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Thuram : French Toast

World champion Lilian Thuram is a highly respected professional at Parma
Ask any coach who they would like as their right back, money no object, and you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn't choose Lilian Thuram. The star of World Cup '98, he has everything a coach would require from a full-back: pace, power, strength and tactical awareness that sets him apart from the rest. So it's no surprise that every year, the Parma defender is transfer target of all the big European clubs. Despite overtures from Real Madrid amongst others, Parma has effectively decided not to let its defensive jewel go. But time is running out for Thuram - if he's to win the big club prizes, a move this summer may be his only hope.

Two days before the friendly match against Portugal, Lilian Thuram is his usual calm self, in stark contrast with the flurry of speculation concerning his future. He prefers to concentrate on his season drawing to a close, on claiming fourth place in the Italian league and the all-important Champions League qualifying spot that comes with it.

France lost 2-1 in Spain - their first defeat since Euro 2000. What happened?

I didn't see the match against Spain. I only heard about it afterwards. Anyway, I don't believe that there was anything tragic in the result. We were playing against one of the best teams in Europe. People talked to me about the Spanish being aggressive, but that was normal, they were playing for their lives in that match. Every team is ultra-motivated against the French national side because we are the world reference. Against Germany that motivation was taken too far - we were subjected to gratuitous violence. The referee didn't protect the players or the game of football in that match. But losing a match is not always drama, since it often contributes to a team's education. It is what allows us to improve.

France will contest the Confederations Cup (30th May - 10th June in South Korea and Japan) without its key Italian and Spanish based players. Is this a problem?

It's always a good thing when a team is allowed to evolve without its usual members. The group must be enlarged to thrive. It is very important the young players, who show the same hunger we have, get their chance to learn in a competitive environment. The aim is not to renew 30, 50 or 60% of the team but to ensure that the squad is more competitive during the next World Cup - with or without integrating new elements.

Do you think you are capable of occupying the central defensive role for France, as you have been doing for Parma?

Everyone knows very well that I would prefer to play in the middle. But it's Roger Lemerre who decides. It's his role to evaluate what's best for the team.

Your manager has mooted the possibility of moving to a three-man defence. What's your opinion on that?

It is normal to question ourselves. Up to now the French team has achieved its victories by sticking to a tried and tested tactical philosophy. To change that system only a year from the World Cup could be dangerous. To win titles, a solid defensive base is paramount.

How do you look back on this season with Parma, for which you held such high ambitions?

Why deny it? Parma has endured a catastrophic year. We were aiming for the title - I really thought we were capable of winning it - but it was an illusion. We are not even sure of achieving the fourth place necessary to qualify for the Champions League and if we don't get there, I will be devastated. Even winning the Italian Cup would in no way compensate for the disappointment of this season. We have to be realistic. I have won a World Cup and a European Championship but the title has eluded me. There are all sorts of emotions in winning the Scudetto - never winning it is hard to accept. I confess too that I'm currently going through my worst period since I arrived in Italy.

Who do you predict will be the Italian champions?

I think that Roma will do it thanks to the points advantage they have conserved throughout the season. Roma is a great team made up of mature players who have grown together for several reasons. On the other hand there is no room for error because Juventus possess a winning culture.

As always, the big European clubs are showing interest in you. But Parma are staking a £25m price on your head. What can you add?

For the moment I am Parma player and I have four more years on my contract with the club. We will sit down and talk at the end of the season, but I have nothing more to say on the subject. My only current pre-occupation is to keep on playing football. It is true that I had great expectations with Parma. But the fact that I have won nothing will not kill me. If I have stayed a long time at this club it is because I believed that it was worth it. Finally, I'll remind you that I am not the only one to decide my future. I don't hold all the cards.

This article is entitled "French Toast", taken from Champions League, issue 15, 2001. The images are not original.