A technically gifted, goal scoring, hardworking and loyal footballer doesn't come along every day. In Benjamin Bourigeaud, Stade Rennais have themselves exactly one of those! He sat down with the Ligue 1 Show's Matt Spiro to talk about his 'quiet achiever' status, his work ethic and rise to prominence.
Since joining the Breton club, Benjamin Bourigeaud's impressive - but unrecognised - performances have seen him become widely regarded as the most underrated player in France.
'I just try to do my job'
So… is that a compliment or a source of frustration?
"It's a bit of both," smiled the affable 29-year-old. "It gives me a boost to hear people saying that, but those are just people's opinions. Some people like Messi, others Ronaldo... you can't change them. Maybe I'm an underrated player but I just try to do my job as best I can."
Bourigeaud's consistency is astonishing: since arriving in Rennes in the summer of 2017, he has missed just nine league games in what has been a golden period for the Brittany club.
After deciding to fend off transfer interest last summer - further cementing his legendary status at Roazhon Park in the process - the midfielder passed the 200-game mark in Ligue 1 Uber Eats earlier this season.
"Of course having a long top-flight career is not always easy but I wanted to remain faithful to my club, which has allowed me to reach the 200-game mark in Ligue 1. The story started when I was with Lens, and of course I don't want it to end now," said the young veteran. "The man I am has grown immensely at this club, the player I am too. These days I am a happy man!"
On the rise...
So what was it that prompted his move across France?
"I signed here because of the stability present at the club, and its place in the top half of Ligue 1," he explained. "The facilities were good and the things the coach at the time - Christian Gourcuff - said to me on the phone were appealing. I made the move and, looking back, I've enjoyed very good years here."
There has been plenty of continental football in that time, and the club has shed its perennial underachiever tag in favour of a more ambitious reputation.
"The first year we qualified for the Europa League, it was a tough run but we hung in there," recalled a proud Bourigeaud. "Things have got better since; we've qualified for Europe every year. There has also been a chairman called Olivier Létang, who changed the mind-set and the ambitions at the club."
This was doubtless helped by the clinching of the club's first silverware in decades - the 2019 Coupe de France - under coach Julien Stéphan.
"Winning a cup helped the club grow quicker than anticipated and the experience gained from playing European football, from lifting that cup… Nowadays we expect a lot from ourselves, which wasn't necessarily the case when I arrived," he said. "We have managed to change the way people see this club."
The Genesio effect
Bourigeaud's best season to date came last campaign: the Calais-born maestro scored 11 league goals and registered 12 assists. Under coach Bruno Genesio, both Bourigeaud and Rennes have taken their game to the next level!
"He's exactly the person we needed at the club," explained the versatile forward. "He's an exceptional guy who is very close to his players. You want to fight for people like him! Every day he is extremely demanding, he makes sure we iron out any creases that he notices. To reach our goals, to qualify each year for European competition, you have to have a work ethic of the highest order, you have to show ambition in everything you do, and obviously, have quality too."
Not only have Rennes become one of the very best sides in France under Genesio, many believe they play the most entertaining brand of football too.
"When you see the reactions people have to the way we play football… it gives me great pleasure to see others enjoy themselves. Out on the pitch it's smooth, I play alongside quality players, so that makes the game easier," explained the former France U20 international. "You feel like a kid, enjoying the game like a child, and as I've always said, football is my job but if I'm not enjoying things then I can't be happy with myself. There are games in which others may have thought I played well but if I haven't enjoyed myself, then... I may be tough on myself but that's how I make progress."
Change of perspective
One of the other factors that has seen Bourigeaud rise to prominence since his move to Rennes has been his repositioning to the right side of midfield…
"I had already played there when I was younger, but never in the professional world. I was a more defence-minded midfielder, a little more creative when I was at Lens," he detailed. "But when I got to Rennes, the coach Christian Gourcuff put me in that position. I worked hard to feel at home there and quickly I felt good because I performed well there! There are watershed moments, and I think that game against Marseille was one of those. These days I feel more comfortable there. I'll give everything wherever I play, but I'm just delighted to be out on the pitch!"
Back to his best
Forty Ligue 1 Uber Eats goals, 37 assists: Bourigeaud is not only a regular on the pitch, but also on the scoresheet.
This season, it was something of a slow start statistically, with just four assists registered before November. But since then, three goals and three assists have followed!
"I was finding my best form once more after struggling a little at the start of the season, but I always worked hard and stayed determined to reach the levels I was playing at last season. I missed scoring goals!" Bourigeaud said. "So to have had this little break, some might think it would slow me down, but I think it's the opposite; it has done me good, especially psychologically!
For Bourigeaud, a demanding mentality is a blessing... most of the time.
"I'm the sort of person who asks themselves a lot of questions - perhaps too many, according to my wife! - but I don't doubt myself, because if I could perform well last year, I can do it again! When you've lost that little X factor, you can have that feeling of doubt, but by working hard I reach my goals. Now I'm back to my best and I'm delighted to be making the difference for my team!"
The first goal of this season came from the spot, against Lille - his fourth career goal boyhood club Lens' northern rivals!
"Yes, of course they're always special moments for me, there is a big rivalry between the two clubs! They're the games I look forward to; I love playing them! I enjoy the banter I have with the fans, it's part of football," he explained. "It's light-hearted but when you score against them, it's a great moment!"
Over the years, Bourigeaud has forged a reputation as a dead ball specialist and one of the best crossers around. His technique, brushing the side of the ball while leaning back is as effective as it is distinctive!
"It's not a very common technique but I've always had quality in that domain. Perhaps it's my posture, the way my body is… From a young age I worked hard on my technique - I've always enjoyed set pieces," said the gifted specialist. "David Beckham is a great example; he was incredibly decisive in his career in that domain and his passing game was just incredible. Of course you look to players like that for inspiration, to try to understand how you can improve even more! It can be a real weapon for me to change the course of a game, so I work on it every single day."
The tireless midfielder has upped his game year by year, and has gone from Ligue 2 BKT to being in Didier Deschamps' widened list for the 2022 World Cup in just six years. Breaking appearance records and scoring goals is something he will no doubt continue to do, but what is Bourigeaud himself hoping for in the coming years?
"More great experiences, memories, and why not more titles!"