After making an excellent start to the season, Bordeaux midfielder Yoann Gourcuff is very firmly in the limelight. Not that the fans who have followed his progress since his Ligue 1 debut with Rennes on 7 February 2004 are too surprised about that, their early appraisals of the youngster having been confirmed by his sparkling performances for the French club, which have helped swell his army of admirers.
As is invariably the case with other French prodigies such as Samir Nasri, Hatem Ben Arfa and Karim Benzema before him, the 22 year old has been hailed from the stands as the successor to Zinedine Zidane's throne, a lofty comparison that his coach Laurent Blanc does not entirely dismiss.
"It's too early to compare him to Zinedine because he's only 22," comments the Bordeaux boss. "That said, the two of them have similar qualities. They bring others into play and help teams play better."
One man with a slightly different take on the situation is the midfielder's father, Christian Gourcuff, who is Blanc's opposite number at Lorient. "This comparison is just something the media like to play with and Yoann doesn't think about it all. He's an admirer of Zidane's but that's all."
While it is perhaps too early to describe Gourcuff as the new Zizou, there is little doubt the two have much in common, not least a similar physique and a host of technical attributes that allow them to drift from one flank to the other, pick out a team-mate in space or effect a graceful pirouette to avoid the attentions of a close marker. What is more, their career paths have also crossed, with Yoann spending time in Serie A before decamping to the banks of the Gironde, and Zidane moving in the opposite direction. The question is, do these shared characteristics give the kid from Brittany the credentials to take up Zidane's mantle?
From Rennes to Milan
Although still in his early 20s, Gourcuff has already built quite a career for himself. Sold by Rennes to AC Milan in 2006, he acquired valuable experience with the Italian giants over the following two seasons, and even though the first of them was marred by injury, he still totalled 21 league appearances.
Despite stronger competition for places in 2007/2008 restricting him to 15 games, Gourcuff was content with the progress he was making. "My performances were better, more consistent," says the man himself. "I felt more a part of things. I felt good. Even so I needed more time out on the pitch to keep progressing."
In the eyes of Blanc, his Italian sojourn was a vital learning curve. "It gave him the chance to assimilate and take on board all the requirements and demands of football at the highest level. That's going to help him for the rest of his career, particularly in terms of physical preparation."
The loan deal that saw Gourcuff move to Bordeaux in the summer has led to the first-team football he has been craving. And in the eyes of his father, the switch has paid off.
"I've seen a development, especially since the start of the season. Getting an extended run in the team has given Yoann more confidence and made him more effective. His increased maturity means he can analyse his performances better and that's something he's picked up from his time at AC Milan, where they really keep your feet on the ground."
The statistics back up what everyone has been saying. As well as a goal and three assists in eight Ligue 1 appearances so far this season, Gourcuff also scored his side's only goal in their two UEFA Champions League matches to date. Along with Marouane Chamakh, the youngster has been the French outfit's most impressive player this term.
Les Bleus come calling
To cap it all the U-19 European Championship winner has also embarked on his full international career, making his debut as a late substitute in the August friendly against Sweden. While the new boy did not even get a touch of the ball on that occasion, he saw more action in the 3-1 FIFA World Cup™ qualifying defeat to Austria on 6 September before starting and starring in the 2-1 win over Serbia four days later, setting up Nicolas Anelka's clinching goal and hitting the bar from distance.
Now that his son has arrived, Gourcuff Sr believes perseverance is the key to sustained success. "He needs to improve how he manages the good times and the lean spells and he needs to keep it simple when he finds himself in difficult situations on the pitch."
It is a view shared by Blanc. "The hardest part starts now. Yoann has to cement his position and become consistent in the seasons to come."