“I know what I’ve been through and I know very well how people look at me. And yes, I can safely say that things have changed.” As that statement shows, Adil Rami is coming to terms with his new-found status as a member of the France squad, having made his international debut against Norway in last week’s friendly in Oslo.
Born in Corsica of Moroccan extraction, the centre-back has had a fairytale rise to prominence, which began when he was spotted playing for Frejus in the French fourth tier in 2006. After swapping his job with the local town council for a professional contract with Ligue 1 outfit Lille, the 24-year-old then earned three international call-ups during Raymond Domenech’s lengthy reign. Despite failing to get a game under the 58-year-old and being one of seven discards from his provisional 30-man squad for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, Rami stayed positive, finally getting his reward in Laurent Blanc’s first game in charge.
Tipped by many for a lengthy career in the France defence, the easy-going and likeable Rami spoke exclusively to FIFA.com about his new life as a Bleus international and the pressure and expectation that come with it.
FIFA.com: Adil, your France debut came at a difficult time for the national team. Was it an awkward experience for you?
Adil Rami: We were all very tense because we had a lot to prove. We knew there were quite a few players who might not be coming back and they’ve all set a very high standard, and whenever there’s a bit of uncertainty it always puts extra pressure on you. We wanted to give it everything we had and not have any regrets, which probably explains why I struggled in the first few minutes.
France lost 2-1 to Norway. Did you have any regrets afterwards?
You always have regrets when you concede a couple of goals. I could have anticipated the situation a bit better for their second goal. We were trying to get the ball out wide and we got caught. All the same, that’s how you gain experience and mature. It was a new experience for me in defence and I wasn’t my usual relaxed self. But it wasn’t too bad for my first game and if I can work hard and show the right attitude, I can do better, especially playing alongside someone as good as Philippe [Mexes].
You had been called up to the national team before but without getting a game. Did you notice any differences with the team selected for the Norway match?
This France team plays a fluid game and everyone has a real desire and hunger to play. I thought the team looked fresher too. I have complete faith in the France team of tomorrow. It’s going to explode one day and I’m going to do all I can to be part of it.
Did Laurent Blanc have the same opinion on the game as you?
He was as disappointed with the result as we were, but even so he was satisfied with the performance. He thought it was a shame we couldn’t make the most of our chances or the periods when we were on top.
You missed out on a place in the France squad for South Africa 2010. Did you watch the tournament at all?
I’m a competitor and I have to say I was annoyed about not being picked. But when I look back and think about it I say to myself it may have been a good thing I wasn’t there. But when all’s said and done I’m French and I felt like all the criticism was aimed at me too. It wasn’t nice at all but we need to put the past behind us and start rebuilding with the new team.
I have complete faith in the France team of tomorrow. It’s going to explode one day and I’m going to do all I can to be part of it.
What was it like working with Laurent Blanc for the first time?
We only trained together twice, so it was hard to form an opinion. We didn’t speak that much really but the chat we had before the game was fantastic and it helped me relax and loosen up. He was talking about his first game for France and he said it was normal to feel nervous. What he said really put me at ease. He wasn’t there with a gun waiting to make you pay for a little mistake. He’s exactly the kind of coach the France team needs. I’m absolutely convinced about that and if I never get another call, then it will be all my fault and not his. I also got to meet the technical staff and Jean-Louis Gasset (Blanc’s assistant coach). He is a wonderful guy, and he and Blanc make a fantastic partnership.
A lot of the players who were in South Africa will now be available for selection again. Does that increase the pressure ahead of the next squad announcement?
I’d say I feel the need to stay focused, rather than any pressure. In any case I’ve already started thinking about my objectives with Lille, which are to make a good start to the season and to ensure I don’t have any more of my lapses in concentration. I’m putting pressure on myself to iron out that flaw in my game. It can be a big problem when you play in my position and it’s something I really need to work hard on. Being able to recognise that is a step forward though I suppose (laughs).
Now that you are a France player do you think the people around you look at you differently?
My family don’t. They’ve always been proud of me. It’s everyone else who changes. If one day I don’t feel like smiling, then people will say I’ve got all big-headed and that I’m a diva. They come down on you much quicker. If, at a later stage of my career, I’m still in the France team and I have a serious look on my face, I know there’ll be some people who’ll be saying that I’ve got big-headed and not that I’ve matured or anything like that. No one likes stuff like that but it’s not the end of the world either.
You mentioned the start of the season with Lille. Have you put the disappointment of the last day of the 2009/10 campaign behind you?
Yes, we’ve got over it. We’re going to learn the lessons of the past to make sure we don’t make the same mistakes. We didn’t miss out on the Champions League because of the last match but because of all the opportunities we missed over the season as a whole. We need to be more consistent and we also need to learn how to play without Gervinho, because we’re not the same team when he’s not around. We’ve started with two draws against two big teams (Rennes and Paris Saint-Germain), which is fine, but we have to beat Sochaux to build on those two results. If we don’t then they won’t have counted for anything.