France begin their Group E campaign at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ on 15 June, when they take on Honduras in Porto Alegre, an occasion that all the country’s leading players are hoping to be a part of. Among those waiting expectantly for coach Didier Deschamps to announce his final 23-man squad is Bastia goalkeeper Mickael Landreau.
Speaking to FIFA.com about his World Cup hopes, he said: “Personally, I’m pretty relaxed about it because I’ve already been to one World Cup and a European Championship, and I know what it’s all about. If he doesn’t pick me, then obviously I’ll be disappointed, but if he does then I’ll know why. I know what I have to offer the team and the squad and what I can bring on the pitch. So it’s all pretty clear in my mind really.”
A fine exponent of his art, the 35-year-old custodian will respect whatever decision the national coach makes. It was Deschamps, after all, who brought Landreau back into the international fold after a two-year absence.
An understudy to Hugo Lloris and Steve Mandanda, Landreau has no doubt that Deschamps’ decisions are understood and respected: “I think he inspires confidence with the way he feels about things and looks at them. He has real authority and he’s earned that respect too. He’s someone who’s always united everyone around him, both as a player and a coach.”
Soon to be 35, Landreau possesses the selfsame exuberance and enthusiasm he had when he burst on to the scene as a teenager with Nantes back in 1996. A superb shotstopper and penalty-save specialist, he has since gone on to impress for Paris Saint-Germain, Lille and his current club, racking up match after match in that time and beating Jean Luc Ettori’s famous French league appearances record last December. On the international front, meanwhile, he has won 11 caps, the last of them coming in 2007.
“I’ve been the first-choice keeper at times, most notably in the qualifiers for UEFA EURO 2008,” he recalled. “I don’t have any regrets about it either. Being with the national team is totally different to being with a club. There are times when you might get frustrated, but the fact is that you’re representing your country and that means you have to do what you can for the team and set an example.”
France are strong outsiders. Expectations are so high at the World Cup and you need to soak the occasion up and handle it.
The perfect understudy
It was with that same sense of duty that he took part in Les Bleus’ campaign at Germany 2006, which saw them make the Final against Italy, an adventure he would like to experience again.
“Personally, whenever I go anywhere I always try and envisage doing the very best I can and I always give everything I have – if selected, of course,” he explained with a smile. “That’s what I did in 2006, when I went to the World Cup determined to fulfil my role to the best of my ability, even though there was quite a bit of tension between Fabien Barthez and Gregory Coupet. I adapt to whatever’s thrown at me, though.”
Fortunately, the relationship between Lloris and Mandanda seems to be a good deal more relaxed, as the veteran shotstopper explained: “There’s a lot of respect between them and they really understand each other’s role too. It’s not the same to be No1 as it is to be No2.
“I’ve known Steve for years and there’s a bit of a bond between us. He’s very intelligent and he is a real team player. He does everything he can to ensure the highest standards in training and to make sure that Hugo is in the best shape he can be.”
That healthy competition between the keepers reflects the new belief of a France side determined to atone for the disastrous showing at South Africa 2010.
“France are strong outsiders,” said Landreau, quietly talking up his country’s chances in Brazil. “Our opening match will be very important because there’s always a lot of pressure on you. Expectations are so high at the World Cup and you need to soak the occasion up and handle it. Then there’s the fact that you’re up against physically strong teams.
“That first match can either set you on your way or heap even more pressure on you. Everyone tends to underestimate Honduras, but I can tell you from experience that the first match is never easy. That’s why the coach is focusing on it so much in the build-up to the tournament.”