This article also featured in the 2018 GFFN 100
“I’m a competitor, but I’m also a man, and as such I would liked to have been treated as one.” Adrien Rabiot was not pleased. Having been excluded from Didier Deschamps’ World Cup squad, Rabiot detailed his refusal to be included on the stand-by list in an open letter to RMC. While the Frenchman may have been “under no illusions about the impact that [his] decision could have” it remains typical of a year characterised by a lack of professionalism and stagnation.
Although perhaps a common theme among young Parisien players, Rabiot’s anger over his World Cup exclusion seems born out of a haughty entitlement, as well as an overt puerilism. Despite just six senior caps, the 23 year old insisted, “since I was 15 I have fought in the colours of France, in all youth categories right up to the first team. I am part of the French culture.” Before then implying that ‘his’ achievements had not been recognised. “Since my first call-up for the first team as a reserve in May 2016,” read Rabiot’s letter, “I have played for my club, PSG, a European giant in 88 matches, 13 in the Champions’ League. I’ve scored 9 goals and won 7 trophies.”
Although establishing himself in the Parisien squad remains far from an insignificant feat, those seven trophies would have been won without Adrien Rabiot. His Champions League displays meanwhile, 2017’s 4-0 first leg win over Barcelona aside, rarely impacted when needed. In truth Rabiot’s 2018, pre and post World Cup, has been largely unspectacular.
Deschamps preference for an in-form Steven Nzonzi was a surprise but hardly unjustified, while France (World Cup winners) and PSG (finally impressing in the Champions League under Thomas Tuchel) have improved without him. Having started the lacklustre loss at Anfield and a fortunate home draw with Napoli, Rabiot was benched for the impressive Paris performance in Naples, the watershed win over Liverpool and a professional display at Red Star.
Rabiot’s 2018 zenith came back in January, amid his best form to date. However, following PSG’s Champions League first leg loss to Real Madrid, despite scoring at the Bernabeu, he fell a little out of favour under Unai Emery as consistency fell away. Deschamps meanwhile later implied that he wasn’t overly impressed with Rabiot’s international form.
At his bulldozing, chest-out best, Rabiot in unplayable; dragging his team forward with neat and positive passing in tandem with trademark explosive bursts from midfield. While a debate continues over his best position, either as the ‘sentinel’ front of the defense or as a more of a box-to-box number 8, the Frenchman remains adept in both. However, at his worst Rabiot is clumsy in possession, caught out of position and prone to poor decision making, or simply disappearing from the game altogether. As supremely talented as Rabiot is, 2018 has seen more of the latter.
Questionable decision making seems to be an endemic issue. While Deschamps branded his toy throwing before the World Cup a “huge mistake”, something Les Bleu assistant coach Guy Stephan remarked that the selected French players “didn’t understand”, Rabiot has spent much of the year mulling over a new club contract as the furore surrounding him intensified. After refusing a third PSG offer, €7.2m per year with significant bonuses, Rabiot was openly whistled at the Parc des Princes while supports yelled “go to Barcelona!” as he arrived for the Liverpool match in December.
Despite stating in 2016 he would like to be ‘PSG’s Steven Gerrard’, Rabiot has long flirted with a move. Reports emerged as early as 2015 that his outspoken Mother and agent had approached a series of Premier League clubs while Barcelona links are long-standing. In December the situation finally came to a head. Thomas Tuchel stated that Rabiot “may not finish the season” with PSG and the young Frenchman was banished from the first team after contract talks finally evaporated completely.
Oddly, despite supporting their player during the summer, a club statement “emphasising the special connection that it has with a player who joined the youth academy in 2010 and then climbed with talent and character to become a major part of our professional team”, Rabiot seems to believe that such support isn’t wholehearted.
World Cup refusals and contract disputes aside, Rabiot has never been one to compromise. At just 21 he and Zlatan Ibrahimovic had to be separated by Thiago Silva during training, the pair had exchanged insults all session. Rabiot openly criticised his team’s display in losing 3-1 at the Bernabeu last February, “It’s easy to put 8 past Dijon,” he said, “it’s in these matches that you need to make it count. We were not at the level required...” More recently, Rabiot was unhappy to be benched by Tuchel for October’s Classique having arrived late for a team meeting and has previously complained about being used in positions other than his favourite.
This attitude continues to prove problematic for his career. A recent France Football online poll resulted in 73% stating it wouldn’t be a mistake to sell Rabiot while an international return under Deschamps now seems unlikely. If Rabiot wishes to be treated like an adult, he needs to start acting like one.
by Adam White