A taxing time for French football?

Story highlights

  • English club Newcastle has welcomed an influx of French footballers to Premier League
  • Several French stars looking abroad with government planning to raise taxes
  • Former Newcastle defender Didier Domi backs French revolution at club
  • French MP labels tax exodus from her homeland as a "misconception"

France is en vogue at the moment.

Its parliament has backed gay marriage, "Les Miserables" has taken the movie world by storm, McDonald's is launching the "McCamembert" Burger and David Beckham has jetted in to join the French Revolution at Paris Saint-Germain.

Vive le France? Not so for those earning more than $1.3 million a year, especially after Socialist President Francois Hollande announced he would introduce a top income tax rate of 75%.

It has become a real point of contention, with some -- including top sports stars -- threatening to move abroad.

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Renowned actor Gerard Depardieu has already taken up the offer of Russian citizenship, despite France's constitutional court vetoing Hollande's proposal.

But while the plans over taxation are on hold, those involved with the nation's football are worried that their star assets are heading to the United Kingdom and abroad to seek sanctuary.

"What you see is that French football loses good players, all leaving for England, so the Premier League will be above all the other leagues," Marseille manager Elie Baup told reporters.

"In France, because of the financial side, we will have to work on young players or with recruits not well known, and then we'll make them big, and they'll go to England again. We are entering this 'cycle.' "

During the January transfer window, international striker Loic Remy left French title contender Marseille to move to Queens Park Rangers, a club which was bottom of the English Premier League and threatened with relegation.

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Even more remarkably in January, no less than five Frenchman made the switch to Newcastle, a move which led to the hanging of the "Tricolor" in the EPL club's canteen.

Lille's Mathieu Debuchy, Montpellier's Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Massadio Haidara from Nancy, Toulouse's Moussa Sissoko and Bordeaux's Yoann Gouffran all made the move to the north east of England.

They should feel at home as there's already more than a hint of Gallic flair at St. James' Park, with the wonderfully talented pair of Yohan Cabaye and Hatem Ben Arfa at the club, as well as the likes of Sylvain Marveaux, Gabriel Obertan and Romain Amalfitano.

"I'm not surprised that they want to play there because it's the best league, but I am surprised by just how many French players have gone there at the same time," former Newcastle and France player Didier Domi told CNN.

However, Domi insisted that financial motivation was not the reason for this footballing exodus to Newcastle.

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"Tax is not a big factor. The biggest draw is the chance to play in front of packed stadia every week," he said.

"It's the place where all players want to play. When the French players come back to France after a spell in England, they all talk about how great it is.

"It's professional, it has great fans and atmosphere and it's where all the best players are. I loved it at Newcastle. The fans and people of the north east are so friendly and full of warmth."

Mickelson has a point on taxes

In the last French election, held in May 2012 -- the French population in London was given the opportunity to vote on the establishment of a parliamentary member for Northern Europe.

There are 120,000 officially registered as living in the British capital, but one of those -- politician Axelle Lemaire -- believes the total is nearer 400,000.

Before winning that parliamentary ballot, as a representative of Hollande's Socialist Party, Lemaire lived and worked in London for 12 years.

"Many people come and go between the two countries thanks to the new transport links and there are a lot of younger people who come to London and move on afterwards," she told CNN.

"I arrived in London 12 years ago and I remember reading the headlines in the newspapers then about how French people were moving for tax reasons.

"But the reality is very different. Even now there is a lot being written about people leaving because of the 75% tax reasons. I've not seen any serious figures supporting this. The reality is very different.

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"People come here for a whole variety of reasons: to study, to work, to learn English, for love, for the international dimension of the UK.

"Taxes, at the end, are pretty similar in the two countries, and constitute very rarely a reason to move out.

"It has become more and more normal to spend some time in your career or to study abroad.

"Some stay and some leave after a while. Sometimes, bi-national couples move to France if they have a second child because the cost of living is expensive here."

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Lemaire also doubts that recent raft of French arrivals at Newcastle has anything to do with the levels of tax in their own country.

"I think it's a misconception to say they're here because of taxes," she said.

"These players are young and earning their first big contract in a very good club and that's a great opportunity for them.

"'I don't think they've thought to themselves, 'I want to leave for tax reasons.' "

Dubbed "Neufchateau" by the French media, Newcastle is in many ways no different from many other Premier League clubs in luring talent from across the Channel.

The likes of Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Nicolas Anelka, Emmanuel Petit, Marcel Desailly and Claude Makelele are just some of those to enjoy huge success in England.

While the typical English football fan might refer to the French as "Frogs" and take pleasure in mentioning the military victories at Waterloo and Agincourt, the acceptance of French talent on the football field has never been in doubt.

One Frenchman who made the move to England and then to Newcastle was football writer Kevin Quignane, who believes the most difficult task facing his fellow countrymen is understanding the locals' notorious "Geordie" accent.

"There was indeed a bit of a linguistic shock," Quignane recalled following his arrival in the city.

"I'd say that a true, thick Geordie accent is more difficult to understand than a broad Yorkshire brogue, which in itself can be pretty challenging.

"I just couldn't understand our next door neighbor and my partner, who is herself a Geordie, also had great trouble.

"It really can be challenging but by and large, most locals speak with a mild Geordie accent, thank God. That or I've got so used to it that I don't notice anymore."

While it might take time for the newcomers to adapt to the local lingo and swap their Chardonnay for a pint of Newcastle Brown Ale, Quignane believes the recent arrivals will enjoy life in the city.

"Newcastle's stock as a city has risen tremendously in the last decade," he added.

"It's now seen as a vibrant, party-going and sexy place, but it was a very different story 10 years earlier with the demise of the mines and shipyards and the Meadow Well riots in 1991.

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"The Quayside, now Newcastle's nightlife epicenter -- revamped and regenerated -- was a mess back then."

Beckham to donate PSG wages to children's charity

Back in France the arrival of a world superstar in Beckham at Paris Saint-Germain has helped softened the blow of so many departing French players.

The midfielder signed a five-month deal with PSG last month and has pledged to donate his salary to a children's charity within the city.

And while worries persist over the numbers of young French players moving aboard, Beckham arrives at a time where big-name foreign players are playing a starring role in Ligue 1.

Backed by its Qatari-based owners, PSG recently paid out $52.8 million for young Brazilian Lucas Moura after securing a $72 million deal for Zlatan Ibrahimovic and defender Thiago Silva from Milan last July.

The club has qualified for the quarterfinals of the Champions League and leads the domestic title race.

"I am very glad," Lemaire said of Beckham's arrival in the French capital.

"I think that it's great that he decided to move to Paris and to donate his wages to charity. It's a very good example.

"It also shows that Paris is a good club and an attractive city."

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