including accusations of racism

AP/CHRISTOPHE ENA  -   President of the French Football Federation (FFF), Noël Le Graët

"Zidane in Brazil? I don't give a damn, let him go wherever he wants! He can go wherever he wants, to a club..." Did Zidane try to contact me? Of course not, I wouldn't have even picked up the phone". These words from Noël Le Graët, president of the French Football Federation (FFF), have unleashed a wave of criticism towards a controversial guy. From Mbappé to Real Madrid passing through the likes of Ribéry, they have spoken out and asked for respect for Zinedine Zidane, a France legend vilified by Le Graët. 

Although the French businessman has already apologised and said his words were misinterpreted and "clumsy", it is not the first time the 81-year-old Breton has sown panic in French football with outbursts unbecoming of a manager.  

Le Graët was born in Bourbriac, a village 10 kilometres from Guingamp. His family lived on a family farm and he decided to go into business by setting up a food group called Le Graët. The fishing industry generated huge profits for him until he decided to leave the business in the hands of his three daughters.  

His business background gave him enough contacts to become mayor of Guingamp between 1995 and 2008 under the banner of the French Socialist Party.  

From businessman to politician to football manager, Noël Le Graët presided over Guingamp in two stages, and it was between 2002 and 2011 that he managed to put the club on the European map by getting them into the Europa League in 2009.  

AP/SERGIO PEREZ - Zinedine Zidane

Between 1991 and 2000 he was president of the French Professional Football League and activated a financial control plan to monitor club spending and try to make the French competition an attraction for world football.  

Le Graët has been most prominent at the FFF where he was vice-president from 2005 until 2011 and president from that year until 2025 after being re-elected in 2021 with 73% of the vote. This shows the power of this tycoon within French football, but also internationally.  

Le Graët backed Joseph Blatter in 2015 and assured that "I know of no other candidate" for the post of FIFA president. Years later, he had no problem backing Gianni Infantino for the same position after the corruption cases had splashed Blatter himself. Those moves earned him the appointment as UEFA's representative on the FIFA Council.  

Under his tenure at the French federation there have been all sorts of scandals that Le Graët has not been able to control. His facility with words and his ability to get into trouble with his statements begin when he calls sports agents affiliated to the FFF and condemned by the French justice system "good guys". 

The next Olympic Games to be held in Paris in 2024 also received the disregard of Le Graët when he was asked about them to know his opinion as president of the FFF and he assured that "I don't give a damn about them".  

But Le Graët's big problem has been the racism and homophobia that he has not been able to deal with. Perhaps because of his Breton and conservative roots, he said in 2019 that "homophobia in the stands is not the same as racism in the stadiums". A statement without much sense that was criticised by the then Minister of Sport, Roxana Maracineanu, for differentiating between the two tendencies and trying to prevent football matches from being stopped for racist chants. 

PHOTO/FILE – Karim Benzema

In 2020, Le Graët denied that there was racism in sport "there is little or no racism" he said after the controversy between Marseille's Alvaro Gonzalez of Spain and PSG's Neymar. These words also sparked strong controversy. 

In 2021 Griezmann and Dembélé appeared in a video mocking Japanese workers. This behaviour was not only not criticised by the president of the French federation, he applauded it and said that his compatriots "are very nice".  

Le Graët was also active in the case of Benzema for blackmailing Valbuena. The French president cooled his return to the national team and assured the media that "Benzema is a good man who grew up in a difficult neighbourhood and who did not change his childhood friends".  

The deal he made with Deschamps to ensure that the Real Madrid striker did not wear the 'bleu' for six years prompted the player himself to accuse the coach of "giving in to racist pressure from France". These words were also directed at the president who, in that case, did not take the matter lying down.  

Even sexual harassment has been one of the problems Le Graët has faced. Several female employees accused the president of having received messages of a sexual nature, and the French press claimed that there was a "toxic climate" in the federation with "inappropriate behaviour" from the president himself.  

Amélie Oudéa-Castera, the current Sports Minister in Macron's government, has already called for action against Le Graët because she is tired of the continuous polemics of a character who may have signed the end of his career by attacking Zidane himself.