The 2009/10 season was undisputedly Florent Malouda's most successful in club football. He scored a personal best 15 goals, and helped Chelsea win the Premier League and FA Cup. It was yet more evidence that, while the winger might not enjoy a particularly high media profile, he invariably establishes himself as a key player at each new team he joins.
Since leaving Guingamp, where he had formed a powerful partnership with Didier Drogba, the Breton club have been relegated twice, and will start next season in France’s third tier. After his time at Lyon came to an end, the six-time French champions struggled to remain in contention, watching from afar as first Bordeaux then Marseille secured league titles. When Malouda was part of France’s starting line-up, they reached the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™ Final. Since finding himself on his country’s bench, he has had to watch his compatriots make extremely hard work of a South Africa 2010 qualifying group that should have, on paper, proved a little easier than it turned out. Many would argue that all this is no simple coincidence.
“He is fantastic,” stated his manager Carlo Ancelotti following the Blues’ historic league and cup double. Drogba added: “He has put in a tremendous season." The 29-year-old is now looking to carry his excellent recent form in England over to the pitches of South Africa, as he confirmed in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com after Chelsea’s FA Cup triumph at Wembley.
FIFA.com: Florent, the 2009/10 season was a triumphant one for Chelsea, with the first league and cup double in the club’s history. How did you find it?
Florent Malouda: People kept saying to us that winning the double is pretty rare in English football. It's great that we did it. A double is also a first for me. I lost the 2007 League Cup final with Lyon against Bordeaux, while we were reigning French champions. It was disappointing, so today I’m very happy. I hope that it marks the start of a new era for Chelsea.
On a personal level, it has been an impressive season too. Would you say that it’s your best yet?
Yes, I’ve had a very good year. I have taken on more responsibilities within the team, in attack as well as in defence, especially towards the end of the season. During our last three matches, I played in midfield, but a little bit deeper. I can tell from the way players like John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba relate to me that they have confidence in me. My team-mates rely on me a bit more now. This is something that I have wanted to happen since my arrival here, and I’m delighted.
And those same team-mates voted you Chelsea’s Player of the Year – that must have pleased you.
It’s a great honour. I’m very proud, because it’s the players and staff that decide – they’re the best possible judging panel.
What do you put this added recognition down to? Did your strong personality play a role?
No, it’s just human nature. It took time for certain relationships to build. As far as my performances on the pitch are concerned, every player experiences times like that in their careers. It’s just like when you do well at school; it’s once you obtain good exam results that you gain confidence. That’s how you lay the foundations for future success. It’s been like that in all the clubs I’ve played for, be it at Guingamp or at Lyon. Now, at Chelsea, I’m one of the team’s leaders. When I have something to say, people listen.
Are you willing to play in a holding midfield role for France?
(Laughs) It’s the only thing people want to talk to me about these days. I gave it a try during EURO 2008, and what happened then doesn’t motivate me to relive the experience. When the team’s winning, people will always say that it works, but when the opposite occurs, as it did back then, I ended up with a target on my back. It’s not really a position in which I enjoy playing. I’m aware that my versatility is an asset, but I can express myself better in other areas of the pitch. I know that I have more to offer – I’m primarily attack-minded, after all. I don’t particularly want to be labeled as an exclusively defensive player.
That would be unfair, especially in view of the year you’ve had in front of goal, the most prolific of your career.
It’s because I’ve been playing further up the pitch. Returning to a 4-3-3 formation at the turn of the year allowed me to get back to what I do best.
With Chelsea’s double-winning season and your own fine form, are you now able to approach the FIFA World Cup with confidence?
Of course. Especially when I remember what happened in 2006 – prior to that tournament, I’d also celebrated all week with Lyon! When it came down to it, we took France on a great run. But it was much more difficult from a physical and psychological point of view, due to the fact that beforehand I’d spent an hour being operated on, under anaesthetic.
At the beginning of the year, there was talk of Thierry Henry or Franck Ribery playing on the left for France. Your excellent performances in this area of the pitch this season could be the ideal solution.
I don’t know if it’s changed anything, it’s not for me to debate that kind of thing. My job is to simply play football. But it’s possible that playing at Chelsea has raised my profile. Of course, the main reason for that is the success the club has had. And Chelsea is not your run-of-the-mill football club.
What are your thoughts on the fact that neither Patrick Vieira, Karim Benzema nor Samir Nasri were included in Raymond Domenech’s initial 30-man squad?
It’s difficult to say, I imagine that they’re very disappointed. But now, for those that are part of the group, it’s time to get serious, to take responsibility. There is a lot of work to do, and I can assure you that we have no intention of turning up at the World Cup with our heads down. We’re going to South Africa to win. When you have the good fortune to win trophies at club level, as was the case this season with Chelsea, you want to replicate that with your national team. I’m ambitious, there’s no denying it. Nico (Anelka) and I would love to relive our recent successes, but with France this time.