It is hard to overestimate the importance of Yoann Gourcuff to France. The Bordeaux midfielder is an essential component of coach Raymond Domenech’s plans for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, and his ability to direct midfield operations will be crucial to French hopes of success there.

Though still only 23, the midfield maestro is already putting together an impressive career, having turned out for Lorient, Rennes and AC Milan before taking his game to a new level since joining Bordeaux, helping them win the Ligue 1 crown in his first season. Having honed and refined his not inconsiderable skills in the process, he is now hoping to use them to spur France’s challenge at South Africa 2010, a task he elaborates on in an exclusive interview with

Disarmingly modest despite his prodigious talent, Gourcuff is relieved just to be in the finals after a taxing and problematic qualification campaign. “We were drawn into a really tough group and it wasn’t easy at all,” he says.

“Then came Republic of Ireland and everyone knows what happened there. But that’s football and we just have to move on from that. We are going to South Africa with our feet firmly on the ground, though that doesn’t mean to say we’re not motivated.”

About to embark on his first FIFA World Cup finals experience, Gourcuff will be not be lacking in motivation for what promises to be another stern test in the group phase. “It’s not an easy section by any means,” is his verdict on Group A.

“I don’t know so much about South Africa but I do know that Mexico are a very good side with some excellent players. And as for Uruguay, we played them at home not so long ago and they held us to a goalless draw. That says a lot about their quality.”

They are the most dangerous side in my view, though I believe we have the quality and the talent to beat them.

Yoann Gourcuff on the Mexican threat.

Asked as to which of the three poses the biggest threat, Gourcuff is quick to respond: “I think it’s Mexico. They’ve been in the elite for a long time now, they’ve played at virtually every World Cup and they’ve picked up some great results recently. They are the most dangerous side in my view, though I believe we have the quality and the talent to beat them.”

“Obviously everyone in France is expecting us to go through,” he continues, referring to the pressure that comes with representing Les Bleus at major tournaments. “We are expecting to go through too, but in modern football you can’t take anything for granted. We’re going to do the best we can and we hope to progress, and we know full well that if we don’t it will be a huge disappointment for everyone.”

Even after booking their place in the world finals, the French have had their fair share of problems to deal with, not least the steady stream of criticism that has come the way of coach Domenech. The Bleus boss has a staunch supporter in Gourcuff, however.

“We have a good relationship,” he explains. “I think he knows his job very well. He’s extremely professional, he’s a good analyser of games and he’s very clear when he explains what he wants from us. He’s been criticised a lot recently, especially in the way he expresses himself, but I can tell you that there’s no problem as far as we are concerned.”

The embattled coach will be hoping Gourcuff can hit his very best form in South Africa and produce the kind of sublime, visionary displays that have led many to compare him to another famous wearer of the France No10 jersey, one Zinedine Zidane. It is a comparison the unassuming midfielder is anxious to reject, however. “It’s crazy that people say that. He was the best player in the world and he dominated French football. I can’t take it seriously when people draw comparisons between us, but I admire him tremendously, of course I do. I’d love to be like him.”

One former player the Bordeaux boffin is happier to be likened to is his father Christian, currently the coach of high-flying Lorient. “There are definitely lots of similarities between us,” he concurs. “I used to watch him when I was growing up and although he was a more attacking player than I am, we both approach the game in the same way and we have the same style. That said, I’m the better player because he never made it into the national team (laughs).”

Before taking his leave, the likeable Gourcuff expresses his excitement at representing his country at South Africa 2010, a tournament that could see him do justice to those comparisons with Zizou. “It’s a real honour to be taking part. I’m still only 23 and it’ll be fantastic to discover what it’s all about and soak up the experience. I can’t wait for it to start.”