AGONA Profile: Mathieu Valbuena, Olympiacos’ French Wizard
Olympiacos signed French star Mathieu Valbuena last week, with the winger joining the Greeks on a free transfer from Fenerbahce. The AGONA Profile takes a closer look at his career.
At one point, Valbuena was regarded as one of the leading wingers in European football, and while the 34-year-old is past his best he’s still capable of showing moments of magic on the pitch. Fenerbahce wanted to keep Valbuena on their books, but after his contract expired upon the completion of the 2018/2019 season, the Frenchman took the decision to join Olympiacos.
DIFFICULTIES AT THE START, SUBSEQUENT STARDOM WITH MARSEILLE
Born in 1984, Valbuena initially joined ES Blanquefort as a young boy, before transferring to Bordeaux when nine years of age. However, it didn’t go to plan at Bordeaux, as he was released after failing to impress the coaches.
Instead of giving up his football dream, Valbuena moved to Langon FC as a part-timer in July 2003. After catching the eye at Langon, he was signed by Libourne Saint in 2004 where he would stay for the next two seasons.
Valbuena’s big break arrived in the summer of 2006. Spotting potential in his abilities, Marseille made a move for Valbuena, snapping him up for 800 thousand euros. A transfer which was the start of something special.
The eight years which Valbuena spent with Marseille were thoroughly memorable. During that time scale, Valbuena won one Ligue 1 title, three French League Cups and two Super Cups, becoming a leading player for Marseille with his technical, exciting approach to the game.
Standing a mere 167 centimeters tall, Valbuena boasts an incredibly low sense of gravity, possessing the ability to control the ball brilliantly while beating his opponents for pure skill and pace. Valbuena can play on either flank or in a more central role behind the forwards.
Valbuena was at his best in the 2011/2012 and 2012/2013 seasons. In the former, Valbuena gained 13 assists in Ligue 1 (a personal best), and he then registered 12 in the following campaign. Previously, he had completed the double with Marseille in the 2009/2010 season, winning both the league and the French League Cup. Valbuena earned seven goals and four assists across all competitions in that particular campaign.
DYNAMO MOSCOW TRANSFER
Plenty of major European clubs had been eager to sign Valbuena, but in 2014, the French attacker opted to transfer to Dynamo Moscow with the Russians paying Marseille seven million for his services. In Moscow, Valbuena’s talent and star quality was on show for all to see, grabbing four goals and a large 12 assists in his debut season in the Russian Premier League. His stunning goal against Zenit Saint Petersburg on matchday seven was a thing of beauty:
RETURN TO FRANCE, TURKISH SPELL
In August 2015, Valbuena returned to France with Olympique Lyonnais, and he jumped across to Turkey two years later with Fenerbahce.
Valbuena was an instant hit in the Turkish Super Lig. In the 2017/2018 campaign, the French international stood out for Fenerbahce with his creative play, contributing with seven goals and nine assists as the Istanbul giants finished in second place. Fenerbahce were involved in a surprise relegation fight this season, but despite the club’s troubles, Valbuena still managed to gain three goals and seven assists in the domestic championship.
The amount of motivation Valbuena has will be absolutely vital in regards to his fortunes in Piraeus. Yes, he’s in his mid-30s and is certainly approaching the final years of his career, but he is technically gifted and can still be the difference. The Super League is crying out for more players of Valbuena’s calibre.
On the international front, Valbuena has scored eight goals in 52 appearances for the senior French national team, competing in two FIFA World Cups and one European Championship.