Patrick Vieira claimed earlier this week that he is “100 percent” certain of making France’s squad for the World Cup. To do so the 33-year-old must regain full fitness, nail down a regular starting place in Manchester City’s first team and convince Raymond Domenech that he still possesses the powers that turned him into one of the game’s pre-eminent defensive midfielders in the early years of the last decade. Even then, he may find his path to South Africa barred by Moussa Sissoko.
Lassana Diarra and Jérémy Toulalan have established themselves as France’s first-choice defensive midfield pair but if anyone can put paid to Vieira’s international hopes for good it is Sissoko. Tall, rangy and strong in the tackle, the 20-year-old Toulouse midfielder of Malian descent possesses a similar skill-set to Vieira and is strongly being linked with a move to the Premier League.
Having already been capped at every international age level from under-16 to under-21, Sissoko was surprisingly called into France’s senior squad in place of Vieira for the 1-0 World Cup qualifying victory in the Faroe Islands last August. He made his debut in the return match, coming on as a substitute for Toulalan in a 5-0 win in Guingamp in October, and his first start swiftly followed in the 3-1 win at home to Austria in Paris.
“A childhood dream has come true,” said Sissoko. “I didn’t expect this, even though it’s true that things have been going well with my club for the last few seasons.”
Born a few miles from the Stade de France in the Le Blanc-Mesnil suburb of northern Paris, Sissoko moved south to join the Toulouse youth system in 2002. He broke into their first team in the 2007-2008 campaign and was a driving force in the side last season as they finished fourth to secure a place in the Europa League, earning himself a nomination for Ligue 1’s Young Player of the Year award in the process.
Having rejected overtures from English clubs when he initially joined Toulouse, Sissoko was once again forced to commit himself to the south-west club amidst renewed speculation about his future during last summer’s transfer window. “I am staying here,” he said in August. “My club is Toulouse. At present, I am secure. But in the future, I don’t know.”
TFC have failed to hit the heights this season but Sissoko’s development continues apace and he recently extended his contract until 2013. Already a well-rounded central midfielder, he has now added goals to his repertoire and with seven strikes to date this season he is the club’s top scorer. His stunning opener in the 1-1 draw at Marseille in October demonstrated his ability to strike a ball, while he showcased neat dribbling skills by scoring an outrageous goal in Toulouse’s 8-0 win at part-timers Schirrhein in last season’s Coupe de France:
It is unlikely Sissoko would find it quite so easy against France’s Group A opponents Mexico, Uruguay and South Africa at the World Cup, but the uncommon alliance of defensive graft and goalscoring flair in his game means he is currently advancing a far stronger case for inclusion in France’s squad than Vieira.