While the production line at Nantes’ youth academy is nothing like as prolific as it was a decade ago, the finished articles that emerge at the other end are of the highest quality. Jeremy Toulalan falls into this category. Born and schooled in Nantes, he debuted for his local club in 2001. Little by little, he began to make the position of defensive midfielder his own, giving the impression at times that he was carrying the entire team. There appeared to be some substance to this assertion, as it was following his departure to Lyon in the summer of 2006 that Nantes dropped down a division to Ligue 2.
At Stade Gerland, he immediately became one of the club’s most valuable assets, in spite of initially being brought in as back-up for Mahamadou Diarra. The Malian’s sudden transfer to Real Madrid turned the former Canari into a first-team regular almost overnight. A tireless workhorse throughout each 90 minutes, constantly picking up loose balls and building from the back with sensible passing, he quickly eclipsed his predecessor in the eyes of the fans, driving Lyon to two consecutive league titles in 2007 and 2008.
His domestic performances were soon rewarded by international recognition, coming in the form of a first appearance in French colours against the Faroe Islands in October 2006. Toulalan swiftly became a mainstay of his country’s national side too, cutting an authoritative figure on the pitch, despite his timid nature off it. The fulcrum of coach Raymond Domenech’s defensive formation, he would cover astonishing distances during matches, intercepting ball after ball. His understanding with Real Madrid’s Lassana Diarra during the qualifying campaign for the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ was one of the contributing factors to France’s successful results.
The 2009/10 season was one in which Toulalan would reveal a hidden talent, when an injury crisis at Lyon forced him into providing emergency cover at the back. A revelation in central defence, be it in the UEFA Champions League or in the French league, this extra facet to the Lyon midfielder’s game has no doubt offered some comfort to his international coach, who now knows he has this extra option to call upon should the need arise. Of course, the downside to this Plan B is that France would have to go without his essential services in midfield.