Former tyro Le Tallec enjoying maturity
'Things happen quickly in football' goes the old saying, and it resonates loudly when considering the career of Anthony Le Tallec. Once the eternal young hope of French football, the 2001 FIFA U-17 World Cup winner seemed to make the transition from fledgling star to seasoned veteran in the space of a few short years.
And he made another rapid switch this summer when he left Auxerre and their mid-table surroundings in Ligue 2 for Valenciennes in the upper reaches of France's elite division. FIFA.com sat down with the Hennebont native for an even quicker rundown of his ten years as a professional.
"I've changed a lot," he explained. "The Anthony you see today is very different from the Le Tallec who won the U-17 World Cup in 2001. I've got older in all the years since then and become more mature."
Above all, he credits the birth of his young daughter with having helped him progress. "Fatherhood means that you don't see things in the same way any more. Your priorities are no longer the same. My daughter gives me a boost; she's a source of motivation for me. I was happy in 2001, and today I'm fulfilled."
The Le Tallec smile has certainly remained unchanged, but the wispy, baby-faced forward who excelled in Trinidad and Tobago has since become a bulky striker standing 1.84m tall. Likewise, his talent is another constant, but he delivers fine performances with more regularity and wields a greater influence on the pitch.
He is nothing short of one of the most effective forwards in the French league, in fact, having struck nine goals this season - if you include his efforts for Auxerre in Ligue 2 before he joined top-flight Valenciennes. "It's simple," he said. "I'm 28 now and in the prime of my life. I give everything I can give, at a club where I'm able to express my abilities."
That was not always the case. Transferred from his first side Le Havre to Liverpool at the age of 18 in 2003, Le Tallec was never really given the chance to impose himself at Anfield. "I have no regrets. I got to know some very good players and a very big club. It was a superb experience."
No doubt, but upon further reflection he does wish things could have gone differently. "My sole regret is having asked Rafael Benitez to be loaned to Saint-Etienne in 2003," he added, conscious that his move to join Les Verts ended his spell with the Reds.
Even so, his time at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard brought its own positives, and it was there that he met his current coach at Valenciennes, Daniel Sanchez, then working as an assistant to Elie Baup. "He was able to see my potential," said Le Tallec. "He kept following me all these years. He's someone who appreciates me, I think. And that's reciprocal."
Indeed, Sanchez never lost sight of the marksman, despite seven years of up-and-down adventures at Sunderland, Sochaux, Le Mans and Auxerre. "He's a good recruit," explained the coach. "I knew him and knew he could bring us a lot. He's fitted in very easily and he's enjoying success, so let's make the most of it."
The northern club currently lie fifth in Ligue 1 and have impressed observers with a style of play both productive and attractive. "We're playing good, attacking, open football, and, for me, that's perfect," added Le Tallec. "I have a coach and president who have faith in me. It's a club that really suits me."
All the same, he is determined to keep his feet on the ground. "The club's objective is to secure our place in the league as quickly as possible. On an individual level, I'm aiming to get as many assists and goals as possible. I scored eight with Le Mans in 2009/10 and it would be good to beat that record."
Goals will also be key to fulfilling a more longstanding dream. Le Tallec registered 12 times in 36 outings for France's U-21 side, but he is yet to defend his country's colours at senior level. "Of course I have that in the back of my mind," he said.
"You always want to reach for higher and grander goals. It's made me happy to see my name mentioned recently as a potential France player. You always hope for that to some extent, but I don't stress about it. Things have to keep working out well for me at Valenciennes, and for the moment I think it's a bit too soon."
As for his ambition of one day turning out for Paris Saint-Germain, he feels it may be a little late. "That's always been a dream for me, without doubt, but I'm aware it will be a bit more difficult now that the Qatari owners have arrived. If they want a French striker down the road, though, I'm here."
Despite that hope, Le Tallec prefers to focus on the present as he continues his trajectory between his stellar first steps and an uncertain future: "I sometimes wonder why I haven't had the same career as Carlos Tevez or Fernando Torres, who I played against in 2001.
"I don't have the answer to that," he concluded. "How your career goes comes down to small details, but I don't have the impression that mine has been wasted. I'm still here and I haven't had my last say."