Perhaps no France player this summer will attract more column inches than Yann M’Vila. Arsenal are leading the race to snap up the dynamic midfielder, while Inter and more recently Barcelona have also voiced an interest.
M’Vila, though, has thus far been unable to showcase his talents on the summer’s greatest stage, the European Championship.
Injury has forced head coach Laurent Blanc to rethink his midfield, which is so typically built around the Stade Rennais player. Now, however, the 21-year-old is ready to make his grand entrance, with France’s second match against co-hosts Ukraine the stage.
Against England, France lacked rhythm in their midfield, the ball was not moved quickly enough to displace the rigid defensive lines that they were faced with. Florent Malouda is not typically a central midfielder and did not use what little possession he had astutely enough, while Alou Diarra, admittedly a pillar in the 1-1 draw, does not possess the ball-playing ability or the dynamism of the 21-year-old.
M’Vila looked exceptionally sharp in France’s open training session on Wednesday and now that he’s back to his full capacity, he’s doing his best to force Blanc’s hand into a change.
Not that ‘Lolo’ requires a great deal of persuasion. Since handing the Amiens-born player his debut in the post-World Cup friendly defeat against Norway in Olso – an encounter in which Blanc gave fringe men the chance to shine ahead of their disgraced counterparts who limped so meekly home from South Africa – M’Vila has missed only five matches under the coach, including the last two because of a twisted ankle.
MIDFIELDER | FRANCE & RENNES
The golden boy of the French game is now ready to burst onto the big tournament scene.
He does so with much promise. News of the interest in him has certainly heightened expectations on his young shoulders to an almost dizzying level, yet he has been something of a talisman for Les Bleus. With M’Vila in their ranks, France have won 12 of their last 17 matches, doing so without defeat.
On Friday, he will muscle his way back into the starting XI and a midfield that was rather too ponderous against England. Comparisons with Patrick Vieira have been drawn, but don’t look for him to make too many of the lung-bursting offensive contributions that the former Arsenal man once did – that’s something he’s warned himself against pining for.
In only his third season since graduating from youth level, M’Vila has not lived up to his domestic hype, and he’s admitted that a desire to produce too much offensively was partly to blame.
“I'm so concerned about trying to play a killer pass I have been forgetting about my defensive work,” he admitted towards the campaign’s climax, amid complaints from the Rennes fans that he had not been at his best all season.
The situation came to a head after a shock Coupe de France semi-final defeat against part-timers Quevilly, in which M’Vila was jeered by his own support. The next day, the player had a fraught exchange with fans at the club’s training ground, doubtless hasting his decision to finally leave the club that nurtured him so successfully.
Although he would not directly admit that playing for France this summer would be a relief after his club problems this term in an exclusive interview with Goal.com prior to Euro 2012, he did confess that playing on such a stage will be something he will relish.
|"He touches the ball so often they couldn't keep up. That made me smile."
- Frederic Antonetti on Rennes fans booing M'Vila
A versatile performer, he could slot into the 4-3-3 formation along with Alou Diarra, allowing Yohan Cabaye or Malouda more offensive freedom, or he could simply play the holding role himself.
Whichever role that Blanc deploys M’Vila in, he will become the metronome of the side, gathering possession and shuffling it on more quickly and effectively than France managed without him.
“They gave up in the second half,” Rennes boss Frederic Antonetti said of the supporters’ attempts to boo M’Vila in the aforementioned Coupe de France encounter. "He touches the ball so often the crowd couldn't keep up. That made me smile.”
With the French national side, the burden of expectation is not as great; he will be the Deschamps to the Zidane of Franck Ribery or Karim Benzema, the water carrier of the side.
His role remains vital, though, as he will set the tempo that will see France attempt to defeat Ukraine to take a step towards the Euro 2012 quarter-finals and shake an eight-game winless streak in major competitions. What an introduction to big-time football that would be.