Whenever France has a successful tournament, more often than not someone from the midfield raises his game and leads his country to glory. The 1984 European Championships had the heroics of Michel Platini, and the triumph of France '98 had the mercurial Zinedine Zidane.
In Brazil 2014, there are a whole host of names with the potential to excel for Les Bleus. All eyes will be on Juventus’ young star, Paul Pogba, and former Newcastle United maestro, Yohan Cabaye, but ready and desperate to drive France to international success is the man that consistently pushes Paris Saint-Germain towards greatness, Blaise Matuidi.
Throughout qualification, France coach, Didier Deschamps, favoured either playing 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3; it is the latter that the former Marseille midfielder will likely start with as France makes an assault on Group E come the start of this summer’s World Cup in Brazil.
Some positions may cause Deschamps a headache due to a lack of quality options, but in midfield, France are spoiled for choice. Deschamps finds himself in the excellent position that, right now, the three midfielders due to start the opening game against Honduras on June 15 are amongst the best in the world.
Paul Pogba has been a revelation for Juventus since making the move from Manchester United. As his club romped to the Serie A title last season, Pogba scored five times in 18 starts, earning his first cap for the national team in the 3-1 win over Georgia in March of last year.
Now 12 months on, Pogba is now a regular under Deschamps and also tasted success last summer as the Under-20 side lifted the World Cup in Turkey.
With Pogba becoming one of the first names on Deschamps’ team sheet, regardless of formation, the name of Matuidi can’t be far behind.
At the start of the Qatari era at Paris Saint-Germain, Matuidi was one of the first players paraded at the Parc des Princes. It was meant to be the beginning of PSG’s new French spine, helping the Parisians build and grow their French identity. They only paid €8 million for the midfielder, a sum that now looks like peanuts compared to the €64 million spent on Edinson Cavani last summer, but his impact and progress has now become priceless to the Paris club.
The timing was perfect: He was 24 years old and had played over 100 games in Ligue 1 for Saint-Etienne. He had also made a handful of appearances for France—little did the PSG hierarchy know that Matuidi would quickly become an integral part of its success.
During his second season, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic leading the line, Matuidi blossomed into a lung-busting, box-to-box midfielder, and a player that would give his all for as long as he was on the pitch, winning tackles all over the park, finding gaps in the opponents’ midfield, timing his forward runs to perfection for maximum damage.
At Saint-Etienne, he had never managed to score more than two goals in a single season. On his way to lifting Le Championnat with PSG, the Toulouse-born dynamo found the back of the net five times and was often mentioned in the same breath as Ibrahimovic when the awards for player of the year were being handed out. In the end, he wasn’t quite fashionable enough to win, but his contribution to PSG’s success did not go unnoticed. To PSG supporters, Matuidi is now one of their favourite sons.
Matuidi finally signed a new contract just after the end of the January transfer window, keeping him tied up with the French champions until 2018. Zlatan may be the icing on the delicious cake, but Matuidi is the batter in which the cake is based. Without the well-kneaded Matuidi, PSG wouldn’t have the same drive and desire in midfield.
Now, Deschamps is hoping that he can help recreate Matuidi’s PSG form for the national team. This season, Laurent Blanc’s 4-3-3 has been the success behind its tremendous league form. Placing Matuidi beside both Pogba and Cabaye in France’s midfield means hoping he can prove as crucial for country as he has been for his club.
Matuidi had a starring role as France staged the now legendary comeback against Ukraine in the Stade de France, but it was the follow-up match against Netherlands that cemented his importance to Les Bleus.
Starting the game as ferocious as ever, he then provided the superb pass that set up Karim Benzema for the opening goal. It showed that he is not just a midfield general but is well capable of transforming into a creator too.
Matuidi then conjured up the spirit of his team-mate as he spectacularly volleyed home France’s second, a goal that Zlatan himself would have been proud of.
It was Matuidi’s first international goal, and a marker to show that he is more than just the water-carrier, a role that Deschamps himself made so famous back in 1998.
With Pogba and Cabaye providing support and balance to the France midfield, there will be space for Matuidi to break forward and provide that inspirational spark and industry that he does so well for PSG, week in, week out. The spotlight will be firmly focused on the irresistible and eye-catching Pogba. Cabaye’s reputation, built on his performances for Newcastle United in the Premier League, will gain respect and fear from France’s group opponents.
That will give Matuidi space to blossom, create and deliver as France look to complete their redemption from the disaster of South Africa 2010.
There is no doubt that if Matuidi is allowed to play in his all-action style this summer, then France will benefit hugely from his performances. Matuidi has everything France need, and the 26-year-old is raring and willing to deliver on the biggest stage of them all come June 15 in Porto Alegre.