"Always fantastic," according to former coach Carlo Ancelotti, Blaise Matuidi is currently enjoying the form of his life. "He has a full set of skills," says Paris Saint-Germain boss Laurent Blanc. "He's an extremely hard worker who thinks only about improving, improving and improving even more."
A vital cog in the French club's midfield engine room, the 26-year-old has likewise emerged as a key figure for his country, with France coach Didier Deschamps recently adding to the chorus of praise: "He's at the very highest level in terms of his influence on a game, his intensity and his constant running."
A tireless presence, Matuidi does much of his work behind the scenes, tearing around the pitch from start to finish and winning the ball back before laying it off to an unmarked team-mate. "That's my job – it's what I get paid for," says Matuidi himself, whose myriad nicknames include 'Marathon Man,' 'Chewing Gum', 'The Octopus' and 'The Grim Reaper'. "For me, that's just as important as getting an assist or scoring a goal."
Of course, the former Saint-Etienne player is no stranger to those higher profile tasks either. More forward-thinking this season, Matuidi has stepped up his overall impact on events, with his efforts helping France qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ and steering PSG closer to a historic treble of wins in Ligue 1, the French League Cup and the UEFA Champions League. FIFA.com met up with the midfield dynamo to discuss the various challenges ahead.
FIFA.com: Blaise, what could prevent PSG from retaining the French title at this stage?
Blaise Matuidi: Ourselves. It's true that with a 13-point lead and seven games to go (note: this interview was conducted before PSG faced Reims on Saturday), we are not very far from our goal. But we can't celebrate winning until it's all over mathematically. If we win our next two games, our job will almost be done.
PSG are also hoping to win the Champions League. Do you feel this team is capable of reigning supreme in Europe?
The eight teams sides left in the competition can all win the Champions League. Each of those clubs are among the leaders in their respective leagues, with Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Barcelona the big favourites. For me, Paris and Chelsea are on the same level just below that group. We'll focus on getting through this round and then we'll see in the semi-finals.
You have picked up a number of nicknames along the way, including 'Marathon Man', 'Chewing Gum' 'The Octopus' and 'The Grim Reaper'. Which of them makes you proudest?
I really like 'Marathon Man'. It shows that people notice I give everything on the pitch. I've always given everything I can, a little like a marathon runner. They're people who push themselves to the limit, so that's the nickname that gives me the most pleasure.
Is it a little frustrating to make fewer headlines than some of your team-mates?
That's my job – it's what I get paid for. For me, that's just as important as getting an assist or scoring a goal. Perhaps some people prefer to remember the goals, but others know there are players working hard in lower-profile roles who are just as important as a striker.
Most people agree that you have become indispensable for both PSG and France. Do you feel your status as a player has changed in the last few months?
We're aware that the team has stepped up a level, and if the team achieves a new standing then automatically you do as well. Looking at it from my side, I just try to stay on the same path. It's true that I feel good in the team and fit in well with this squad, plus the coach's playing style suits me. I try to do what he tells me and it's working out pretty well. I'll try to make sure that continues.
Do you feel like a first-team stalwart for Les Bleus?
I try to play my part like all 23 players in the France squad, though it gave me great pleasure to wear the armband last summer when Hugo [Lloris] didn't play. It showed that the coach trusts me and that perhaps he sees me as a key player. It's a huge honour.
Do you feel the France team is back on the right track for good?
I hope so, but we mustn't get carried away. We're aware of what we've achieved. We have a big tournament coming up and we're very happy to be taking part in it, but what gives us the most satisfaction is knowing people have put their faith in us again. That's what we're proudest of, even more so than the results.
How did it feel when you qualified for the World Cup?
The reason you play football is for moments like the one we experienced on 19 November last year – even if we don't end up winning the Trophy. It's because of emotions like that that we love this sport and feel so passionate about it. It was magical and almost beyond hope. We'd lost the first leg 2-0 and no team had ever come back from a two-goal deficit in the play-offs – and yet we did it. But deep down, we knew we were going to pull it off. You could see it in the players' eyes.
You also scored your first goal for France recently, and what a goal it was…
That gave me a lot of joy. To score my first France goal in my home city, Paris, at the Stade de France, and with my family in the stands – I couldn't have dreamed of anything better, even if it was a friendly. I'm not used to attempting that sort of volley, and I got teased a lot for it afterwards, especially by Zlatan [Ibrahimovic].
His reaction on Twitter was to write: "I saw your goal last night. Magnifique. You must have been watching Zlatan in training."
It's an honour to be congratulated by Zlatan. He's scored a fair few goals like that during his career. He's an exceptional player and to get praise from a player like him really made me happy.
Unlike you, of course, Ibrahimovic will not be going to the World Cup. Will you go into the tournament high on confidence?
Yes, but not too confident. Without being presumptuous or getting too carried away, we need to realise that we can do something in this competition. We've shown in the past that we can match even the biggest teams. It's true that for many of us this will be our first World Cup, but we'll be trying to achieve something special – you can be sure of that.