Lyon’s prospects looked tough at the start of the new season. New coach Remi Garde lacked experience, and the club had made few incursions into the transfer market. Having gone three seasons without a trophy, l’OL were seemingly slipping behind their domestic rivals.
Three months into the 2011/12 campaign and things are most definitely looking up for Les Gones. Comfortably installed near the top of Ligue 1, Lyon are still in the hunt for a place in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League and have won through to the quarter-finals of the French League Cup.
On top of all that, the seven-time French champions are playing some enterprising football, thanks in no small part to Michel Bastos, who is at the peak of his considerable powers. Now fully recovered from a thigh injury that had him sidelined for three weeks, the Brazilian is back to his very best, reproducing the form that made him an undisputed starter for A Seleçao at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. Currently out of the international fold following Mano Menezes’ appointment as national team coach, the multi-functional Bastos has not given up hope of a return to the line-up in time for Brazil 2014.
Setting out that goal and discussing a host of other subjects, including his new role at Lyon, his preferred playing position and the delights of his home country, the affable wide man spoke exclusively and at length to FIFA.com.
FIFA.com: Michel, there’s a lot of talk in France about Javier Pastore, Nene and Eden Hazard, but with the start you’ve made to the season some people might say you’re the best player in Ligue 1 right now.
Michel Bastos: (Laughs) I don’t know if I’m one of the best players, but I feel as if I’ve hit some very good form again. I’m feeling good and I think I’m helping my team, but Pastore is a more effective player if you ask me. He scores a lot of goals, plays a lot of decisive passes and I think he’s a more influential player. My aim’s not to be the best, but to perform as well as I possibly can and help my team. I’m happy with the way I’ve started the season and I hope it continues.
Lyon said this would be a season of transition, but do you think the club can set their sights higher now?
We weren’t trying to play things down, but we weren’t among the title favourites when the season started, and there were a few other clubs ahead of us. We know what we’ve got to do, though, and we’ve got what it takes to reach the very top. Our aim is to do our very best to stay in the hunt right to the end, and even though we’re not the favourites, it’s not always the favourite who wins. We’ve been tipped in the last couple of seasons or so and we not won anything.
You’re now one of the most experienced players in a team where quite a few young players have come in, some of them from the club’s youth academy. Is that a role you enjoy?
I’m 28 and I’m getting on, but I still like to have a laugh and bring a bit of life into the dressing room. With my age and experience, though, I have to set an example to the young ones, to the guys who were playing in the youth teams not so long ago and who looked up to the pros. I’m trying to help out as much as I can, and there are a few players in the team with a similar role to play, like Cris, Kim Kallstrom, Anthony Reveillere and Remy Vercoutre. They’re all there to set the highest standards through their actions and words, and it’s a role I enjoy and which gives me more responsibilities.
You joined Lyon when they were the best club in France and yet you still haven’t won anything with them. Is that frustrating for you?
I think I’ve brought them bad luck (laughs). I’ve not had the best of luck so far, but I know I’m in the right place. I’ve got what it takes to win titles and I’m with the right club, so I don’t see why we can’t do it this year. I really hope to win something because I know there’s an awful lot of quality in the team. That’s the frustrating thing! It’s not so much not winning things that annoys me, but the knowledge that we’ve got the capability and still don’t win. If we didn’t have what it takes, then I’d understand it and just accept that there are stronger teams around. But when you look at the team we’ve got, then you know we’re not making the most of our potential. And that hurts more.
You’re a left-footed player who’s played in every position down the left and, like Lionel Messi at Barcelona and Arjen Robben at Bayern Munich, quite a few times on the right. Do you enjoy playing on your 'wrong' side?
