At 28 years of age, Yohan Cabaye finds himself on the verge of competing in his first-ever FIFA World Cup™ with France.
The Paris Saint-Germain midfielder took time out from Les Bleus’ ongoing preparations at Clairefontaine national football centre to chat exclusively with FIFA.com about switching from the English Premier League to Ligue 1, his relationship with Blaise Matuidi and Paul Pogba in the French midfield, and his expectations at Brazil 2014.
When you left Newcastle United for Paris Saint-Germain in January, were you concerned about getting enough playing time with the FIFA World Cup just around the corner?
It’s quite unusual for a coach to actually promise you a certain amount of playing time. I knew that I was joining a great team, and in every great team there are lots of players competing for places – it’s just something you have to accept. That’s what I was looking for. If I wasn’t interested in a competitive environment and simply wanted to play in every match, I would have stayed at Newcastle, with all due respect. I was keen to join a big club, to play in the Champions League again and to be involved in title races, because that’s important for a footballer. Those are the factors behind my decision to move to Paris Saint-Germain in January. I was well aware that I wasn’t assured of playing every game and that I’d need to fight for my place.
Can you describe what it’s like to be surrounded by players such as Thiago Motta, Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic on a daily basis?
Those particular players know what they want - they’re here to win. Despite the trophies they’ve lifted and the impressive careers they’ve had, they’re always extremely focused in training and ready to put in the necessary work to be at the top of their game. They’re powerful role models for the rest of the squad. That’s another reason why, right from the start, I decided to concentrate on the positive aspects of my transfer.
Where were you when Didier Deschamps lifted the World Cup on 12 July 1998?
I was on holiday on the south coast of France with all of my family. We followed the team’s progress from there, right up to the final. It never crossed my mind at the time that later in life I would have the chance to play in the World Cup. I was 12, and I’d just joined Lille’s youth academy – when I watched France win, I started dreaming of playing for them one day. I must have seen the Les yeux dans les Bleus documentary about France’s victory in 1998 about 50 or 60 times. In fact, I watched it again just recently. I like documentary films, and what I like most about that one is that the French win at the end [smiles].
We communicate with each other brilliantly, and we’re not afraid to keep the ball between the three of us, interchanging in tight spaces to start off an attack.
What makes the midfield trio of you, Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi so successful?
We get on well on the pitch. We’re able to find each other easily, and our jobs are clearly defined. I have a more defensive role that the other two; I stay in front of the defence and cover for the full-backs when they go forward. Another task of mine is to remind one of my fellow midfielders to either remain alongside me or to support the attack. They both like to get forward, so it’s the ideal arrangement. They finish off moves, score goals, get back quickly and regain possession. We communicate with each other brilliantly, and we’re not afraid to keep the ball between the three of us, interchanging in tight spaces to start off an attack.
Given that you enjoy taking shots at goal, do you sometimes get frustrated with having to hang back?
I’m never frustrated about being out on the pitch. On the contrary, I’m delighted, and I’m gradually adapting to a position that I’ve not played all that often at club level. I like being at the origin of our attacks and running hard to win the ball back. I enjoy the role, and Blaise, Paul and I continue to work together to improve and make things even more automatic between us.
Paul Pogba has collected an array of plaudits over the past couple of seasons.
I’m not surprised by how he’s been playing. He has incredible quality for one so young, and bags of self-confidence – sometimes mistaken for arrogance – which enables him to do some pretty remarkable things. He’s also very good about being brought back on track when he wanders off the rails – in the eyes of his coach in Italy, that is. The fact that he’s in Juventus’ starting line-up proves that he’s a high-quality player and that he deserves to be there.
Returning to the World Cup, is there a danger of France underestimating their Group E opponents: Honduras, Ecuador and Switzerland?
The draw could have been worse, but we know that we can’t get too carried away, because the competition is going to be difficult. The tricky thing is that we don’t really know much about Honduras and Ecuador to be totally honest. But we have huge respect for them. We’re confident about our abilities, but we’ll need to play with great determination and focus, demonstrating the same mindset we’ve had during our last few matches. The most important thing is negotiating our opening match with Honduras. That’s easy to say, but what happens on the pitch can sometimes be completely different. We’re aware that nothing will be easy.
Your victory in the second leg of the play-off over Ukraine, which qualified France for Brazil 2014, seems to have had a significant mental effect on the team. How can that comeback win help France in the future?
We had our backs up against the wall. We all hoped that we could pull off a 3-0 home win after losing the first leg 2-0, but there were a lot of doubts. But when we got back to Clairefontaine after the defeat, you could tell that we were up for the fight. We were eager to show that what had happened in Kiev was just a blip, and to prove that our desire to go to Brazil was stronger than theirs. In the second leg, we headed out onto the pitch ready to tear up trees. We managed to pull off the result we needed, and it had a real impact. It gave us a huge confidence boost and made subsequent national squad gatherings much more enjoyable. We’re all extremely happy to be a part of it and we’re ready to battle for each other. We want to project a positive image of France. Make no mistake, the Ukraine match was very important.
Do you think people are underestimating France in the run-up to the World Cup?
No, because our results over the past few years have not been good enough – everyone realises that. We don’t deserve to be viewed differently. It’s up to us to change the way people look at us by performing well on the pitch. In football, things change quickly. If we get two good wins at the start, we’ll be seen as one of the best teams there, but one bad one result and we’ll be labelled one of the worst. We know that, though – it comes with the territory and we just have to accept it. The key for us is to remain focused on what we need to do.
Away from football, what are your main interests?
I tend to read a lot of biographies of people that I’d like to know more about. They’re often about sporting figures. At the moment I’m reading a book about Phil Jackson, the legendary NBA coach. Aside from that, I’m very religious. I read the Bible and pray every day; morning, noon and night. I also read theology-related books to round off my knowledge. It’s very personal, something that I hardly ever talk to my team-mates about, but it’s important to me and I’m glad that I’ve been able to take advantage of quiet moments in my room here in Clairefontaine to dedicate some time to it. I plan on doing the same in Brazil.