Algeria fans were fearing the worst last week when news came through that Mourad Meghni had been ruled out of South Africa 2010 due to a knee injury. Deprived of the Lazio man’s playmaking skills, the Desert Foxes’ campaign seemed to be in jeopardy before it had even begun.
Fortunately for the north Africans, they have a ready-made replacement in the form of young Ryad Boudebouz. Currently with the rest of the Algeria squad at their training camp in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, Boudebouz is anxiously waiting to see whether coach Rabah Saadane will give him the job of setting Algeria’s tempo in the world finals.
“I want to be more than just a member of the group,” the motivated midfield man tells FIFA.com. “I want to play and contribute. I know what I can do in the playmaker position just behind the strikers. The coach hasn’t exactly selected me for my defensive qualities. He knows I don't like defending [laughs].”
Under the microscope
Speaking with the confidence you would expect of a carefree 20-year-old, 'Debza', as he is known, is sure he will make the final 23-man squad, claiming he has already been told as much by Saadane.
“It’s hard to take all this in,” he adds, still trying to come to terms with the prospect of appearing at his maiden FIFA World Cup™ finals just a few weeks after his first international call-up. “When I saw the reaction of my family it really brought it home to me how big this all is. The phone hasn’t stopped ringing at my mum and dad’s house. Whatever happens I’m still going to be the baby of the family though. I’m not a star.”
Born in Colmar, western France, to Algerian parents, Boudebouz has progressed quickly since helping the Sochaux U-19 team win the Coupe Gambardella in May 2007. He made his professional debut for Les Lionceaux in October 2008, scoring his first Ligue 1 goal just a month later. Since then he has played nearly 60 matches in the French top flight, scoring ten goals in all. “I’ve been playing with the first team for less than two years now so I’m not getting ahead of myself,” he continues. “All I know is that I'm heading in the right direction.”
Proof of that came last Friday when, just four months after deciding he wanted to play for Algeria, the former French U-17 and U-19 international started on the bench in their opening South Africa 2010 warm-up match against Republic of Ireland. Coming on for his international debut after 67 minutes with his side already trailing by two goals, Boudebouz could do nothing to stop the Irish running out comfortable 3-0 winners, though he did have the satisfaction of being his side’s most impressive performer on the night.
A goal to remember
As well as an accomplished No10, the young Algerian can also play on either flank and in a slightly deeper role, where he can bring his distribution skills and vision to bear, not to mention his set-piece abilities.
Boudebouz showed just how well he can strike a ball in a French League Cup tie against Monaco last season. Seizing on a loose clearance by the Monaco keeper, Boudebouz coolly powered the ball back towards goal from fully 50 yards out, his first-time shot sailing into the top corner.
That kind of impishness could certainly prove useful for Algeria when they take on England, USA and Slovenia in Group C. And though the north Africans are not expected to take one of the top two places in the section, Boudebouz is more than ready to defy expectations and fulfil both his dreams and those of a nation.
“Although I was only eight at the time, I can remember the France 98 Final between Les Bleus and Brazil very clearly,” he recalls with a glint in his eye. “I remember swearing to myself that one day I would be out there on the pitch.” Such has been Boudebouz' determination that his childhood ambition may soon become a reality.