Who is Lilian Thuram?
A 41-year-old retired footballer, France’s most-capped international ever, a hero from the glorious 1998 World Cup campaign, who has since become an anti-racism activist. He was born in Guadeloupe.
Why is he in the news this week?
For a few different reasons. On Saturday, a French gossip magazine revealed his partner, TV presenter Karine Le Marchand, had filed a police complaint against the former footballer for domestic violence.
Later that day, it emerged that Le Marchand, 45, had since withdrawn the charge.
Then on Tuesday, Thuram became a Grand Officer of the Legion of Honour, personally receiving the title – the highest France can award – from President François Hollande.
Between Saturday morning and Tuesday evening, then, Thuram went from sporting hero and beloved symbol of French multiculturalism, to an alleged wife-beater, to then being the nation's hero once again.
Tell me more
Well, the first signs of a breakdown between Thuram and Le Marchand came last Tuesday, when she appeared on Virgin Radio in France, for a seemingly straightforward and fluffy interview to promote her show “L’amour est dans le pré,” the French version of “Farmer Wants a Wife.”
Asked a seemingly innocuous question about how a successful romantic relationship works, Le Marchand clammed up and stuttered while the radio host said: “I sense a malaise – is it finished between you and Lilian?”
She responded, “Let’s just say I don’t want to say any more about that.”
The French celebrity media’s rumour mill went into overdrive after this, until Closer magazine – which gained global infamy last year for publishing topless photos of Kate Middleton – revealed there was much more to the Thuram-Le Marchand break-up than met the eye.
Lilian Thuram receives an embrace from French President François Hollande, while being awarded the Legion d'Honneur in Paris on September 17th. Photo: Etienne Laurent/AFP
Why exactly did they break up?
Le Marchand claimed in the September 14th issue of Closer that Thuram had “pulled her around by her hair,” and “pushed her against the fridge on three occasions,” and that on September 4th she had gone to a police station in the capital's 16th arrondissement to file a complaint for domestic violence.
Le Marchand’s lawyer Caroline Mecary told AFP later on Saturday, after Closer hit the shelves, that the two had been “separated for months.”
Mecary added, however, that since September 4th, LeMarchand had “taken steps to withdraw her complaint” against Thuram.
It seemed then that the serious accusations against Thuram have been removed from the equation. And just days later images of the former footballer were back in the news, this time showing him alongside Hollande as he was given the prestigious Legion d’Honneur. Thuram's place among France's pantheon of national heros seemed assured once again.
There was then a further twist however, when Europe 1 radio revealed the next day that Thuram had been summoned to a Paris police station at an unspecified date, to answer questions regarding the domestic violence complaint against him.
So why did he get this great honour?
Well, in light of the allegations made against him, that’s an excellent question.
Before this week, though, Thuram had been known in France primarily as a footballing hero, but also as an anti-racism campaigner since his retirement in 2008, the same year he started the Lilian Thuram Foundation for Education Against Racism.
On Tuesday, Hollande lavished praise on the former defender, who won a World Cup with France, in Paris, in 1998, as well as playing for Monaco, Parma, Juventus and Barcelona.
“Everyone remembers your sporting glory, and especially that famous night, July 8th 1998 at Stade de France,” Hollande said.
“I was there when, in the semi-final of the World Cup against Croatia, you scored the two goals that paved the way for France to the get to final, and in the end, claim victory,” Hollande added, before praising Thuram for his anti-racism campaigning and years of work with charities such as Unicef.
What’s his finest moment?
In any other situation, being awarded the Legion d’Honneur is about as proud an achievement as there is.
But given the dark cloud and serious accusations surrounding Thuram’s award this week, and because of the impact the 1998 World Cup had in France, his incredible 90-minute performance against Croatia, highlighted by Hollande himself, probably deserves that title.
Here are some short highlights of his two-goal tour de force in July 1998 – the pinnacle of his 142 matches for France. He had never, and would never again, hit the back of the net for his country.
What’s his darkest moment?
Appearing on the cover of Closer magazine this week, with the words “She accuses him of violence” emblazoned across his image.
In the interview, Le Marchand went further. “I don’t have to be afraid of him anymore,” she said simply.
The Local's French Face of the Week is a person in the news who – for good or ill – has revealed something interesting about the country. Being selected as French Face of the Week is not necessarily an endorsement.