x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

An unpolished diamond

Marouane Chamakh is not afraid to make decisions. He knows you regret what you do not do far more than what you do.

Bordeaux provided Marouane Chamakh, left, with the big stage against Juventus on Tuesday night.
Bordeaux provided Marouane Chamakh, left, with the big stage against Juventus on Tuesday night.

Marouane Chamakh is not afraid to make decisions. He knows you regret what you do not do far more than what you do. That is why, when he was still a teenager, he opted to represent the country of his ancestors rather than the land where he was born and still calls home. It was back in 2003, when he was the latest bright young thing churned out by Bordeaux's youth academy having played for France at the Under 16 and U18 level.

But Chamakh knew that the future was something on which you could not count, at least not compared to the present. So, when the Moroccan Football Association contacted him and told him that, under Fifa regulations, he could turn out for them despite having represented France at youth level, he seized the opportunity with both hands. He may have grown up dreaming of playing for Les Bleus, he may have stayed up and partied on the street as a 14-year-old when France defeated Brazil to win the World Cup, but this was different.

This was a chance for him to take control of his destiny. The prospect of starring at the African Cup of Nations later that year was dangled before him. The uncertainty and the fear of failure only lasted a short while: once his mind was made up, he did not look back. Boosted by his national team experience, he had another fine campaign the following year, notching 10 league goals and firmly establishing himself as one of Le Championnat's rising stars.

Scouts loved him: strength, balance, technique and a rare ability to read the play made him one of the most coveted players around. The problem was that his performances did not always match his ability. He was the most unpolished of diamonds: you could see the potential there, you just did not know how to extract it. By the summer of 2007, Chamakh was 23 and many were wondering whether he would ever go to the next level.

Opinions were mixed. Some suggested Bordeaux should cash in on him before he was found out while others advocated patience. Laurent Blanc, the newly- installed coach, took a hard line. He did not care about Chamakh's potential: he would play if he was good enough. Blanc had a clutch of gifted forwards at his disposal, from Fernando Cavenaghi to David Bellion to Gabriel Obertan. He was not about to put one, however great his gifts may be, ahead of the rest.

This meant the 2007-08 season turned into a bit of nightmare. Chamakh was in and out of the side, he had to scrape and claw his way for playing time, just like everyone else. And to make matters worse from his personal perspective, Bordeaux enjoyed a phenomenal season, finishing second in the league. Which, in turn, made Blanc untouchable in the eyes of the fans and the media. Chamakh could have demanded a move then and there. His talent demanded that he be a regular, there were plenty of clubs willing to take him in. But Blanc's tough love had touched something inside of him.

Yes, he was going to move on but first he would prove Blanc wrong. And so he did. Last season would prove to be the best of his career: he notched 13 league goals and, just as importantly, developed an almost telepathic understanding with Cavenaghi, his strike partner, and Yoann Gourcuff, his playmaker. He had made a point but was also going to stay true to himself. Once again, he made his decision: he wanted a move. Arsenal chased him for much of the summer, but, by this stage, Bordeaux knew they had a commodity on their hands. The price was too high for the Gunners.

Chamakh persevered, he even got his agent to arrange a loan deal with West Ham: at least he would be in a bigger shop window. But it was to no avail. Bordeaux, having tasted what their striker could do, were not going to let go. And so, he is still around. He is not the most popular guy around town, but that's fine. He is a professional and he made his decision, just like he did six years earlier. He is ready to live with it.

Besides, Bordeaux need him, just as he needs them. They provide the big stage, as they did on Tuesday night in their 1-1 draw with Juventus in the Champions League. He provides the goals (three so far this season), knowing full well that their "marriage of convenience" will soon end, perhaps as early as January. gmarcotti@thenational.ae