Selecting a starting XI from a squad sparkling with world-class talent is enough to tax even the finest of coaches, but for a young player, breaking into such a line-up can prove even harder. That has been the mission facing Jonathan Biabiany this season, and although inexperience counts against him, the 22-year-old is beginning to prove his worth in the Inter Milan ranks.
Brought into the first-team equation in summer 2010, the youngster suddenly found himself in the same dressing room as, among other global celebrities, Lucio, Javier Zanetti, Esteben Cambiasso, Wesley Sneijder and Samuel Eto'o. The French forward has nevertheless shown the potential to suggest he can soar as high as those illustrious names, and just five months after returning to the club can already pride himself on having won the Italian Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup. Better still, Biabiany chose the final of the latter competition to register his first goal for I Nerazzurri, rounding off the scoring in a 3-0 victory over TP Mazembe.
“I never could have imagined being here and winning such an important trophy a few months ago,” he told FIFA.com after the Abu Dhabi showpiece on 18 December. “What’s more, I scored my first goal for Inter in a World Cup final. This has been one of the greatest days of my life and I’m proud to have shared it with my team-mates.”
It is a measure of how far Biabiany has come that three years ago he was asking those same team-mates for autographs. Born in Paris, the player with Guadeloupian roots took his first steps in the game around the playing fields of the French capital until his abilities caught the eye of Inter scouts during a youth tournament. Still only 16, he packed his bags for Lombardy in 2004 and made a quick impression in his new surroundings, forming an explosive partnership with Mario Balotelli in the club’s youth set-up.
Balotelli made his first-team breakthrough under Roberto Mancini, but his colleague had to wait longer for his chance, appearing just once under the former Sampdoria and Lazio forward, in 2006, when he replaced Luis Figo during a Coppa Italia quarter-final. Despite the lack of opportunities, the France U-21 international looks back fondly on his early days at the club. “I have nothing but good memories of my education here,” he said. “Before I left I got to train with the first team, but to really progress I had to gain experience at other clubs.”
Chievo became Biabiany’s first port of call for a loan spell at the start of the 2007/08 campaign, yet he failed to make a single appearance and was farmed out to Modena in January 2008. The move proved a success and the modest Serie B side twice staved off the threat of relegation during his 18 months at the club, thanks in part to the Parisian's nine strikes in 55 outings. Able to operate as a centre-forward or on the wings, Biabiany took another significant step on loan at Parma in 2009/10, helping the top-flight newcomers seal an impressive eighth-place finish. Biabiany’s six goals in 26 games played their part, and they also served notice to Inter that their developing young talent was perhaps ready to fulfil his promise.
"President [Massimo] Moratti and coach Rafael Benitez were counting on me, and my goal was always to play in Serie A with Inter,” explained the No88, now taking instructions from Leonardo following his recent assumption of the Nerazzurri reins. “I’ve adapted well here, I’m getting time on the pitch and I’m improving every day thanks to being around great players.”
No player has proved more influential for Biabiany than Eto’o, the Cameroonian ace having taken his fellow attacker under his wing since the summer. “He speaks to me all the time and I watch to see every move he makes,” said Biabiany. “I follow his example and he’s my tutor on the pitch. If anyone knows how to score goals, fit into a side and make sacrifices for the team, it’s him. If you’re going to learn, you might as well learn from the best.”
His playing time may have diminished since his return to the San Siro, but Biabiany still feels he is moving in the direction, conscious of how difficult it is to cement a starting berth with so much competition for places. “When you get to train seven times a week next to Eto’o, Zanetti and Wesley Sneijder, that more than makes up for the experience you’d get in the first team of a less prestigious Serie A side,” he said. “I’m happy to be in the front row to learn more, although holding down a regular place remains my target – as is scoring more goals. Now I’ve opened my account, I hope to get at least seven goals and do even better next year.”
These are exciting times for Biabiany and he admits to feeling a buzz every time he sees his name on the same team-sheet as his world-renowned colleagues. All the same, his feet remain firmly on the ground and he has no illusions about the work that lies ahead if he is to make his dreams come true.
“Every time I get a chance to go out on the pitch, I want to show that I deserve my place at this club and that I can aim higher,” he declared. With such elevated ambitions, who knows how far he can reach?