In search of a solid foundation since their debacle at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, France have found one in the shape of midfield bulwark Yann M’Vila, a 21-year-old with a wise head on his young shoulders.
“When you become a parent at the age of 18, it makes you responsible,” the father of two and stand-in Rennes captain told FIFA.com. “I decided at an early age I wasn’t going to waste any time, and it didn’t take me long to realise that I could mature more quickly by modelling myself on the older players right away.”
The new leader of France’s engine room, M’Vila has already been compared by his club coach to some of the most distinguished ball-winners in the game. Frederic Antonetti told Le Parisien: “There are few players in Europe as good as he is in that position. Yann is a combination of the great defensive midfielders. He reads the game like Claude Makelele, has the presence of Patrick Vieira and can pass the ball like Yaya Toure.”
M'Vila showcased the latter ability in the 2-0 UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying defeat of Luxembourg, a game in which he completed 124 passes out 134, a success rate of 92.5 per cent and the highest recorded by a France player for five years. M’Vila has also been setting the standard in Ligue 1, completing 100 passes in a December 2010 outing against Valenciennes - a record for last season.
Nevertheless, statistics reflect only part of his value to both club and country. “He amazes me every time I watch him,” said Antonetti. “He plays the game as if he were ten years older than he actually is. The way he controls the game is incredible, and you only have to tell him something once for him to understand it.”
His growing band of admirers also includes national team coach Laurent Blanc, who described the ever-improving M’Vila as “one of those players who’s hard to find in the France team” in an interview with Le Monde.
Of Congolese descent and born in Amiens, M’Vila has come a very long way since joining the Rennes youth academy at the age of 14. Quickly establishing himself as one of the country’s brightest prospects, he performed with distinction for Les Bleuets at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Korea 2007, and won the French U-18 title with his club in 2007 followed by the Coupe Gambardella in 2008, the first two of what he hopes will be many more trophies.
M’Vila has been a permanent fixture in the Rennes line-up since making his Ligue 1 debut in August 2009, the first of 33 appearances in a rookie season rich with promise. That potential quickly came to fruition in a 2010/11 that included his first league goal, scored against Arles-Avignon in January.
In the meantime, he forced his way on to Raymond Domenech’s 30-man shortlist for South Africa 2010, though his failure to make the final cut was ultimately a blessing in disguise, given the traumatic nature of France’s ill-starred campaign. International recognition would come soon enough in any case, and within just a few months of Blanc’s appointment, M’Vila had already become one of his midfield mainstays.
“I don’t see myself as one of the leaders of the France team,” he said, playing down his importance to the national cause. “I’m just another player, one who’s still learning his trade and who’s trying to do what he’s always done, which is to watch and keep on taking things in. That’s the first thing I’ve taken on board in my first few years as a professional. I’ve learned so much from being alongside players like Patrice Evra, Hugo Lloris, Cedric Carrasso and Alou Diarra. They’re the experienced guys, the ones who set the standard.”
That mature approach has also been a facet of his career choices to date, the highly valued M’Vila choosing to ignore the advances of wealthier clubs and continue his apprenticeship at the Stade de la Route de Lorient.
“Rennes is where I learned my football,” he said. “They’ve done a tremendous amount in giving me confidence and experience. Strangely enough, those are perhaps the things that Rennes need to break into the elite, although they’re making a lot of progress in that respect under Antonetti.”
Nonetheless, nobody at the club is under any illusions as to where M’Vila’s future lies, as his captain Kader Mangane explained: “He won’t be going in January, but he’ll be off to Arsenal or Real Madrid before too long.
“The top clubs are watching him closely and they can see he’s got the potential to become one of the best players in the world. He’s got fantastic ability. We see that every day in training.”
M'Vila commented: “I feel ready to leave now. I just don’t think it’s a good idea with EURO 2012 coming up. I’m proud, happy and above all relieved that we’ve reached the finals. Bosnia gave us a real fright in our last qualifier, but I think we’ve got a genuine chance at the EURO. We’re not going to Ukraine and Poland for the sightseeing, but to come back with the title.”