Thuram battles complacency
uefa.coms Paddy Agnew
speaks to Juventus FCs French international defender Lilian
|Lilian Thuram is one of the
highest rated defenders in the world
It may only be coincidence that French international
Lilian Thuram was one of the illustrious names missing from
the Juventus FC side that lost 2-0 in Wednesday's UEFA Champions
League game away at RC Deportivo La Coruña.
A conspicuous absence
The decision by Juventus coach Marcello Lippi to rest Thuram,
given his side's crowded fixture list, may have resolved at
least one ongoing issue in the debate about a recent loss
of form - namely that, wherever Juventus's problems are to
be identified, Thuram is not the starting point.
Badly missed against Deportivo, Thuram is likely to be back
in the team for Juventus's next Champions League tie, away
to German title-chasers Bayer 04 Leverkusen. Despite beating
the German side 4-0 in Turin in December, Thuram was convinced
that the return leg will be no walkover, telling uefa.com:
"It is true that we beat Bayer Leverkusen 4-0 but that
game had been rescheduled twice because of fog and maybe the
Germans weren't in the right state of mind for such an important
Throughout this season, critics have argued that Thuram has
not performed to the best of his abilities with Juventus.
Apart from the obvious problems encountered in settling into
a new team - the 30-year-old moved from Parma AC for a €40m
fee last summer - the French international has been consistently
used at right-back rather than in central defence. Even if
fans all over the globe associate him with the right-back
berth, he freely admits that he prefers to play in the centre
of defence, which was his role at Parma.
A natural centre-back
"Throughout my career, I've always played as a central
defender," he said. "But the problem is that when
people think back to the last FIFA World Cup, they recall
me playing as a right-back and they think that is my position.
Here at Juventus, the coach has a squad and he's got to make
the best of it and he thinks that the most balanced lineup
is with me at right-back so that's OK, too."
As he looked forward to the rest of the Juventus season, he
refused to prioritise between the Serie A title battle and
the Champions League. Despite recent draws, Juventus are still
second in Serie A just one point behind joint leaders AS Roma
and Internazionale FC while a win against Leverkusen would
put them back on course for a quarter-final berth in the continental
competition: "Champions League or Serie A? When you're
a professional footballer, the important thing is to try and
win every match, to win every competition not to go picking
this or that," he explained.
Group One challenge
Whatever the rest of the league season holds in store for
Thuram, he knows that this could be yet another very special
summer for him as he takes his part in France's defence of
the World Cup in Korea/Japan. Looking forward to France's
first-round group which sees them face Senegal, Denmark and
Uruguay, he discounted the view that France might have had
an easy draw. The difficulties for France will begin with
the opening game against Senegal.
'France can be beaten'
"People who looked at our draw and suggested that we
had an easy opening game, simply don't know much about top-level
football," said Thuram. "Any team can beat another
- no side is certain of winning. France can be beaten, too
- we lost a recent friendly against Chile 2-1 so I know that
starting the competition against Senegal will be very difficult
"On top of that, the Senegalese players will really be
looking to play a big match against us because so many of
them have grown up in French football and now play in the
French league," he added. "Opening games are always
difficult, in any case."
Will to win
As world champions, France have not played a competitive game
in the last two years while the rest of their opponents at
the finals will have cut their teeth in qualification, but
Thuram believes that his side's two years of friendly internationals
have done nothing to dampen their will to win. "A side
like France know what to do when we're in a competition,"
he said. "Remember that we won the last World Cup in
France played only friendly games in the build-up."
Many critics argued that the winning French side of four years
ago was only one outstanding striker short of being one of
the all-time great sides. In the intervening years, forwards
such as Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet have come to prominence,
but Thuram was cautious about making too many claims for the
current French side.
'On paper means nothing'
"Maybe, we look stronger on paper but on paper means
nothing," he said. "Maybe we are stronger - our
reputation is certainly bigger - but that doesn't mean much.
People always say that we lacked a good striker at the last
World Cup but we still finished up with the best attack and
the best defence in the tournament so where was the problem?
It's true that we have some very good players, like Trezeguet,
Henry, Robert Pires and Sylvain Wiltord in attack, but we'll
have to wait and see how it all gels together at the finals."
Composure and authority
In person, Thuram displayed all of the composure and authority
that he has done on the pitch for so many seasons. He is not
a man for making rash statements, and despite playing in some
of the great football teams of modern times, he is well aware
that reputations on the football pitch are there only to be
'No one team that stands out'
Asked whether he thought France would win the World Cup this
summer, a sly grin slithered across his face. "At the
moment, it's difficult to say that one team is better than
another," he said. "Portugal, Italy, Brazil, Argentina,
and there are others I'm forgetting about, are all strong
but it's true that there's no one team that stands out head
and shoulders above the others. People say France could be
such a team but France are not unbeatable."
Thuram knows enough to understand that there are no certainties,
and that every game and every competition are another journey
into unknown territory. In June, he should join the French
squad as they head for Korea/Japan. He admitted that he knew
little about the atmosphere and climate in south-east Asia,
but as a seasoned professional he has proved 100 times that
he can rise to any occasion.
Expect the unexpected
"When it's a World Cup finals tournament, you take things
as they come," he smiled. It is a policy that has served
him well in the past, and one that could well see him taste
glory with France again.
This article is entitled from "Measured Trap making no
promises", taken from UEFA
Magazine. The images are not original.