Like a good wine, Christophe Jallet just gets better with age. Indeed, since his first professional outings with Niort in 2003, the 29-year-old, from Cognac in the south-west of France, has improved year on year to become one of the best defenders in the country.
Jallet now finds himself a key figure at Paris Saint-Germain and recently won his first international cap for France, scoring on his debut in a 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014™ qualifier against Belarus in August. The former Lorient man has had a sip of success, and now he wants to start quaffing titles.
“You should be proud of what you achieve, for sure, but perhaps I’ll be a bit prouder of my own achievements once I’ve finished playing,” Jallet told FIFA.com as he reflected on his professional journey to date. “At the moment it’s not really sinking in. I’m trying to take things day by day.”
The son of a winemaker, Jallet originally dreamed of becoming an oenologist but twice narrowly missed out on obtaining the necessary diploma. Fortunately, his hard work and efforts to succeed as a professional footballer have proven to be much more fruitful.
From little-known forward to infallible fullback
Jallet began his senior career with Ligue 2 side Niort in 2003, before stepping up to Ligue 1 to play for Lorient from 2006 to '09. From there he joined another top-flight outfit, Paris Saint-Germain, where he is now enjoying life in the UEFA Champions League.
It has been onwards and upwards for Jallet’s career since those early days. On the pitch, however, it has been more a case of backwards and sideways. Indeed, having starting out as a forward, the Frenchman dropped back into midfield before becoming, as PSG coach Carlo Ancelotti described him, “the best right-back in France.”
Jallet said: “It’s easier to listen to a compliment like that than it is to take criticism. It’s obviously nice to hear. Afterwards, you try your best to return the favour.”
A right-sided defender by trade, Jallet is a lively presence on the flank and has earned admiration for his strong tackling and pin-point crossing. His PSG team-mate, Salvatore Sirigu, described him as “a very good player” and “a pillar of the team: a senior player with a lot of charisma who is always ready to help his team-mates.”
Those qualities earned Jallet the captain’s armband at the start of the season, and he seems to have taken the responsibility in his stride. “Being captain at PSG is no more difficult than being captain anywhere else,” he said. “There’s nothing dark or unusual about it: it’s about being a mediator. It just means you have a bit more responsibility towards the group.”
The PSG squad in question is full of stars, including, among others, Thiago Silva and Ezequiel Lavezzi. But, with ten goals in ten Ligue 1 outings, there is one man in particular who stands out from the pack.
“He’s a top-class player,” Jallet said of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. “Playing alongside him is both an honour and a pleasure. It’s also an extra source of motivation, and something that helps all the players around him to improve.”
Jallet’s own competition for a place in the side comes in the shape of Gregory van der Wiel, a FIFA World Cup runner-up with Netherlands in 2010, who joined PSG in the summer. “Competition [for places] pushes you to better yourself,” he explained. “And the more good players we have in our group, the better chance we’ll have of winning titles.”
PSG made several big-name signings in the summer, and Jallet hopes those players will help deliver plenty of champagne-popping moments for the club this season:
“It’s true that we have quite a large squad, and some players obviously get a bit less playing time than others. But that’s how it is at the big clubs and we’re working together to win as many titles as possible this year.”
“As far as the Ligue 1 title is concerned, we [the PSG players] will be our own biggest rivals this year. If we can improve our performances, we will make it possible.”
Feet on the ground
Jallet, for his part, does not see himself as one of the stars at PSG: “I’m just a simple footballer trying to do my job as well as possible – just like any other professional in any other line of work. It’s true that we [footballers] get more media exposure than other people, but that’s all.”
“Being an international player has not changed my life,” said the newly capped French star. “It gives me fewer days at home, but it’s a great pleasure because it’s something you always hope for when you’re a player. The most important thing now is to make sure I stay there, because once you’ve tasted international football you don’t want to give it up.”
Now nearly 30, Jallet has finally come of age. And, if he continues in his current vein, 2013 may just turn out to be a vintage year for both PSG and Les Bleus.