Reigning Ligue 1 champions Lyon looked likely to kick-off their title defence with a routine win against EA Guingamp, but Drogba and co had other ideas. He bound off the bench to score an injury-time equaliser, the shock result would foreshadow the rest of EA Guingampâ€™s season as the team touted for relegation would revel in their underdog status.
A few weeks later and local rival Rennes were making the short trip to EA Guingamp to reaffirm themselves as the best team in the Brittany region. Malouda had been on the receiving end of a 6-1 defeat in 2001 to a Rennes team that featured his hero from Cayenne, Bernard Lama, in goal. This time, howevr, the game displayed a coming of age performance from Malouda.
He opened the scoring by beating Rennes goalkeeper and future teammate, Petr ÄŒech, before rounding off EA Guingampâ€™s dynamic display with his second goal in the closing moments of the match. The bragging rights would fade, but EA Guingamp would always remember the brace from Malouda that fired them to the top of the Ligue 1 table for the first time in their history.
Not only was Malouda continuing to create chances for his teammates, but he was also enjoying the best goalscoring record of his professional career so far – going on to rack up ten goals and five assists in Ligue 1 by the end of the season. In no small part down to the partnerships formed with fellow attackers Drogba and StÃ©phane Carnot â€“ an EA Guingamp legend as, among other achievements, his decisive goal won the UEFA Intertoto Cup for the team in 1996.
Is that, Ronaldinho?
Post-Christmas, EA Guingampâ€™s lively start had fizzled out after losing six games on the bounce. Next up was Paris Saint-Germain at home, a team that had humiliated them with a 5-0 defeat a few months earlier.
A Brazilian magician by the name of Ronaldinho opened the scoring with a goal that had it all: a one-two with a teammate followed by a flick over a defenders attempted slide tackle, some slaloming stepovers past the last man before chipping the ball over the outrushing EA Guingamp goalkeeper. PSG went two goals up after half-time and were cruising to victory.
There was to be a twist in the tale though, beginning with a headed goal from Auriol Guillame for EA Guingamp and shortly followed by an equaliser from Drogba, of course. The game was gliding into injury time and the team looked set to take a well-earned draw back to Brittany.
Until Maloudaâ€™s clearance upfield started a counter-attack for EA Guingamp that lead to a low cross firing into the PSG box. The goalkeeper and a retreating defender by the name of Mauricio Pochettino made a mishap of the cross, leaving Drogba to bundle the ball into the back of an empty net and secure a fine comeback. Shirtless and delirious, Drogba ran to the away fans in the corner and performed a â€˜rocking babyâ€™ celebration that Malouda quickly joined in on.
The last eight games of the season saw the trio of Drogba, Malouda and Carnot guide Guingamp up to seventh, the highest position in their history. More remarkable though, was that they were only three points shy of a Champions League spot and just six points off eventual winners Lyon, a team they were facing on the final day of the season.
In theory, it was a dead-rubber game as Lyon had rounded up their second successive Ligue 1 title in the preceding weeks. However, Drogba and Malouda clearly didnâ€™t agree. Sharing the spoils with two goals each in a 4-1 victory as they put on one last attacking display for the travelling fans, and also showcased their talents to a club looking to acquire them.
Fresh pastures were calling for both players come the end of the season. Lyon quickly snapped up the services of Malouda and initially, Drogba looked to be following suit, but he was swayed by Marseille manager Alain Perrin instead. For now, they were Ligue 1 rivals, but it wouldnâ€™t be long until they became teammates once more.
After the pair departed EA Guingamp, the club plunged back down to Ligue 2 the following season. Meanwhile, Malouda was stepping up to the big time by bolstering Lyonâ€™s midfield of Juninho, Mahamadou Diarra and twice-teammate Michael Essien. As he told the Profession Footballeur magazine, â€˜In the locker room, there was Edmilson, who had just won the World Cup, there were French Internationals by the spadeâ€™.
Under the bright lights of the 60,000 capacity Parc Olympique Lyonnais, Maloudaâ€™s stock rose to new heights. While Ligue 1 titles were becoming an inevitability at Lyon, Malouda was an unexpected addition to the France squad in November 2004. The man who made way was Arsenal Invincible Robert Pires. Some misjudged comments saw him face the wrath of manager Raymond Domenech, Malouda would later make the same mistake.
Fast-forward a few title-laden years and Malouda was a mainstay in a France side that only qualified for the 2006 World Cup after a trio of veterans â€“ Zinedine Zidane, Claude MakÃ©lÃ©lÃ© and Lilian Thuram – were coaxed into returning from international retirement. Malouda wasnâ€™t a flamboyant player like Franck RibÃ©ry, another new addition to Les Bleus. Instead, he was a workhorse of a winger.
The World Cup awaits
At 26, Malouda provided effervescent energy to a France team that featured an abundance of ageing midfielders – Zidane, MakÃ©lÃ©lÃ©, and Patrick Viera. The linkup that Malouda had formed with Lyon left-back Eric Abidal was shipped straight over to Les Bleus as they made the short trip to Germany for the World Cup. While his growing importance to the team was evident when in his absence they drew the first group game 0-0 against Switzerland.
Malouda had been sitting on the side-lines watching his teammates struggle against the Swiss while he recovered from haemorrhoids that had required laser surgery treatment. On his return, a draw against South Korea followed by a 2-0 win over Togo saw them qualify for the next round. From there, Zidane and co rolled back the years, beating Spain, Brazil and Portugal on their way to an unexpected final against Italy.
Malouda was at his energetic best in the final, after he was fouled in the box Zidane strutted up with the aura of a man about to fulfil his destiny and converted a Panenka penalty. Malouda then went about trying to set up Thierry Henry, before running down the wing and unleashing a shot just wide of Buffonâ€™s goal.
Zidaneâ€™s moment of madness in extra-time made the headlines as Italy were crowned champions via a penalty shootout, but it was Maloudaâ€™s unsung work that had proven pivotal to freeing up Franceâ€™s ageing stars.
In the season after the World Cup, Malouda was crowned the crÃ¨me de la crÃ¨me of French football with the player of the season trophy after scoring ten Ligue 1 goals. He had flourished in France, and while his time in English football was initially enigmatic, he would go on to succeed across the channel with Chelsea too.
Malouda never forgot his roots though, setting up his One Love Foundation to support children in French Guiana and help them achieve their dreams as he had. The kid from Cayenne was an inspiration to many more back home looking to follow in his footsteps.
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