Monday 21 August 2017

Mandanda happy to heed Heinze's inside knowledge

Andy Brassell

If the onus to set the standard in a family is often placed on the oldest child, Steve Mandanda is a textbook first-born.

With three younger brothers following in his footsteps, the Marseille goalkeeper may be used to leading the way, but being chosen by coach Didier Deschamps as the man to lead the club into the latter stages of the Champions League has taken a degree of adjustment.

"Definitely," he says. "Being captain means I have a lot more responsibility, but I've not changed the way I've played, and I've continued to be myself."

That philosophy tallies well with Mandanda's career so far, which has not been without its setbacks, but whose current position speaks volumes of a focused, determined and popular character.

Resolve

Marseille needed every inch of resolve they could summon in the build-up to meeting Manchester United -- a tie that most of France believes to be a near-impossible task. Yet their goalkeeper argues that the gap between the sides is far smaller than the common perception, particularly on the evidence of the goalless stalemate of the first leg.

"It was neither a great result nor a disappointment," says Mandanda. "Given the way the game developed, it was the right result. It was a very closed game, and neither team created much.

"They're very solid, especially defensively. They also have a couple of very intelligent lads up front (Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov) who can make the difference at any moment. For me, they're a great, great team."

Even if their coach won everything possible as a player, Marseille lack experience of the closing stages of the Champions League, with this season being their first participation in the knockout rounds since the club lifted the trophy in 1993.

The team are grateful to have Gabriel Heinze, with 40 Champions League appearances for Marseille, Real Madrid and United under his belt.

"There are three or four who've played in the last 16 before," Mandanda says. "Notably Gaby. With his experience, what he's lived through and his personality, he gets all that across to the rest of the team, and it's given us a real possibility of going through."

Mandanda (25) had to learn to adapt quickly, after arriving at the Stade Velodrome from Le Havre in 2007, shortly after an unsuccessful trial at Aston Villa. He was signed on loan as cover for Cedric Carrasso, but was soon catapulted into the spotlight when Carrasso snapped an Achilles tendon.

Mandanda would not be shifted from the starting side. His peers voted him Ligue 1's goalkeeper of the year in their end-of-season awards, while the talented Carrasso was eventually forced to move to Toulouse in 2008 to revitalise his career.

The Mandanda goalkeeping gene is strong. Younger brothers Parfait, Riffi and Over are in the business too -- Parfait with SK Altay in Turkey and the younger two in the youth system at Caen.

Steve and Parfait were within a whisker of becoming the first brothers to face each other in an international in February 2008, in a friendly between Congo and the France 'B' team.

Steve started for the French team but went off at half-time, when Parfait came on for Congo. With Kinshasa-born Steve emerging as the regular back-up to France No 1 Hugo Lloris, the three junior Mandandas have plenty to look up to.

So has Heinze given advice on the best way to beat United? "Before the (first) game he just told us to enjoy the occasion. And to be determined," says Mandanda.

Given that the Argentinian's blueprint for a surprise success closely matches his captain's, we shouldn't be shocked if Marseille manage to succeed. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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