The Outcast: Why Adrien Rabiot Is One of Football's Great Enigmas

Tom Williams@tomwfootballSpecial to Bleacher ReportJanuary 9, 2019

Adrien Rabiot of Paris Saint-Germain during the UEFA Champions League group C match between Paris St Germain and Crvena zvezda at the Parc des Princes on October 03, 2018 in Paris, France(Photo by VI Images via Getty Images)
Bleacher Report

For a player still three months shy of his 24th birthday, Adrien Rabiot has already racked up enough controversies to fill an entire career.

Take the time he turned down a new contract at Paris Saint-Germain in the summer of 2014 and agreed to join Roma, only to change his mind months later and sign a new deal.

Or the time he missed the 2015 Coupe de France final after turning up late for a team meeting.

Or when he annoyed PSG coach Laurent Blanc in December 2015 by revealing he had told club president Nasser Al-Khelaifi to loan him out if his amount of playing time dropped.

Or his decision to reject a spot on the standby list for France's World Cup squad last year, which has left him marooned on six caps for the foreseeable future.

His latest contract standoff with PSG has prompted reports that he has agreed to join Barcelona at the end of the season, when the five-year deal he signed in 2014 expires.

Whether he leaves in January or at the end of the campaign, Rabiot may have already played his last game for PSG.

After contract talks broke down last month, sporting director Antero Henrique told Yahoo Sport France (h/t Omnisport) he would remain on the bench "for an indefinite period." He has not played for the club since December 11.

At the age of 23, and with close to 250 senior club appearances behind him and 13 major trophies on his CV, Rabiot finds himself unable to play for either club or country.

So is he simply a fiercely determined young footballer who's not afraid to put a few noses out of joint in pursuit of his ambitions? Or is he a bad egg?

Martine Moulin first met Rabiot when he was still a boy and she was working as an educator at US Creteil, a football club in the southeastern suburbs of Paris. She told Bleacher Report that Rabiot was a "phenomenon" on the pitch, and although he occasionally had to be brought into line, there were no concerns about his behaviour.

"He was quite reserved, but he'd play the clown as well," Moulin said. "I rarely had any problems with Adrien, and we never had any complaints with him. Sometimes he was a bit unruly, but he was only eight years old. I always liked him."

Rabiot spent six years at US Creteil, either side of a season at neighbouring club US Alfortville, before joining Manchester City's youth programme in 2008. He would spend only six months in Manchester, returning to France later the same year after accusing City of breaking promises, but in Moulin's eyes, the experience was an early example of the single-mindedness that defines him.

"When he left for Manchester City at 13, you could see that he knew what he wanted," she says. "His priority was to play football, and he's always been like that. Just play, play, play."

It was during Rabiot's time at US Creteil that he experienced the most traumatic experience of his life to date. His father, Michel, suffered a stroke in 2007 that left him with locked-in syndrome: a condition that renders sufferers almost completely paralysed but fully conscious. Michel, a PSG fan who used to run Rabiot to youth matches, is confined to a wheelchair and can only communicate by moving his eyelids.

"If you've not lived with this illness, you can't understand it," Rabiot told Le Parisien in July 2012. "It's a very frustrating feeling. Since his accident, I fight for him on the pitch as well."

Rabiot's father's illness is one of the reasons why his mother, Veronique, has taken on such a prominent role in his career. She is also his agent, representing her son in all his contract negotiations and regularly speaking on his behalf to the media.

Her uncompromising nature has earned her a formidable reputation, and she has been repeatedly caricatured in the French press, such as in the below cartoon.

Nothing to regret: 'If you'd played against Ireland, you'd have caught a really bad cold'.

"She's involved in all his decisions and even initiates them," says Dominique Severac, who covers PSG for regional newspaper Le Parisien. "She imposes herself on him. Her influence is major and total."

Rabiot joined PSG in 2010, at the age of 15, and was brought into the first-team squad in 2012. But when PSG refused to allow his mother to accompany him on a trip to Qatar midway through his first season, he withdrew from the tour. Moulin bumped into her at the time and remembers how unhappy she was with PSG coach Carlo Ancelotti.

