Makelele: Zlatan has the right ingredients
© AFP

Chelsea last crossed paths with Paris Saint-Germain in 2004, when a star-studded Blues line-up took on a PSG team operating with far more meagre resources. The sides drew 0-0 at Stamford Bridge, but it was the comfortable 3-0 success for the English outfit in France a few months previously that really caught the eye.

Claude Makelele reigned supreme in midfield for Chelsea that night, yet the former French international will be desperate for a different outcome when the two clubs lock horns again in this evening's UEFA Champions League quarter-final opener. Makelele now serves as an assistant to PSG coach Laurent Blanc, having ended his playing days while at the Parc des Princes in 2011, just as Les Rouge et Bleu were about to become a genuine European force.

In his pomp, Makelele was the archetypal holding player, a model held up for his positioning, ball-winning skills and reliability as a conveyor belt between defence and attack. FIFA.com met up with the man capped 71 times by France at the Annual Match against Poverty last month, where he was more than willing to discuss the finer points of his old midfield role and his modern successors, plus his switch to coaching, PSG's exciting new era, Les Bleus and his involvement in charity activities.

FIFA.com: PSG have an exceptional player in their ranks in Zlatan Ibrahimovic. You yourself played with various world-class talents, but have you been surprised by the quality of his performances?
Claude Makelele: No, I'm not surprised by what Zlatan is doing at the moment. He's a competitor and a great player who wants to win titles. He always wants to improve; he wants to surpass what he achieved at other great clubs and he's doing everything to make that happen. You don't need to say anything to a player like that – he's the one who carries the others along with him, leading them to new heights. Sometimes you have to speak to certain players to inject a little confidence, but Ibrahimovic doesn't need that. He has all the right ingredients already.

How are you finding life in the dugout, so soon after being involved in games like this as a player?
From the bench, I can see what's happening quicker. I'm able to predict what will happen – I know in advance. I went through it all as a player thousands of times, and that's given me an acute sense of how a situation will turn out. I can feel what's about to happen on the pitch. When I was a player, I couldn't really explain it; I just 'lived' the moment. Now, it's my role to explain, analyse and, above all, communicate.

It looks to me like Les Bleus are in good shape. It's as if they've been 'cured'. They're aware now of the qualities they have.
Claude Makelele on the current France team.



You had a vital and often underrated role in your teams as a holding midfielder. Who in this PSG team is closest to the kind of player you were?
The example I know well, because I coach him at PSG, is Blaise Matuidi. In that position, you have to put your personal ambitions to one side because it's a very special role. In the France team, there is a huge amount of talent in that position: Yohan Cabaye is improving all the time, and I've already mentioned Matuidi. They're lads who don't have a huge amount of experience yet but who've already understood what it takes to play in their position on the pitch. They need to communicate that to the others very calmly. It's a thankless post, where a lot gets asked of you and you mustn't expect anything back.

Still, it must be a little frustrating to have your efforts often go unrecognised.
In a team, everyone has their role. Everyone needs to know what they have to do to make the team function better and make the balance perfect. Once you accept that, you can commit yourself a hundredfold with huge enthusiasm. You have to love that position to play there because, otherwise, it won't work out. But if you do, you can really enjoy it – it's a role that gives you a lot of satisfaction. I think Blaise has all those qualities, that tenacity, even if he can still improve. I want to push him even more to improve because I think he can become one of the best midfielders in the world, full stop.

What are your thoughts on the state of the France team in the run-up to the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™?
It looks to me like Les Bleus are in good shape. It's as if they've been 'cured'. They're aware now of the qualities they have. I'm not talking about individuals but the team as a whole – they've realised their strength, and in a big tournament that's the most important thing. You need a core to the squad and solidarity between the players. That's the basis, and they've understood that. I have no doubts about the quality of this squad and I even think they could surprise people.

France will not be among the favourites in Brazil, just as little was expected of them at Germany 2006. Will that give them an advantage?
I don't know if you can compare the two. In 2006, three of us had just come back into the team at the last minute: Zinedine Zidane, Lilian Thuram and myself. Those late returns didn't cause tension or anything like that because what mattered for all of us in the squad was the idea of the France team itself, which was a special feeling. I think this generation has got that as well. If they've grasped that, it'll give them incredible strength in Brazil. Reaching the final in 2006 was thanks to that little extra spirit we had. That's what made it possible for each individual to shine. If you want to go all the way in this kind of tournament, that's absolutely necessary.

When someone mentions Brazil to you, what does it bring to mind?
Brazil is football. I think about samba, great technique, stepovers. I see goals, joy, spectacle, fun. For Brazilians, playing is above all a pleasure. It's something you hear a lot when you speak to them and that's great.

You took part in the Annual Match against Poverty organised by Ronaldo and Zidane to help the Philippines. Is participating in events like this important to you?
It's important for every player. You get to see each other again, and for a good cause. I've always given a lot. What Ronaldo and Zidane are doing is exceptional: it opens people's eyes to a specific issue, in this case the Philippines, and that allows people to see footballers in a different light. It's not always easy for us players to explain ourselves. This match is quite simply the best way to get things done.

Do you think it is essential for players and ex-players to get involved in broader issues?  
We have an important role with regards to the world of football in general, and towards youngsters in particular. Because of the media scrutiny our sport comes under sometimes, people forget that we are human beings, that we have feelings and that we do things for the people close to us and also for different causes. Football players often get involved to help people in difficult situations. It doesn't get talked about much and that's a shame. In my own case, I take part in several charity activities, especially in Africa because that's where my roots are.

When did you realise it was time to retire as a footballer?  
I realised when I started acting like a coach on the pitch. I was giving instructions and trying to reposition everyone. I'd tell one player to calm down and another one to defend in order to hold onto a result, and as a result I was no longer fulfilling my role as a player who gave everything. That's when I understood it was time to pass on the baton. You can't do everything, and actually I don't really miss being on the pitch. It's a bit crazy because I thought it'd be very difficult, but as I found myself in the dugout very soon afterwards I guess the change wasn't too extreme.  

What did you do immediately after deciding to hang up your boots?
The day afterwards, I went on holiday. It was a good way of marking the end but, even so, I remember that I was still thinking about football. I was wondering what I'd do; if I'd start coaching immediately or if I'd take a year off. I couldn't do that, though, because football is my whole life.