SPIRO BLOG: Angry fans choose wrong target in M'Vila
By M. Spiro
Yann M'Vila may be having a disappointing season by his own extraordinarily high standards, but Ligue1.com's Matthew Spiro believes the Rennes fans should be showing more indulgence towards their midfield linchpin.
If, as is widely expected, M'Vila leaves France this summer, he will not be afforded a rousing send off from the Rennes fans. Quite the opposite in fact. M'Vila's time in Brittany is heading for a low-key, even unhappy, conclusion.
The Stade de la Route de Lorient faithful have grown weary of their team's inability to turn promising campaigns in to successful ones, and have decided to point the finger at their young midfield talisman. Not so long ago, M'Vila was the symbol of a bright future, the cream of an exceptional crop of youngsters to have graduated from Rennes' excellent academy. Now, for some, he is one of the causes of the malaise.
Coupe de France disaster
Things might have turned out very differently for both club and player this season. Two weeks ago, in the 84th minute of Rennes' Coupe de France semi-final against Quevilly, M'Vila surged on to a cross from Romain Danzé. He had the chance to fire Les Rouge et Noir through to the Stade de France showpiece, yet shot horribly wide. Moments later, the part-timers from Normandy struck at the other end and were celebrating one of the biggest and most dramatic cup shocks in history. Rennes had missed out on their shot at silverware - again.
M'Vila did not play badly in that semi-final, but his relationship with discouraged fans desperately craving a first trophy in 41 years has not been the same since.
The tempestuous Frenchman needed to be held back by security personnel after clashing with members of the Roazhon Celtic Kop supporters group at the training ground the day after the Quevilly loss. Against Nice last Monday, large sections of the home support booed his every touch - for the first half at least.
"They gave up in the second half," Rennes coach Frédéric Antonetti pointed out. "He touches the ball so often the crowd couldn't keep up. That made me smile. The treatment he received was totally unfair."
Antonetti, I think, has a point. While it is easy to see why M'Vila has emerged as a target for the fans' frustration - he is, after all, the most high-profile and gifted member of the squad yet his form has been below par this term and he seems certain to jump ship in the summer - a degree of perspective is required.
M'Vila, don't forget, is still only 21. This is his third season as a first-team player. In that time he has accumulated 105 league appearances. He has not been injured once. This season, for club and country, he has played 53 games already. Not since his eye-catching full debut against Marseille in August 2009 has he had a rest. Nor will be getting one this summer with Laurent Blanc building France's midfield around the precocious tackler.
Rennes fans should also note he has never looked to rock the boat. Strangely ignored by Antonetti's predecessor Guy Lacombe, he waited patiently rather than seeking football elsewhere. Then when the Ligue 1 outfit turned down a reported €18m offer from Arsenal last summer, nobody heard M'Vila complaining about the club holding him back.
So good was M'Vila in his first two seasons, it was inevitable he would experience some kind of slump. "My opponents know me better now," M'Vila offered as an explanation for his declining influence. That is true. But M'Vila should also recognise that he is sometimes guilty of trying to do too much.
The weight of the world
During his early months he stood out through his ability to play simply. He reads the game beautifully, seemingly blessed with an innate sense of positioning. M'Vila would always be in the right place to break up a move before beginning an attack with his rapidly-executed, simple and accurate passes.
There were shades of Claude Makelele, but M'Vila soon showed an ability to perform multiple midfield roles. In France's crunch EURO qualifier in Bosnia and Herzegovina in September 2010, Blanc played M'Vila and Abou Diaby either side of a different anchorman, Alou Diarra. M'Vila was superb, looking equally adept operating as a box-to-box midfielder, striding forward and linking cleverly with the attackers.
In some respects, his talent and versatility have contributed to his problems. "I'm so concerned about trying to play a killer pass I have been forgetting about my defensive work," he said last week. In other words, M'Vila has been trying to take more responsibility, but in doing so has forgotten certain basics that made him such an effective player to start with.
"He has to find the right balance between developing his passing game - which is his strength - and staying effective in recuperating the ball," Antonetti explained.
M'Vila is still learning and still developing. While that development is unlikely to continue in Brittany next season - Arsenal, Internazionale, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid are all hovering - Rennes will at least be able console themselves with a sizeable cheque. But they will also be left with a sizeable void in their team.
"We've been searching the whole of Europe for a replacement for quite a while already," general manager Pierre Dréossi admitted. "But we won't find another M'Vila. He's a rare talent." Indeed he is. Something the fans will appreciate when he is no longer there.