PARIS—When the victorious World Cup–winning French national team arrived on the Champs-Élysées on Monday evening, welcomed home by massive crowds under massive security, it capped weeks during which France didn’t only cheer on its team, but also used the competition as a moment for soul-searching. The introspection was about race, about multiculturalism, about Paris’s banlieues, and about how much has and hasn’t changed in France since it last won the World Cup in 1998, months before Kylian Mbappé, the team’s fleet-footed 19-year-old striker, was born.
The son of a father from Cameroon and a mother from Algeria, and a product of Bondy, one of Paris’s troubled banlieues, Mbappé has become the poster child for a national team that reflects France—and for a country that celebrates a national team that reflects France. French President Emmanuel Macron offered a few words at the Élysée Palace on Monday evening, surrounded by the team, who had just sung a rousing, off-key rendition of La Marseillaise: “Never forget where you come from,” Macron said. “This is France. Never forget it.”
In Donald Trump’s United States, football players kneel to honor Black Lives Matter; in Macron’s France, the president effectively kneels before the national team. This World Cup win has been a gift for Macron. He defeated a nationalist, Marine Le Pen, who ran on a fear of immigrants. The image of Macron leaping up from his seat in the stadium in Moscow on Sunday holding his fists in a victory grip, as joyous as a child, after France scored a goal, is now the most iconic of his presidency—a rare spontaneous, unscripted moment for a president who cultivates his image more carefully than any of his recent predecessors.