IN France’s opening press conference at the World Cup in Qatar, Adrien Rabiot said he was keen to shed his ‘bad boy’ image; his career having seen a series of bust-ups with players and coaches. His international career seemed over when he refused to be part of the stand-by list for the 2018 World Cup, which France won. But look how far he’s come now. Rabiot’s stock has risen since his recall for last year’s European Championships.
He’s been a key cog of Didier Deschamps’ side in their run to the quarter-finals; being the most experienced player available for France after injuries ruled out the influential Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante. And worries about France’s midfield axis being unable to gel in with the fearsome forward line have been emphatically dispelled.
With France taking on cross-channel rivals England on Saturday for a spot in the semi-finals, it was Rabiot who came for a news conference on Wednesday. Having translated his club form with Juventus to international level, Rabiot felt he’d never felt better before. “I’d say this is the best football period of my career,” he said. “It also comes from the fact that I’ve become more mature. I’m now more comfortable with my technical qualities.”
Rabiot proved his worth when he got two goals in France’s opening game against Australia. “Now I can focus more than before and move forward and be decisive in attack,” added the 27-year-old. “It makes me happy that I’ve scored and made assists. I’ve worked harder in training and today I’m a more complete player.”
Rabiot had a word of praise for his midfield partner Aurelien Tchouameni, who’s been very dependable sitting in front of France’s backline. “Aurelien has this role which compensates my runs forward, and allows me to play higher,” said Rabiot. “I don’t have to defend all the time and recover the ball since he’s there to ensure that the defence is covered and he brings the ball forward.”
Now, Rabiot expects a tough midfield battle with England. “Even if Tchouameni and I hadn’t played a lot before the World Cup, we have settled in and against an England side, which is strong in midfield, it will be a battle to play the balls to the forward line,” said Rabiot.
In Kylian Mbappe up front, France have the most exciting player at this World Cup. Mbappe lit up the tournament when he scored two stunning goals in France’s last-16 triumph against Australia but Rabiot said France were not dependent on the 23-year-old who has the opportunity to win the World Cup for the second time in his young career.
“There is no dependency,” said Rabiot. “He is our main weapon but we also have other players who can make a difference. “Kylian is impressive and from year to year, he evolves and becomes even better. I don’t know where it will stop. We are lucky to have him in our team and not against us. We just know that most of our goals will come from him as he can also deliver assists and our job is to put him in the best conditions for that.”
Centre-back Ibrahima Konate spoke before Rabiot at the news conference and he was looking forward to the battle between Mbappe and England right-back Kyle Walker. “Walker and Mbappe are two very great players,” said Konate. “Walker is one of the best right-backs in the world and I can’t wait to see this battle.”
Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2022