When Yohan Cabaye decided to leave Newcastle United and the Premier League in January to join the galaxy of stars at Paris Saint-Germain some, unbelievably, questioned his ambition. That Cabaye, who so dazzled for the Toon in the first half of the season, has only started once for PSG to date tells you everything about the 28-year-old’s nose for a challenge.
Given the majesty of Laurent Blanc’s midfield three this season, it’s only fair Cabaye should have to wait his turn. He’ll get it eventually, as Marco Verratti continues to collect cards apace, and the excellent Thiago Motta will need a rest at some point, having already played more than twice as many games as he did in the whole of last season.
What we can be sure of is that, barring injury, Cabaye’s opportunity will not come at the expense of Blaise Matuidi. How would Cabaye, or anybody else, go about replacing the 26-year-old?
The answer is that you simply can’t. If Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the genius behind Blanc’s side, then Matuidi is the beating heart and lungs at its core. The indefatigable France midfielder covers ground at both ends of the field, snaps into the tackle and is relentlessly accurate with his passing.
He even finds the time to drop in and cover the advancing left-back Maxwell, when the Brazilian has gone on one of his trademark forward bursts. Patrice Evra will benefit from the same standard of protection at the World Cup this summer.
As noted in this column’s look at the stars of 2013, in which Matuidi featured, he played 63 matches the calendar year and appeared to have as much energy at the end as he had at the beginning.
Now, finally, PSG can say Matuidi is definitively theirs to keep, after he signed a new deal to 2018 last month, as per L’Equipe (in French). It had always been likely, with the formalities just held up by a court case between his former agent and his present one. His joy at tying the deal up, when he announced it on Twitter, was clear:
Je vous annonce avec fierté la prolongation de mon contrat jusqu'en 2018,le cœur est Parisien,ICI C'EST PARIS!!!! pic.twitter.com/vEGbZSiO3f— Blaise MATUIDI (@MATUIDIBlaise) February 26, 2014
He had always wanted it this way. Toulouse-born, the Matuidis moved to the eastern Parisian suburb of Fontenay-sous-Bois when Blaise was six. His father, Faria Rivelino, took his son to the Parc des Princes regularly as a child.
Faria said last year that he was “blown away” by Blaise’s rise to such heights, as per Le 10 Sport. “Blaise was never the best player in his team (as a youth),” he recounted, “but he loves to work (hard). Sometimes, we tell him that he sleeps a lot during the day. He answers that a siesta is part of his work.”
While there had been an element of doubt over his future, it was only natural that some of Europe’s biggest and best would try and take advantage of the confusion. Canal+ broadcast a story in January (reported here by L’Equipe, in French) claiming that Manchester City made Matuidi an offer, complete with a €10 million signing-on bonus to sweeten the deal.
That Nasser Al-Khelaifi’s club managed to get Matuidi to stay is their signing of the season—better than Cabaye, better even than the potential arrival of the France international Paul Pogba, as reported here by Football Italia.
Matuidi even got PSG on their way in the current Champions League tie with Bayer Leverkusen, slotting home Verratti’s pass in the opening minutes. After another eye-catching recent strike, for France against the Netherlands, Ibrahimovic tweeted (as Eurosport report) that Matuidi “must have been watching Zlatan in training.”
Twitter-baiting from Zlatan—there can surely be no greater sign that Matuidi has arrived among the elite. PSG, and France, are formidable opposition with the 26-year-old on their side.