FourFourTwo’s Andy Mitten talks to the Bordeaux and France midfield maestro...
What’s your earliest World Cup memory? I can remember the tournament in 1994, but my strongest memories are from France 1998.
Like every Frenchman, I remember the final between Brazil and France. Brazil had a very impressive team on paper, a really fearsome team, but the French team won the final 3-0.
Those two lovely goals from Zinedine Zidane, added magic to the World Cup - everybody remembers them.
Zidane fuelled the imagination of every French person with his excellent technique and the way that he controlled and dominated the ball.
Do you have a favourite Zidane goal? Yes, one goal which absolutely stunned me was in the 2006 final against Italy when he did a ‘panenka’ [chipped penalty kick] five minutes into the World Cup final.
I never saw that coming from him, not at all, especially as it was his last ever match.
You really need some guts to do that in a World Cup Final and in your last international match too. That goal really stood out to me because it was surprising. But he pulled it off, so hats off to him. It’s amazing what he achieved.
France struggled in qualifying for South Africa. We did, but I think that’s actually a good thing. The adversity and criticism we received means that we are going to be even more together as a team. We went through some difficult times but we hope that’s in the past.
The coach Raymond Domenech divides opinion in France, how do you find him to work with? I like him. He is very good at preparing us by studying the other teams and analysing their tactics. I have confidence in him.
What do you know about your World Cup group opponents? We played a friendly match against Uruguay [at Stade de France in November 2008] and drew 0-0. They’re a pretty tough opponent. They are quite aggressive on the ball and very physical. They gave us a hard time. They have a strong defence, but they also have two attackers who can make a difference, Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez.
Forlan can score goals from lots of different positions and strikes the ball with great power. He can score instinctively too. He’s a dangerous player.
You'll also face the hosts South Africa... To have a stadium full of your own supporters is a major asset. The players will pick up on the support and it will give them more energy and they will benefit from the euphoria.
We need to be really careful against South Africa. The gap between the bigger teams and the smaller teams has closed considerably in recent years and now the smaller teams are capable of beating bigger teams – and France know that well.
The other team in our group are Mexico. They also have some special players and we have to be careful, but I am confident.
France won the World Cup in 1998 and reached the final in 2006. What’s the secret to doing well? You need top quality players. You need a balance as a team, with everyone working towards a common goal.
Is it right that Brazil and Spain are favourites to win the World Cup? Yes, they are favourites for a good reason. They are the two teams playing the finest football in the world. I really enjoy watching the Spanish in particular, but both teams have individuals who are capable of making a difference in the game.
What do you think of the England team? When you look at them one by one, England have a lot of players with great individual talents - it’s a really impressive team. It’s just a case of them trying to reach some kind of harmony and make a team who are a real collective, who collaborate with each other.
They have a new coach, an Italian, who is bound to introduce a different mindset in term of tactics.
Was your brief spell at AC Milan a worthwhile experience? I was very young, just 19, when I went from a small French club (Rennes) to one of the biggest clubs in the world.
I had never lived abroad before so it was difficult for me to adapt in a country where I did not speak the language. I was alone and it was difficult, but I began to integrate and I learned a lot. I’m happy that I went to Milan because it helped make me the player that I am.
You’re from a very sporting family… My mother was a basketball player and my father a footballer. He’s been a manager in France for a long time and is with Lorient in Ligue 1.
It was always good for me to speak to my father for advice, both as a footballer and a father. I played for Bordeaux against my father’s team twice this season. I find that quite stressful because I want to win for my team, but don’t want my family to lose.
Interview: June 2010.