Bordeaux and France playmaker Yoann Gourcuff is a firm believer in good football, a cherished principle handed down to him by his father Christian, the coach of Ligue 1 side Lorient.
Those values have helped Gourcuff Jr become a central part of a France side preparing to face off with Republic of Ireland for a place at South Africa 2010.
And as FIFA.com found out at the French training camp at Clairefontaine, the silky midfielder has no intention of relinquishing his belief in attractive football when Les Bleus take on the hard-running Irish in the two-legged decider.
FIFA.com: Yoann, the squad have just got together. How are things going?
Yoann Gourcuff: Everything has gone fine so far. We’re all happy to see each other. On Monday evening we went to the Paris Masters tennis tournament and we really switched off, which was a good way to start the training camp. From now on, though, the pressure will start to increase little by little.
Are you aware that this week is one of the most important in the history of French football?
We can sense the expectation and there are more people around us than usual. It’s the only thing people are talking about (smiles). As for the players, we haven’t had time to talk about the games yet, but we’ll get round to that.
The first leg takes place at Croke Park, Dublin, something of a “green cauldron”. How are you approaching the game?
First and foremost they are a quality side, they didn’t lose a single game in a group that also featured world champions Italy. You have to respect their strength. They also play a British-style game so we’ll be expecting lots of commitment and intensity. On top of all that the atmosphere is sure to be fantastic. The fans over there usually inspire the players to play above themselves.
The atmosphere at St Denis will be just as electric as at Croke Park and I hope our supporters can push us all the way to South Africa.
These are the kind of games you dream about when you become a professional footballer, aren’t they?
Yes, they are fantastic occasions. What we need to do now is make sure we don’t let the stakes affect the way we play or let the game just pass us by. It’s important that we prepare ourselves physically and mentally. That’s the only way we’ll be able to play our game and come away from Ireland with a good result.
What do you think is the best way to counter the physical threat posed by the Irish: to meet them head on or rely more on your technical ability?
What we have to do more than anything else is just play our game. Physical battles are part of football and we can’t avoid them. If we are going to impose our style, we need to win as many of them as possible.
Does the fact there are only a few days between the first and second legs make much of a difference to your preparations?
We went through something similar at the end of March against Lithuania (France won both games 1-0), though they weren’t play-off games of course. It doesn’t make a lot of difference to be honest, although both sides will know each other pretty well come 11 o’clock on Saturday night. All the same, they’re going to be two very different matches and it would be a mistake to start thinking about next Wednesday’s game before we’ve got Saturday’s out of the way.
You mentioned the atmosphere in Ireland. What kind of support are you expecting from your fans at the Stade de France?
We’ve heard that the tickets went like hot cakes and that the 80,000 seats were sold out in three hours. That just goes to show the expectation these play-offs are generating. The atmosphere at St Denis will be just as electric as at Croke Park and I hope our supporters can push us all the way to South Africa.
One last question. You made your international debut barely a year ago. How do you feel about your amazing rise to prominence?
I try not to think about it too much. The only thing that matters to me is enjoying myself. I’m just happy to be a part of the squad and if I’m given the chance to get out there and play, then the least I can do is to try my hardest. I just try to blend in with the rest of the team and play good passes to my team-mates.
You talk a lot about enjoyment and playing good football in your interviews, two things that seem important to you. How important do you think they will be in two very tense play-off-matches?
We really need to avoid becoming obsessed about the stakes, and I’ll say it again: the only way we can achieve something is by playing our own game.
Do you think there is a chance France might go out?
No. That’s out of the question.