“Absolutely, with great pleasure. I’m just going to shoot a few hoops and then we'll do it.” With an hour and a half to go before the NBA game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Portland Trailblazers on 1 December, French basketball star Nicolas Batum has just agreed to be interviewed by FIFA.com.
On social networks, the player nicknamed Batman often espouses his love for football, as he did from his hotel that very morning, savouring Paris Saint-Germain’s resounding victory over Lyon.
A quarter of an hour of warm-up shots under his belt, the FIBA Eurobasket 2013 winner wandered over to the side of the court to share his thoughts with FIFA.com.
FIFA.com: Looking at the battle for the FIFA Ballon d’Or objectively, which player would get your vote?
Nicolas Batum: All things being equal, the trophy should definitely go to Franck Ribery. In my opinion, he’s the clear winner. Cristiano Ronaldo’s form over the last month has certainly opened up the race a bit, especially with his goals against Sweden. He’s been impressive, and when it comes to voting, it’s often recent achievements that leave the strongest impression. It all depends on the criteria. If the Ballon d’Or rewards what the players have done during season 2013/14, then Ronaldo could win it, but if it’s based on performances throughout the calendar year, Ribery becomes the favourite. When you look at the raw stats, Ronaldo is the frontrunner, but in terms of trophies and overall contribution to the team, it’s Ribery. He won a treble, after all. For me, the winner should be first and foremost the player who does the most to help his team to win. It’s the same in the NBA: the best player of the season should be part of the best team and in 2013, the most dominant team in Europe was Bayern Munich.
And so the way you see it, Lionel Messi’s reign is set to come to an end?
Well, he’s been injured and hasn’t had an amazing season, by his high standards. It’s got to the stage where if he’s not making our jaws drop like he usually does, then that gets noticed. I don’t think he’s going to get it this year. It’s between Ronaldo and Ribery, simple as that.
You talked about Bayern’s domination. What kind of impact do you think Ribery has had on the way in which they perform as a team?
He’s the creative fulcrum. While there’s no doubt that the entire team has been fantastic, be it Robben, who always pops up with a goal when they need it most, Muller, Gomez, Lahm, who’s such a tireless worker, and Schweinsteiger, who’s just outstanding. Even their goalkeeper, Neuer, could stake a claim for the Ballon d’Or! [Laughs] And then there’s Ribery, the playmaker; if the team were an orchestra, he’d be the lead violinist. In basketball, we’d say “Mr 20 points and 10 passes per match."
Where does your love for Paris Saint-Germain stem from?
I’ve always been more of a fan of Paris than Marseille, ever since I started following football. I also look out for Caen’s results, because I’m from near there, but I’ve got a particular affinity for PSG. I’m really pleased with the ambition that the club has been showing. It’s all very well criticising them about their money, but in top-level sport and even more so in global football, that’s how things work. Look at Real Madrid, Manchester United, Bayern and Barcelona – they didn’t get to where they are today without digging into their pockets. French people used to complain that we didn’t have a team capable of competing at European level and when one comes along and spends big to do just that, they’re still not happy. That’s a shame. Personally, I like their ambition because I want to see a French side win the UEFA Champions League. But they have to maintain their competitiveness; every year, when the talk turns to favourites for the tournament, PSG should always be in the running.
You’ve talked about the current PSG team, but at what point did you start to support the club?
I started to follow them after Ronaldinho’s arrival, really. When he signed for them, I began to watch their matches a bit more, at a time when I was taking a greater interest in football generally. They went through a real slump at one point, but they still had Pauleta, who scored some brilliant goals. When I look at PSG’s squad at the moment, I’d say that nobody in France will be able to get near them, with the possible exception of Monaco. But you need time to build a team, and Monaco are not playing in Europe this year. That makes it more difficult to persuade big names to join.
Can you understand that supporters sometimes find high transfer fees and player salaries unsavoury?
But that’s what enables them to watch the glamour matches they all love. And people forget that when we sportsmen are performing, we never think about that side of things. We just don’t care. We focus on the game, and the public shouldn’t forget that. There are all kinds of things on the periphery, like sponsors, contracts and TV rights. But as soon as the game starts, I can assure you we don’t think about those aspects for a second. We’re players above all – we live and breathe our sport.
What is the greatest memory you have as a football fan?
1998, always and forever. I was at home with my whole family. I’d imagine that every other French person would say the same; it was just such a magical moment.
And what about your dreams?
I suspect I might achieve them this summer. I’ve already booked a week in Brazil; it's the last week of the World Cup. The semi-finals and the final are the only matches that count for me. Watching the World Cup in Brazil – what more could you ask?