Surprised by Didier Deschamps’ list in 2018, Steven Nzonzi finally had a role to play in the course of the Azzurri at the World Cup in Russia. More than four years after this coronation, the 33-year-old midfielder has disappeared from the radar of the French national team. Even if his career has taken him to Qatar, where his former Italian teammates will try to keep the title.
He is one of the few 2018 world champions present in Qatar. But not to defend the blue shirt. While Russia’s World Cup winners will be few in the emirate, notably due to several injuries (Pogba, Kanté, Kimpembe…), the ten survivors of their coronation four years ago had the pleasure of meeting their former teammates in the small Gulf country during a training session.
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Long disappeared from the radar of the French team, Steven Nzonzi (33) has in fact decided to continue his career at Al-Rayyan, in Qatar. Even if the local championship stops on October 15, preparation for the World Cup is mandatory, the midfielder could have decided to stay in a country that he knows well by now to follow all of this 2022 World Cup.
The post-World Cup 2018 blues
In 2018, the then Sevilla FC player was one of the big surprises of Didier Deschamps, who significantly preferred him to Adrien Rabiot in the lineup for the World Cup in Russia. At the time, “Zonz” only had two selections on the clock, in the autumn of 2017, but her control tower profile allowed her to be favored by Deschamps. With five appearances during the competition, Nzonzi quickly forged a specialty: insertions in the second half to lock down the aerial sector for the Azzurri, as in the final against Croatia.
Returning from Russia crowned with the title of world champion, Nzonzi enjoys a completely different status. With in particular a new notoriety that he was struggling to digest. “What changes is above all the recognition of people, he confided to Ouest-France last March about this world champion title. This changes the way we look. Yes, I fled somewhere light. I stayed true to me I did some stuff on Instagram and it didn’t feel very good, so I quit.”
There is currently a page under his name on Instagram, but the latter only has 760 followers and his bio still features him as a Sevilla FC player. However, it has been a long time since his great compasses no longer prevail in Andalusia. In August 2018, in the wake of the world title, he left the Sevillian club to move to AS Roma, where a new challenge awaited him. At almost 30, Nzonzi intended to move on, but he struggled to establish himself in the Eternal City and experienced several months of hardship. After one season he was sent to Galatasaray, where he was excluded from the first team after four months due to his behavior during training, without the club giving further explanations.
Returning to Roma in January 2020 after the Turkish mishap, he was immediately loaned to Stade Rennais for six months. In April, Breton’s Champions League qualification following the league freeze due to Covid-19 automatically extended his loan with Rouge et Noir. Undisputed owner and part of the Rennes dressing room during the 2020-2021 season, that of his last selection in blue (in November 2020 against Sweden), he left Roazhon Park after 18 months leaving a good memory in the minds of Breton fans.
Recruited in Qatar by Laurent Blanc
At the end of the contract with Roma, to which he still belonged, the native of Colombes (Hauts-de-Seine) then decided to go into exile to Al-Rayyan, who took him for free. In Qatar he meets Laurent Blanc, then coach of the Emirate team, and James Rodriguez, recruited with him. “I am arriving at a moment in my career where I wanted to discover a new experience, he told Ouest-France a few months ago. Laurent Blanc played an important role in my coming. Initially he contacts me and he really wants me”.
Since joining Al-Rayyan just over a year ago, Nzonzi has played 35 games in all competitions, including 29 as a starter. “I always give my best and I am also always more professional in my approach to things. I remain a competitor. It doesn’t matter where, there is never an easy championship,” he proclaimed in Ouest-France in March. I’m fine physically and I didn’t come here to spend a holiday.” Except for October 15 and the forced stop of the championship to make way for a World Cup that could bring back some good memories.