Make a list of the star players appearing at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Turkey 2013 and the likes of Paul Pogba, Florian Thauvin, Gerard Deulofeu, Jese and Oliver are all sure to appear. Two players who are unlikely to figure in most people’s selections, however, are Dimitri Foulquier and Javier Manquillo, respective right-backs for France and Spain. Nevertheless, both have slowly but surely become key players for their sides.
Standing 6’0 tall and blessed with lightning pace, the Guadeloupe-raised Foulquier made 17 first-team appearances for Rennes last season, while the 5’11 Manquillo is every bit as fast as his French counterpart and enjoyed three first-team outings with Atletico Madrid in the 2012/13 season and 29 with the reserves.
The pair have quietly been making their mark for club and country, negotiating considerable obstacles in the process. When asked why he switched from Real Madrid to arch-rivals Atletico earlier in his fledgling career, the defender said there were “several reasons”.
He went on to explain that when Los Merengues released his twin brother Victor, he decided to leave with him. An inseparable duo, the Manquillo brothers then made their way across the city to Atleti.
The story of Foulquier’s life began in Paris and continued in Guadeloupe, where he was raised before making a solo journey to drizzly Rennes at the age of 14 to join Stade Rennais’ training academy.
Explaining that he would never have left the Caribbean island had it not been for football, the single-minded full-back said: “Obviously it was hard for me at the start. Life in Guadeloupe is not the same as in Rennes and I missed my friends and family. At the end of the day, though, it all worked out for me.”
The two defenders share the same relaxed approach to life and the same robust sense of humour, products perhaps of the hurdles they have had to overcome. They also have their feet firmly on the ground.
While the Spaniard has always been a full-back, the Frenchman started out as an attacking midfielder. They share the same desire to bomb over the halfway line at every opportunity, though it remains to be seen whether they will get the chance to do that when Spain face France in Istanbul on Thursday.
Pondering that possibility, Manquillo, who rates his opposite number highly, said: “I think I’ll get my chances. Our game is based on possession and it will definitely be a battle with France for control of the ball. I do think there will be occasions when I can get forward, though.”
“Teams who let us play give us more opportunities to go on the attack,” explained the adopted son of Rennes. “In any case it all depends on how the match unfolds. I never go out and say, ‘Today I’m going to push forward’. You have to wait and see what kind of shape the game takes.”
The two right-backs have already shown at Turkey 2013 just how accomplished they are when they join the attack. The Frenchman stormed forward to win a penalty in Monday’s 1-1 draw with USA, while the Spaniard found himself in a one-on-one against the keeper in his side’s defeat of the Americans.
“Ah, that,” said Manquillo, in reference to the aforementioned opening. “I had a good chance against the US and I made a bit of a mess of it (laughs). There’s no point in looking back, though, and I hope to get other chances in front of goal soon.”
An admirer of Lilian Thuram, one of Guadeloupe’s most famous sons, Foulquier said he has not given any thought to how he might celebrate a goal: “Like Lilian in the 1998 World Cup semi-final? Oh, I don’t know about that,” he said, as if to do such a thing would be a crime.
Taking a back seat
Neither seems remotely concerned about muscling their way into the media spotlight, something Manquillo knows a thing or two about, having played alongside Oliver Torres’ at Atletico for many years. Far from being envious of his colleague’s higher profile, the full-back is grateful to consider him a friend: “I’m lucky because I’ve known Oliver for a long time and that helps us understand each other better on the pitch.”
France have their own starlets in Pogba and Thauvin, of whom Foulquier had this to say: “They deserve the praise they get in the media and I don’t have a problem with that. I’m relaxed. I do my job on the pitch, I try to give my all in each game and things are going well for me. I don’t need to be in the headlines.”
In the headlines or not, the two players have a big test ahead of them on Thursday. Playing down any talk of group leaders Spain being the favourites to win the game, the Colchonero defender said: “There’s no question it’s going to be a tough match, but the key thing for us will be to play our game. That’s the only way we’ll win it. France’s main asset is their power, and we’ll need to try and contain them as much as we can.”
As for Foulquier and Les Bleuets, memories of their penalty shoot-out defeat to the Spanish at last year’s UEFA European Under-19 Championship are still fresh in the memory: “Yes, we want a little bit of revenge for that match, though it is only a group game. If both sides get through, we could well meet up again later on.”