This summer during the transfer window, So Foot returns every day of the week to a transfer that marked its time in its own way. For this 30th episode, flashback to 2006 and the hatching of Mathieu Valbuena, between Libourne and Marseille. Illustrious unknown, mocked for his physique and rarely taken seriously, the pocket winger arrives in a quagmire, caught in the cruelty of the professional world. Back on the deprogrammed route of a balloon revenge.
The mid-2000s were synonymous with a renaissance in Marseille. At the end of a catastrophic beginning of the millennium, mixing shenanigans and sporting decline, OM has effectively recovered its health. First by reaching a UEFA Cup final in the spring of 2004 (2-0 defeat against Valencia), then by building a team of big heads. The exploits of Taye Taiwo, Samir Nasri, Franck Ribéry or Mamadou Niang mark a generation of supporters. Soon, a new head will join this prestigious cast. But before being a legend, sometimes you have to suffer. This is why the 1er July 2006, OM announced the signing of a relative unknown, greeted with condescension and indifference: Mathieu Valbuena.
Spotted by Furlan, powered by Anigo
Seeing their rookie land at the Commanderie, the Marseille supporters did not hesitate to show their dissatisfaction. “José Anigo has recruited a dwarf!” » the most disappointed will laugh, disconcerted by the size of their new player. In search of a return to the Champions League since 2003, OM and its sports director could have been tempted by the recruitment of a high-sounding name. They prefer to confuse everyone by betting 800,000 euros on the best National player, 2005-2006 edition. Promoted to Ligue 2 with Libourne-Saint-Seurin, Valbuena signed his first professional contract with OM at the age of 21. “Mathieu has become the darling of the region in the space of a few monthsrecalls Simon Adoue, his former teammate in Libourne. He came from a small amateur club, but technically he was really monstrous. The same style as today. It was Jean-Marc Furlan who discovered him and brought him back to Libourne (left for Troyes a few days after the arrival of Valbuena, Furlan will be replaced by the late André Menaut, editor’s note). At first, the coach did not make him play too much with the A team, preferring to make him slowly increase in power, given his physical fragility. It was once Didier Tholot took over that Mathieu really exploded. »
Long before the spangles of OM, the passage to Libourne (2004-2006), in National therefore, already represents in a way a victory for Valbuena. It must be said that he has already come a long way. In the summer of 2003, the playmaker was at rock bottom. After ten years of training center at the Girondins de Bordeaux, the young man of 19 years is not kept. It is said that he was betrayed by a style of play deemed incompatible with the professional level, but above all (and implicitly) because of this damn incomplete physique (1.67m, 58 kg). After this Bordeaux failure, Valbuena left to recharge his batteries at Langon Castets, in CFA 2. Above the fray, the winger thus made a two-story leap by signing for Libourne. “The Jean-Antoine-Moueix stadium had become a landmark for recruiterscontinues Adoue. Between 2005 and 2006, there were easily five or six per match, and we knew full well that they were coming for Mathieu. Rennes and Lens were regularly present, but the fiercest was Marseille. Jean Fernandez even came personally several times to observe him. This tells you the interest that OM took in Mathieu. » Sensing a good shot, Anigo, in almost total anonymity, goes to look for his “little one” in Gironde for a transfer on the sly.
“The hazing of which Mathieu was the victim was far too long. » Jose Anigo
Nicknamed “Little Bike” by Modeste M’Bami
Hair pitted by strong fixing gel and exceptional vivacity, Mathieu Valbuena never goes unnoticed on a pitch. Nicknamed “Little Bike” by Modeste M’Bami upon his arrival (African expression, often used to designate a small build), the child from Bruges fights hard against the taunts of his playmates. In the lead, Samir Nasri. “Samir has a very strong personality. In a locker room, he can overshadow manydetailed Anigo in The Team. The hazing of which Mathieu was the victim was much too long. Attention, it is not only Samir who attacked Mathieu. Franck Ribéry and Habib Beye were also among the most teasing. They had put Dolpic in his boxer shorts, cut his socks or his pants, dumped his belongings in a swimming pool…” Jokes about an easy target, totally lost in this realm where egos and shows of force rule.
Lonely and victim of a lack of legitimacy, Valbuena is struggling to find his marks, he, the simple player of National. “When you’re parked and you want to get your car back, and you can’t see it anymore and you’re told it’s in the reserve parking lot with the windows open and newspaper in it, it’s hard to accept ” , narrated the interested party at RMC. Transferred to Marseille during the same summer window, Ronald Zubar then turns into a big brother, a protector in his spare time. “When Mathieu arrived in Marseille, it’s true that he suffered anyway. It must be said. We arrived at the same time and we hit it offconfirms the former defender to the New Observer. My role was a bit to protect him. I was already in the professional world, while he came from National and was a little lost in that. » For Simon Adoue, his friend’s strength of character allowed him to hold on: “Seeing him join Ligue 1 so quickly didn’t surprise me, because he was clearly too much above for the National, or even Ligue 2. It was more the choice of Marseille that took me a little aback. It’s a hot club, with strong characters, and Mathieu is not left out on this point. So these “clashes” were predictable. But not to this extent all the same. It was relentlessness. Certainly Nasri, the child of the city, saw in him a competitor and said to himself that he had to make dirt on him to keep him out of his way. » Despised in everyday life, Valbuena concentrates his forces on his only lifeline: the pitch. The beginning of the beginning.
The man of the big meetings
The banishment, by this locker room not very inclined to his signature, lasts despite everything for a while, as he confesses: “Sometimes I cried. I can put salt on your plate, I’ve done that before, but when it’s all the time… They did that to me because I was young, small and couldn’t defend myself. I was more vulnerable. I looked at them a little too much with glitter in my eyes. » Impressed, Valbuena finally became no less impressive, on May 19, 2007 at Geoffroy-Guichard, by offering a place in the Champions League to the Olympians, with an overpowering volley (1-2 win). Like a snub to fate.
After the time of bullying and revelation, the Girondin closes the festivities by swinging his last business card one evening in October of this joyous year 2007, in C1, under the splendor of Anfield. The missile sent into the skylight of Pepe Reina, for a historic success (0-1, OM’s only win against Liverpool to date)definitely launches the Marseille adventure of the new darling of the Vélodrome. “Mathieu never told me about his problems in the Marseille locker roomconcludes Adoue. I didn’t learn that until much later when reading his autobiography. But knowing his “proud” side, that doesn’t surprise me. On the contrary, he made this passage a strength, to forge his status as a great OM player. » Because eight years and 331 matches later, “Petit Vélo” has become a beautiful and solid engine, entering the heart of the North and South bends. Long before joining Lyon. But that is yet another story.
By Adel Bentaha
Words by Simon Adoue collected by AB.