With the transfer window open and the rumour mill going in to overdrive, a familiar name keeps cropping up in the gossip columns. Yann M’Vila, once one of the most sought after young midfielders in Europe who could cherry pick his next club, is now labelled as a temperamental bad boy who managers should steer clear of. Having been strongly linked with Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United over recent years, the latest stories are suggesting that Tottenham are looking to gazump QPR and bring hm to the lane.
Plying his trade in a country that has produced some of the finest midfielders to ever play the game means that lofty comparisons to former countrymen are inescapable, but given M’Vila’s technical and physical talent it is easy to see why expectations are so high. In terms of playing style he’s more of a Patrick Vieira than a Claude Makélélé, and like both of them it may not be until he leaves France that he really develops in to the player he was billed to become.
M’Vila’s demise is a disappointing but unfortunately an all too familiar story in modern day football; a young player of supreme talent with the world at his feet plagued by the tendency to get in to trouble and a fond of questionable extracurricular activities. Fewer things infuriate supporters more than a player with all the tools to become exceptional but who throws it all away, and that is the very real danger that faces the Rennes midfielder. From captaining Les Rouges et Noirs to being banished to the reserves, his stock has never been lower.
The warning signs were there when he was sent off in only his second professional start, but bar the odd reckless red card, his misdemeanours were mostly happening off-the-pitch. That was until these infractions started getting a bit more serious. Road rage, alleged assault, altercations with supporters were accusations that were levelled against M’Vila, but surprisingly it was his public snub of France coach, Laurent Blanc, and Olivier Giroud, when he was subbed off in the Euros that really put him in the doghouse. He was called before the French FA’s disciplinary committee and was given a warning about his future conduct, as well as being forced to publicly apologise.
Didier Deschamps replaced Blanc as the head coach of Les Bleus, and with him preferring more physical, holding players in his midfield, M’Vila was the ideal candidate to partner Yohan Cabaye in midfield. But Deschamps is yet to call him up to the national side. Instead, he was given a chance to redeem himself after being selected for the French U21 side by Erick Mombaerts selected M’Vila for the Euro 2013 qualifying play-off against Norway. This was the perfect occasion for him midfielder to use his experience and prove he had learned from his mistakes.
Things started off well. France won the home leg 1-0, and Mombaerts praised the Rennes star for his attitude and performance. Then, 24 hours after the first leg, M’Vila and four U21 teammates took a taxi from the training camp in Le Havre to Paris, a round-trip of well over 200 miles, for a night out. As they returned the next morning they were given a rollocking by the coaching staff, but were not sent home. The second leg was an unmitigated disaster. France lost 5-3 (5-4 on aggregate), missing out on next summer’s tournament, and Mombaerts resigned in the aftermath.
The night out was certainly not the sole reason for the defeat (which occurred three days afterwards), but it did not help, and with an example needing to be set, the FFF brought down the iron fist. The four other players who accompanied M’Vila on this night out - Wissam Ben Yedder, Antoine Griezmann, Chris Mavinga and M'baye Niang – were all suspended from international duty until 31 December 2013. For M’Vila, though, this was the straw that broke the camel’s back; he was banned until 30th June 2014, meaning he’d miss the 2014 World Cup in Brazil if France qualified.
This slump has continued in to this season, where he’s gone from being a mainstay in the Rennes side to often finding himself on the bench, and his form tailed off dramatically. But it is not too late for him to turn things around. At 22 he is still far from the finished article, and with Rennes likely willing to cash in on their unsettled star, whilst admitting they won’t receive the sort of fee they (now foolishly) rejected in the summer, there is the opportunity for a club to take a calculated gamble and offer M’Vila an olive branch, and the chance to start afresh.
Clubs like Arsenal and Newcastle have done a great job of exploiting the European market for value over recent years, and in the case of M’Vila there is yet another bargain to be had. Is it a risk? Yes, absolutely. But the potential upside makes it a risk worth taking for any club. This is one of the most talented midfielders of his generation, and whilst his talent my grant him more leeway than your average player, it would be foolish to give up on him so early in his career. The fee banded about in the press is around £8m, which, if true, would be an absolute steal, and if it doesn’t work out then the losses are not that bad.
If M’Vila gets his attitude right – and whilst it’s a concern, a change of scenery is just what he needs - he will improve any midfield in the league; he’s that good. If Manchester United were looking for the ideal midfielder, they’d be looking for someone like M’Vila; if Manchester City wanted someone to control their midfield and allow Yaya Touré the freedom to roam; they’d be looking for someone like M’Vila; Chelsea wanted someone to tighten up their midfield and allow Lampard to get forward, they’d be looking for someone like M’Vila; if Arsenal wanted to replace Alex Song, they’d be looking for someone like M’Vila.
If he does indeed move to England, this is the sort of signing that people will look back on and ask ‘why didn’t X club sign him instead?’ The clichéd arm-around-the-shoulder type manager may be what ‘Vila needs, but he just needs to grow up in an environment where the spotlight isn’t constantly thrust upon, and the Premier League is the perfect platform for him to prove he was worth all the hassle.