"She made me laugh because she said she was waiting for Ancelotti to turn up so that she could go into his office," Moulin said. "Ancelotti is the kind of person some people might be intimidated by, but she's not scared of anything."

Rabiot was loaned to Toulouse until the end of the 2012-13 campaign. Toulouse coach Alain Casanova revealed last year that he rejected a request from Rabiot's mother to be allowed to attend every first-team training session.

Former Norway striker Daniel Braaten played alongside Rabiot for five months at Toulouse and says it was what the straggly-haired youngster did on the training pitch that left the strongest impression on him and his team-mates.

"He played like a man in a boy's body," Braaten told Bleacher Report. "He had a few 'how did he do that?' moments where he just left us scratching our heads. The technical execution of some of the things he did was high.

"He was hungry, humble and eager to learn. I didn't see any signs of stubbornness, just a young kid happy to play. And he did well for us."

BELGRADE, SERBIA - DECEMBER 11: Adrien Rabiot of Paris Saint-Germain looks on during the UEFA Champions League Group C match between Red Star Belgrade and Paris Saint-Germain at Rajko Mitic Stadium on December 11, 2018 in Belgrade, Serbia. (Photo by Srdja
Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images

As a young, homegrown player from the Paris suburbs, Rabiot had strong symbolic importance to PSG, and despite facing competition for a starting place from Thiago Motta, Blaise Matuidi and Marco Verratti, the elegant, left-footed midfielder gradually eased his way into the starting XI over the seasons that followed.

In PSG's 4-0 win over Barcelona in the Champions League last 16 in February 2017, Rabiot was the star performer, earning a rare 9/10 rating from L'Equipe. (At one point in the match, he managed to tackle and nutmeg Lionel Messi in the same fluid movement.) He was part of the team that capitulated 6-1 in the return leg, but it was the side's senior players—and coach Unai Emery—who copped most of the flak.

It was thanks in part to Rabiot's emergence that PSG were happy to let Matuidi join Juventus in August 2017, yet debate continued to swirl about his best position. Emery wanted to play him as a No. 6 in front of the defence, but Rabiot repeatedly made it clear he would rather player further forward. Thomas Tuchel found himself grappling with the exact same quandary when he took over from Emery last summer.

"Adrien is a very curious player," Tuchel told L'Equipe in September. "He has an attacking mindset and likes to take risks. I like him a lot, but I'm not sure that he has the profile of a No. 6. It's not about his talent—he could do it, without any doubt—but it's not enough to have the physical or technical capacities of a No. 6; you also have to think like a No. 6."

Tuchel picked Rabiot systematically over the first three months of this season, even giving him the captain's armband, but he then dropped him, along with Kylian Mbappe, after the pair turned up eight minutes late for a team meeting prior to PSG's 2-0 win at Marseille in late October. While Mbappe immediately returned to the starting lineup, Rabiot did not. It was the beginning of the end.

When PSG went to Orleans in the Coupe de la Ligue last month, the travelling supporters spelled out their displeasure at Rabiot's refusal to sign a new contract. "RABIOT GET STUFFED," read a banner held aloft in the away end. "WE DON'T NEED YOU." 

Rabiot's reputation in France had already been tarnished by his refusal to accept a place on the standby list for the World Cup, having been disappointed not to have been included in Didier Deschamps's original 23-man squad.

PARIS, FRANCE - DECEMBER 22:  Ultra fan
of Paris Saint-Germain react to the exclusion of Adrien Rabiot (not pictured) by PSG management during the French Ligue 1 match between Paris-Saint Germain and FC Nantes at Parc des Princes on December 22, 2018 in P
Xavier Laine/Getty Images

"It was perceived very badly and more so since France became world champions," says Severac. "The French fans resent him because it was the behaviour of a spoilt child and, what's more, he didn't even play that well for the national team."

France's triumph vindicated Deschamps's decision not to pick Rabiot, and he has been bullish about his reasons for leaving the midfielder out.

"I'm not closing the door, but it feels like you're talking about a player who's played really well for France," the France coach told beIN Sports last month. "If that's the case, watch the five matches he's played for us."

An outcast for both club and country, Rabiot has reached a major crossroads in his career. Whatever his future holds, you suspect he'll continue to do things his own way.

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