Mathieu Valbuena may be small, but he’s huge on the soccer field. The attacking midfielder is playing a vital role for France as Les Bleus prepare to take on Germany Friday in the World Cup quarterfinals.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. He’s Played in France’s Top Pro League Since 2006
Valbuena was born in Bruges, a small town in Southwestern France, but grew up in nearby Blanquefort, where his parents still live.
His father, Carlos, is from the Spanish city of Valladolid.
Valbuena joined the French international team in 2010 and played in the World Cup, in which Les Blues failed to make it out of group play.
2. He Worked as a Sporting Goods Salesman After Being Released by an 18-and-Under Team
Although Valbuena has a flourishing career at the moment, it wasn’t always so smooth sailing for him. Valbuena joined the Bordeaux soccer club in 2001, but he was let go not long after.
Aftfer two years of playing for the Bordeaux 18-and-under club, Valbuena was let go and had to play for an amateur club called Langan-Castets. During that period, he also worked as a salesman in a sporting goods shop.
It was clear that Valbuena’s had more skill than many of the amateur players though. The team’s coach, Didier Tholot, described Valbuena as “the architect of the team.”
3. He’s Scored 6 International Goals, Including 1 Against Switzerland in the World Cup
As an attacking midfielder, Valbuena has a great deal of responsibility on the field. Midfielders have to be aware of their own goal and protext it as neccessary, but unlike defenders they should be pushing up and making assists and goals as often as possible.
Valbuena has scored 6 international goals, including one in Les Blues’ blowout win over Switzerland June 20 in World Cup group play. Valbuena scored off an assist by Karim Benzema to put France up 3-0 en route to a 5-2 rout.
4. At 5-foot-6, He’s Les Blues’ Shortest Player
Soccer players aren’t known for being particularly tall, but they also aren’t typically as short as Valbuena. At 5-foot-6 and 128 pounds, Valbuena is the shortest player on his team.
But, it seems his height is a positive attribute if anything. He is very agile and can take on more than one opponent at once. Because of his height, Valbuena has been given the nickname: “le petit.”
5. He Makes More Than $4 Million a Year
Valbuena, 29, has a yearly salary of over just $4 million. He made his debut in 2004, and has a contract that will pay him the $4 million until 2017.
This salary is even large compared to other soccer players. Paul Pogba for example makes just over $800,000 a year, which is substantially less than Valbuena. However, he does not make as much as very famous players like Cristiano Ronaldo, who makes $10 million a year.