Valbuena aware he has big shoes to fill
Mathieu Valbuena is conscious that following in the footsteps of Michel Platini and Zinedine Zidane as the French national team's creative hub is "a big responsibility".
Valbuena, 28, has developed into an integral part of Didier Deschamps' squad, with the France coach often employing a 4-2-3-1 formation in which the midfielder fills the No. 10 role previously occupied by Zidane and Platini.
The Marseille man is relishing the opportunity but says he acknowledges the weight of French football history in which the position is steeped.
"It's a big responsibility. It's a heavy burden to shoulder being No. 10 in France. I'm proud to be in the national side. To play as the No. 10 is great, and means a great deal to me. In recent games, things have gone well and I always try to fulfil the role as well as possible," Valbuena said, adding there is still work to do in improving his stats of three goals in 19 international appearances.
"At Marseille or in the national team, I play in a central position. What they want from me is to play a role in helping the team score. Where I have to improve is in scoring goals myself. In terms of assists, it's okay. But if I could score as many goals as I set up, that would be better. It's the aspect of my game I have to improve on to continue my progression."
Valbuena's rise from Bordeaux reject to France linchpin has been far from linear. Deschamps once told his now-guaranteed starter that his future lay elsewhere rather than at the Stade Velodrome when first appointed Marseille boss in 2009.
Having changed Deschamps' mind at club level, Valbuena did not quite manage to do the same with Laurent Blanc, who took him to Euro 2012 only to leave the player frustrated as he kicked his heels on the bench.
"When I've been called on, things have generally gone well. I've had some disappointments, such as not playing a single minute at the Euros," he said. "It's difficult to accept, but that's how it is. I got back down to work. Didier Deschamps plays me through the middle, and it works rather well. It's up to me to continue along my way, and work with humility and determination, and it should work out."
While Deschamps is likely to adopt his favoured formation for next Tuesday's Group I clash with Spain, the encounter with Georgia this Friday is expected to see him adopt a 4-4-2 strategy that will see Valbuena exiled to the right flank. It will also afford an opportunity to experiment in partnering Olivier Giroud with Karim Benzema in attack, a duo rarely used together to date.
"Karim, whether he's alone or in a partnership, is a goalscorer. He's scoring less at the minute, but he's still a great player. In terms of them going well together, they need time," Valbuena said. "I think they're very capable of building an understanding, and their role will be very important against a compact team like Georgia. They can do great things together. I hope that on Friday they'll use all their quality out on the pitch."
Valbuena's praise will come as comfort to Benzema, who has been heavily criticised as much for his failure to sing the national anthem prior to kick-off as his goalscoring drought for Les Bleus, which stretches back to last June.
"It's not that if you don't sing La Marseillaise, you don't love the French team," Valbuena said. "Each to his own. Everyone is free to do as they see fit. I can assure you that all of those who wear the national team shirt are 100% focussed and determined."