Toulon president Bernard Lemaitre has spoken at length about the acquisition of Cheslin Kolbe, revealing that the Bok superstar had a choice between the French club or a South African team.
Speaking exclusively to French publication Le Figaro, Lemaitre said the signing of Kolbe could revive Toulon supporters’ passion for the club and that it is important monetise his arrival by optimising the economic benefits.
Interestingly, he added that Kolbe had a choice between Toulon and a South African side, widely rumoured to have been the Sharks, who are backed by overseas consortium MVM Holdings and boast a global partnership with the internationally acclaimed agency, Roc Nation, who have the Bok wing on their books.
Why did you make this big financial effort to recruit Cheslin Kolbe?
“It represents an interesting step for the club. His arrival is a milestone in our recent history. We are trying to build something, we have already accomplished phases since the beginning of 2020. This kind of arrival will facilitate our project. Cheslin is a catalyst in many ways. On the sporting front above all, but also with all the enthusiasm he can create around him.”
Do you aim to rekindle the passion of Toulon supporters with his arrival?
“Giving pleasure to our fans is fundamental for us. Everyone is aware of it, the players, the staff and myself. But we didn’t wait for Kolbe. However, his coming is a key element to give a dimension that we did not have because his ability to ignite the game and to win. Kolbe is a match-winner who singlehandedly tip a game on its head.”
When you heard about this opportunity, what was your first reaction?
“It was a mixture of enthusiasm and coldness. I was enthusiastic because of the sporting interest and the prospect of possibly giving a boost to the atmosphere at Toulon, of going back to the great 2010s. And very cold feeling because I had to organize an operation like this one.”
Can you share some of the behind-the-scenes details this transfer?
“First of all, it was not us who went to poach him from Toulouse. It is a superb opportunity that we have been offered. An intermediary alerted us to the possibility of bringing him in and we believed in it. I understood that we were the only French alternative, but that he had a choice between Toulon and a South African club. But only Toulon was able to do it. From there, it was very simple transaction with Stade Toulouse. There is a relationship of trust between the two club presidents and the negotiations were carried out smoothly in about two weeks, which is not long for this type of operation. I would like to reiterate the extremely collaborative attitude of the Toulouse president.”
Kolbe still had two years left on his contract with Toulouse. Did you buy-out this contract?
“Yes, there was a transfer fee. But I wouldn’t give any financial details. It is pointless to comment on the figures, which were falsely quoted in the media. But it is certain that compensation was essential in this kind of transaction.”
Kolbe had been refused a salary increase at the Toulouse. Did you meet his salary expectation?
“Everyone had to make an effort to reconcile the points of view. On our side, there was a limit: not to derogate from the constraints of the salary cap by any means. We got into the nails on that side.”
Will you look to capitalize on the economic benefits: sponsorship, sale of shirts, attendance at the Mayol stadium etc, from the signing?
“Yes, absolutely. It’s part of the math. We took it into account. It is imperative to monetize Kolbe’s arrival. We will work on it to better exploit the image our superstar players like Cheslin but also Eben Etzebeth. The club has a lot of progress to make to promote the image of these players for the benefit of the club.”
But this arrival goes against your recruitment policy: you no longer wanted stars
“One of the key points of our recruitment policy is indeed to be less dependent on internationals. We already have 7-8 French and some foreigners in this case. This is a huge drain on every international window. With Kolbe, we accentuate this phenomenon, we are aware of it. We know that his presence will be limited to six months. But it is important that this kind of player is there for the big matches, the decisive matches. The sporting and economic benefit seemed sufficient to tip the scales.”
Is Kolbe your Messi?
“I’d rather he was a messiah with an e at the end, if you’ll allow me that pun. Either way, it was a great opportunity but I don’t compare at all. Football and rugby are not on the same scale.”
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