As the leader of the Coca-Cola UEFA EURO 2016™ team, Manuel Berquet is a busy man. With the tournament kicking off on June 10, Manuel is focused on delivering Coca-Cola’s best-ever EURO activation. Football is not just a professional interest for Manuel; it’s his passion. For many years, he has coached at a Paris-based football club, Les Petits Anges (The Little Angels), and is now its president. We chatted with Manuel about his love of football, from grassroots to the international stage of UEFA EURO 2016.
How did you first get involved in football?
Football has been part of my life since I was a boy. My godfather was Robert Jonquet, a famous player for France who played in the 1958 FIFA World Cup semifinal against Pele’s Brazil. He inspired me to follow in his footsteps.
How did your relationship begin with Les Petits Anges?
When I settled in Paris, I joined my eldest son on the club’s team for six year-olds. I also offered to be their coach and found that I really enjoyed it. Two years later, the club was going bankrupt and needed someone to take over as president. At first, I thought it would be impossible to combine with my work commitments, but I wanted to give it a try. I don’t have time to coach any more – especially with so much to prepare for UEFA EURO2016 here in France – but I am still president and somehow find the time and energy to make both roles work! I’m very proud of the club. Not only are we successful on the pitch, but we also help people of all ages – from five to 65 – enjoy football. We now have over 1,000 players registered, in male and female teams, and are the biggest football club in Paris.
What is involved in your work for the club?
My biggest passion is to engage with our teen players and some of our young coaches. It’s important to nurture their talent, and that includes helping some of the coaches further their education. It’s tough for some of these youngsters to find work, so getting a coaching diploma can really help them. I also get involved in securing funding with the local authorities. Some of this work paid off recently, as our success has been noticed by the City of Paris, which is helping to fund our first-ever club office near the Eiffel Tower. Up until now, our "office" was in a local café, so this is a big advance!
Have any of your players made it as professionals?
I am proud to say that one of our best players, a goalkeeper called Alphonse Aréola, was signed by Paris St Germain. He then joined Real Sociedad and was recently selected by France as their third goalkeeper. He might even play in the EUROs. Another former Petits Anges – Georges-Kévin N'Koudou – is now playing for Olympic Marseille.
How does your work with Les Petits Anges help you at Coca-Cola?
It helps me at Coca-Cola in the various relationships I deal with in my work, such as with the City of Paris, the Minister of Sports, the Football League and the French Football Federation, as well as with NGOs like Good Planet and WWF. My experience at Coca-Cola has also helped me at the club, for example, with management skills I learned and replicated in my role there.
What values do Coca-Cola and Les Petits Anges have in common?
Coke brings people together, encouraging a feeling of community, happiness and mutual respect. This is exactly what we do at the club. We have players from tough backgrounds, in the suburbs of Paris, for whom Les Petits Anges is a wonderfully positive experience. We also organize tournaments with teams from Italy, Great Britain, Denmark and Spain – sharing our passion with like-minded players from around Europe. I do my best to educate the kids about the importance of fair play, respect for your opponent, and above all, the importance of enjoying the game.
How do you feel about leading the UEFA EURO 2016 team for Coca-Cola?
It’s a great honor and a fantastic opportunity. I’m determined that our activations leave a lasting legacy, for communities, consumers and our customers. We actually started working with our biggest customers two years ago, showing them how we would build excitement around the event and work with them to enhance the experience for fans.
Tell us more about the Coca-Cola plans for UEFA EURO 2016
We’ve got so many exciting activations, all of which will make UEFA EURO 2016 more refreshing and engaging for the fans. We have invested in new technology, like WiFi in cafés and packaging innovations, like our new re-closable aluminum bottle, slim cans and bottles with Panini stickers behind the labels. We are also exploring how to interact differently with our consumers through digital technologies: real-time marketing on social media, beverages pre-ordering in stadiums, Snapchat innovations and our new YouTube channel, Coke TV. I’m very proud of my team and how dedicated and passionate they are about making this Coke’s best-ever EURO activation.
One last question, who will win?
I can’t say which country – it’s too close to call – but I can make one prediction: the Coca-Cola team will help fans of all the teams enjoy every special moment of action this summer. That I know!