It takes quite something to replace the seemingly irreplaceable but Jeremy Toulalan is more than ready to do just that if France captain Patrick Vieira fails to prove he is fit enough for Euro 2008.
The Lyon defensive midfielder looks certain to start alongside Vieira's fellow veteran Claude Makelele in their Group C opener against Romania on Monday – and could well find himself there for the duration if the French medical staff decide the World Cup and Euro-winning Vieira will not make it.
However, 24-year-old Toulalan – whose 13 caps pales into comparison to the 105 of 31-year-old Vieira – believes that he has slowly erased the shyness that overcame him when he was earning his spurs in his early international days.
“I speak a bit more these days,” said Toulalan, who has been at Lyon for the past two seasons having previously been at Nantes.
“These days, I am now playing at Lyon and the season was a success both for me personally and for the team so it is easier to fit in when I join up with the national squad.”
Toulalan has certainly proved himself at Lyon – two titles in his first two seasons and a French Cup in the season just ended attest to that – which is no mean feat as he had to fill the gaps left by Mahamadou Diarra, who signed for Real Madrid, and of Portuguese international Tiago, who left for Juventus last summer for 13.6million euros.
However, he is now the undisputed energetic runner alongside the ageing legs of Brazilian playmaker Juninho and his indispensability to the side was no more better illustrated than when he was out with a knee injury in April as the seven-time champions form tailed off.
Chased remorselessly by Bordeaux they looked like they might slip up but on the return of Toulalan they rediscovered their poise and balance and eventually prevailed.
For his Lyon and France team-mate Sidney Govou Toulalan's qualities are evidently different from those of Vieira's but still bring something to the party.
“When he was absent injured at the end of the season it made things very complicated for us,” said Govou.
“He had an outstanding season at Lyon. Every one in the French set-up knows it.
“If he replaces 'Pat', he will enjoy the confidence of everyone, 100percent.
“Vieira and Toulalan haven't the same qualities nor the same physique.
“'Pat' is more offensively inclined. But 'Toul' runs everywhere and covers every blade of grass, it is incredibly impressive. With regard to the rest of the squad, it is reassuring and he has enough experience to enjoy this moment.”
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