I change position a lot, that’s true, sometimes during games even. It all depends on the opposition, the tactics and how the match is going. I like to switch positions with the other forwards to try and catch our opponents off guard, and in some games my versatility and the way we switch things around have come in really handy. When I’m out on the right I try and come back on to my left foot to hit the ball or leave the flank open to the full-back behind me. When I’m on the other side I’ve got more options when it comes to linking up and getting crosses in. It just depends on the match and where I can help out the team the most, though I prefer to be in my natural position, out on the left.
Along with Cris and Ederson, you’re a member of Lyon’s latest generation of Brazilian players. What do you think you and fellow compatriots such as Sonny Anderson, Juninho, Claudio Cacapa, Fred and Nilmar have brought to the club?
Most of those players made a big impression here. More than anything else the Brazilians have brought a winning mentality to Lyon, the desire to make their mark on the history of the club. I want to do the same and achieve something big. The best example for me is Juninho, who won the lot here and who gave everything he could to make Lyon a big club. Most of the Brazilians who’ve come to Lyon have made an impact and that’s what I’m trying to do too.
Let’s talk about Brazil now. What memories do you have of breaking into the national team under Dunga and the year you spent in the side?
Happy ones! I was in the best form of my career. I played every time I was called up, I won a starting place in the team and I had the chance to play in the World Cup. And it’s not over yet. I’m working hard to get my place back, though I know it’s going to be tough because there’s a lot of competition. If I can put in some good performances with Lyon, then I might get back into A Seleçao. My dream was to play for the national team in the first place, and I’ve already achieved that, but it’s still an objective that’s there the back of my head.
You haven’t been called up since Mano Menezes took charge. Have you fallen out with him or something?
I saw him in Paris when Brazil played France in a friendly. He told me he had choices to make and had his ideas about the team and that if I wanted to get back in the side, then it would have to be in my current position, on the left wing. But if he asked me to play at left-back again, that wouldn’t bother me either because the important thing is to be in the side. He’s trying to get his team together right now and I respect the decisions he’s made, which have been the right ones so far. Everything can change, though, and quickly too. Andre Santos and Marcelo are ahead of me right now because they’re playing as genuine left-backs with their clubs, a position I haven’t played in since I came to France. But what I’d really like is to get a chance in my real position.
Looking back, over a year on, how do you explain Brazil’s quarter-final exit at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™?
Everything was going well until the second half against the Netherlands. We were looking pretty good up to that point and we played really well in the first half that day, the best we’d played all tournament. It’s impossible to explain what happened next though. We played badly and totally messed up in the second half. And we paid dearly for it. Looking back there were a lot of positive points along the way and one or two negative things, but the only thing people remember is that it didn’t work out.
On a personal level I just try and focus on the positive side and keep on improving. You need to look the facts in the face, though: I had a chance to be world champion and I didn’t take it. I’ve tried to learn the lessons of that setback and come back stronger, although being at the World Cup is something I’ll never forget.
The next FIFA World Cup is not far away and on home soil too. Presumably you’ll want to be there, just like every Brazilian player.
I know it won’t be easy because I’ll be 32 in 2014, and it’s not one of my objectives right now. Short-term, I’m focused on finally winning a title with Lyon and staying in the best possible form so I can have the best possible career. If that’s still the case in 2014 and I’m still in form, then it could happen. Everyone dreams of playing in the World Cup again, but it’s not my biggest career goal at this moment in time. And even if it is in the future, it’ll be tough because of my age. That said, I’m in the best physical shape I can be and on top of my game, and if that’s still the case in three years, then why not?
What can people expect when they go to Brazil in 2014?
If you’ve never been there, then the first thing you notice is how friendly people are. That’s what stands out for everyone the first time they go. Then there are all the clichés like the party atmosphere, the beaches, the pretty girls, samba and the football, though they’re still what Brazil is all about. That’s not bad for starters, and people should know that everything that’s said about Brazil is true. They’re going to get a great welcome and they’re going to enjoy everything that makes our country so beautiful. That’s what people are going to Brazil for, and what counts is that they come and have a good time. And we can definitely show them one.