Not too long ago, Serge Aurier was a name unfamiliar to most football fans outside France, but the defender is now being tipped as a potential 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ star. FIFA.com spoke to the Côte d’Ivoire defender, who is about to embark on his first international tournament with the Elephants.
Long before the 21-year-old became an international footballer, he was a fan and fondly remembers watching his national team participate in previous World Cup finals. "I followed the World Cups in 2006 and 2010. I was their number one supporter then. I was disappointed that they were drawn into such difficult groups, with teams that were very highly placed in the FIFA rankings.
"Back then, I could not imagine that I would play at the World Cup finals in 2014. I had my ups and downs, and I needed to work hard to give a new life to my career. Today I find myself amongst the Elephants with world-class players. I can only be proud of myself. It is a reward for all the efforts to get back to my best level, even if I did think that it would take more time.”
Becoming an Elephant
Fittingly, the right-back played his first game for the Elephants in a World Cup qualifier against Gambia last year and has been a regular feature in the side since then. He is now close to emulating the players that he supported years ago.
"Every player dreams of playing at a World Cup. The fact that the 2014 tournament takes place in Brazil, the country of football, makes it all the more exciting and beautiful. Probably we will have that opportunity only once in our lives. So you have to live the experience with passion, trying to make the most of it and defending your colours as best as you can.
“There are so many good Brazilian defenders, like Cafu or Dani Alves. But even more than those two, my Brazilian idol is Roberto Carlos, even if he played on the left side. He was quick, powerful, explosive, with a fierce shot. He was the archetypical modern full-back, which made me dream of playing like him."
"Today I find myself amongst the Elephants with world class players. I can only be proud of myself."
He admits that it took a while for him to establish himself in the national team, even if he was playing regularly. “ At first, people in Côte d’Ivoire just wondered who I was, they had never really seen me play. I had to show I was playing in a good European club. I knew that I would get them on my side if I played well for the national team. I think I won them over and today I feel better when I play in the national jersey, I feel the way people look at me has changed. I am pleased with that."
Why not further?
Aurier said he was looking forward to playing at his first World Cup. After being drawn into the brutal groups in their two previous appearances, the Elephants are with Japan, Greece and Colombia in Group C, this time around. “This is a group within our reach. But it will not be easy. Côte d’Ivoire was used to being seeded into the 'Groups of Death'. Being in a more balanced group is motivating.”
Aurier believes that experienced players who represented their country in 2006 and 2010 will be particularly eager to hide the ghosts of their past. “They will have the desire to give their best and take their revenge on the past. There is ample room to make it to the last 16 and why not go further?"
Born in Ouragahio, Aurier came to France at an early age and joined Lens, where he moved through the youth ranks, together with his younger brother Christopher. He played his first professional game in 2009, when he had just turned 17. However, he struggled to get much game time in Lens and moved to Toulouse during the winter break of the 2011/12 season.
He soon established himself as a regular in the side and has not looked back since. The 21-year-old had an outstanding season domestically and his coach Alain Casanova already rates him as the best right-back in France. Aurier is a versatile player, who feels equally at home playing defensive midfield or central defender as he does playing right-back.
He scored six goals this season, but thinks it could have been even more. “My coach this season knew where I wanted to play: on the right side. I had the chance to go up the wing. I played well, scored and gave assists. I took my responsibilities. I could have done even better because there were games where I was not at my best.”
If Aurier, who is being linked with a move to Arsenal as a replacement for Bacary Sagna, is at his best in Brazil, it could well be that he will be playing his club football in north London after the World Cup.