The brain of the team: France warming to midfield maestro Cabaye

COMMENT: Karim Benzema may have taken the spotlight in the opening match against Honduras but the PSG creator is slowly emerging as an essential player in Les Bleus' side
By Robin Bairner in Fortaleza

Karim Benzema might have stolen the headlines with a double that helped France to start their World Cup campaign with a 3-0 win over Honduras, but the technician behind the victory was undoubtedly Yohan Cabaye.

The 28-year-old is looked upon with the highest level of admiration in England, where he truly came to the fore with Newcastle after making his name with Lille. But perhaps surprisingly, he is not recognised in such glowing terms in his homeland. That, however, is changing.

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Cabaye’s switch back to Ligue 1 in January, when Paris Saint-Germain paid Newcastle €24 million for his services, was greeted with modest pleasure by fans of the capital side. Though his opportunities with Laurent Blanc’s men would remain somewhat limited – he would start only nine league matches – there was evidence by the end of the campaign to suggest he will play a more central role next term.

When he made the move back to France, critics argued that his lack of playing action might affect his opportunity of playing for Les Bleus in Brazil. But Cabaye is not only in the squad, he is playing a vital role in Didier Deschamps’ system. No longer is he seen simply as a talented option; he is starting to be considered a bona fide star – as he was in England.

Just as with his club, Cabaye is asked to fulfil a deep-lying playmaking role for his national side. And he did so with aplomb against Honduras, completing 96 per cent of his passes and only erring when trying to make a couple of delicate through passes.

It was a performance that led to him being hailed at home as the national team’s new metronome, as the base from which France can launch their challenge for the World Cup.

A devout Christian – he has a tattoo of ‘Jesus’ on his right arm – he told Le Figaro that he does not want to display his faith overtly on the field. “I’d prefer that no one notices me,” he explained.

For years, this same discreet attitude could almost be applied to the midfielder’s play, but now its standard is simply impossible to ignore.

Described by Newcastle boss Alan Pardew as the “brain” of his team, Cabaye’s crucial role in the win over Honduras has been widely praised.

“He likes things to be done well, with extreme thought when he passes,” Yoann Gourcuff told Interior Sport. “You feel that he is very focused on what he is doing, and each time he touches the ball.”

“Cabaye changed everything – he was the man of the match,” Roma boss Rudy Garcia, who had a sometimes complicated relationship with the midfielder when the two were at Lille, stated in L’Equipe. “I particularly remember his pass for Karim Benzema’s second goal.”

Due to his quiet nature, which logically means a relatively low media profile, the PSG star is an unlikely candidate to graduate to superstar status in his homeland, but there is little doubt he is being dragged in that direction, whether he wants to be or not.

Thus far in Brazil, he has only served to enhance his quietly growing reputation.