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Arsenal FC's No6 knows better than most how football can lift you up, knock you sideways and send you flying. Laurent Koscielny's display last week in the UEFA Champions League illustrated the point perfectly.
In the first half, his long surging run almost set up a goal against Montpellier Hérault SC. In the second half, he was booked trying to avert disaster on the edge of the Arsenal box after the ball had bounced off his back, though his side held on to win 2-0 and reach the round of 16.
At times, notably in his team's 2-1 defeat of FC Barcelona in 2011, Koscielny's flawless defending has had fans thrilled by his Beckenbauer-like composure. At others, he has struggled for form and confidence.
It is a sign of the French international's character that he keeps coming back stronger. It is a trait he developed as a youth at EA Guingamp, where he failed to break through at full-back. "My position was centre-back but I didn't play there because they had a lot of experienced players in that position. I was still young and they put me on the side of defence," he said. "These things happen, but it helped me when I moved to Tours [FC]. I built my character, fought and never gave up, which is still the case now."
Such grit earned him a move to newly promoted Ligue 1 outfit FC Lorient in 2009 and, a year later, to north London. Manager Arsène Wenger said: "When you consider that until 2009 he was playing in Ligue 2 and that he is performing at the very top in the Premier League and for his country, his development has been absolutely exceptional."
At UEFA EURO 2012 he did well enough for Les Bleus to inspire some kind words from another experienced judge of footballing pedigree. "They've got that Arsenal boy, he's very good," observed Spain coach Vicente del Bosque.
Koscielny's reading of the game and his speed make him a fine interceptor, yet he felt he had to become physically and mentally stronger to prosper in England. Even now, when not on the ball, the 27-year-old can seem boyish, even frail at times. But as he showed on several occasions against Montpellier, he can be hard to shrug off the ball.
He has learned to adapt. "Our staff want us to pass the ball and have possession," Koscielny said. "The first ones to pass the ball forward are the defenders. We try to create space for the midfielders so they can distribute and play forward. The whole team must keep moving to find the space to create opportunities."
Koscielny's seasons in the lower leagues mean that, even when life at Arsenal is at its most challenging, he knows how fortunate he is. "Everything can happen in life if you put in the effort and stay humble," he said. "That helps me keep my feet on the ground and realise how lucky I am to be a professional footballer and play in the Champions League in such wonderful stadiums."
This is an abridged version of an article that appears in the latest edition of Champions Matchday is available in digital versions on Apple Newsstand or Zinio, as well as in print, and you can follow the magazine on Twitter @ChampionsMag.
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