Christian Karembeu was born in 1970 on the Pacific island of Lifou, New Caledonia, an overseas territory of France. Christian played football from earliest age. He was noticed by scouts of Ligue 1 team Nantes and migrated to France, aged 17. At first he struggled with the weather, people and the different life in France, but he was a success on the pitch as a talented and capable midfielder.
The Serial Winner
Christian Karembeu had success at Nantes. Bigger clubs noticed him. He moved to Italy to play for Sampdoria. Karembeu was a popular player in Genoa. His team-mates supported his campaign to stop French nuclear tests in New Caledonia. In 1997 Karembeu moved to Real Madrid and helped them win the European Cup. He was in the French team that won the 1998 World Cup.
Christian Karembeu often spoke out for political causes: racism in New Caledonia and nuclear testing and the environment. He hit back at right-wing voices like Jean-Marie Le Pen who moaned that France’s team was “not really French”. Karembeu consciously did not sing the French Anthem (Marseillaise) before games. Explaining in Le Monde that: “My family, like many Kanak families, underwent horrible experiences.” Here he referred to the discovery that in the 1931 “International Colonial Exhibition” his great-grandfather, William Karembeu, was forced – with 111 of his fellow Kanaks – behind cages (called: Human Zoo), to be exhibited as “the cannibals”. “To impress the onlookers the director had provided them with wooden shins and ordered them to dance and mimic scenes of cannibalism by uttering cries of wild beasts.”, as is quoted in Le Monde from the book “Christian Karembeu, kanak”.
Christian Karembeu was an example of colonial migration and a vocal campaigner to raise awareness about the French mistreatment of the indigenous Kanak population in New Caledonia. He also became an example of economic migration, moving from country to country across Europe in search of footballing success.
Educators could look at the life story of Christian Karembeu and work with young people to consider this question:
- What does the life story of Christian Karembeu tell us about migration?
- How have footballers like Karembeu contributed to raising awareness about the history of colonialism?
Find out more
An excellent profile is written up by Christopher Weir on These Football Times. You could also explore some of the media productions in which Christian Karembeu discussed his heritage in various ways, including Of Islands and Men (2011) or the in-depth interview (in French) on KTO TV (2012).
Christian Karembeu, Football Against Poverty 2014, Stade De Suisse, Bern (Photo: Ludovic Péron).
LIFE STORIES To discover now
Do you wanna know more?
HISTORY CAN BE EXPLORED THROUGH THE LIVES OF INDIVIDUALS
Browse our collection of stories about football history and inclusion. With the history of football being made up of millions of stories, of individuals and communities, of movements and processes, we offer stories that can inspire our cultural conversations today.
Get to know untold stories where individuals are making history with football. When faced with insurmountable challenges, individuals past and present can use football as a cultural force to foster positive change in society. We honour these individuals and tell their ‘untold’ stories in short videos.
Explore our innovative educational resources that use football’s history, heritage and legacy to engage young people. The resources include ready-made lesson plans and historical source collections for school history education as well as toolkit with activities for non-formal settings.
In the wake of the 2015 migration peak, activists and volunteers across Europe have been involved in supporting refugees, sometimes with the simple act of offering space and friendship to participate in football through grassroots clubs to help newcomers integrate.
BBC Sport’s Football Focus visits Bundesliga side FC Union Berlin, a “rebellious” football club from East Berlin with a special set of fans, playing their first season in Germany’s top flight 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
LATEST POST You may also be interested in
Prayer days on stadiums, faith rooms and inclusive chants: here is how English football is adapting to a changing world.
Engage young people through Football Makes History’s own Guidebook and Toolkit for promoting social inclusion in formal education or Non-formal settings
Telling the history of a city through football stories: a celebration of Amsterdam.
Angel City FC, the brand new women-majority owned and run club in Los Angeles
Get to know these colour videos of Jewish footballers in 1936 and 1944. Incredible primary sources of football in tragic times.