It would be forgiveable if Christopher Jullien were enjoying the opportunity to kick back this week as the Celtic defender finds himself among a small band of players at the club’s training ground.
The international break has followed a breathless period when the towering centre-back lived up to his dimensions as Neil Lennon’s men qualified for the knockout stages of the Europa League with a monumental double over Lazio, regained pole position in the Premiership and booked a Betfred Cup final date with Rangers. Yet, the hiatus tells him one aspect of his career hasn’t proved as exhilerating as he craved .
Six years ago Jullien was a member of the France squad that captured the country’s first ever Under-20 World Cup. That success in Turkey ensured the nation, a pre-eminent force in the international game, and current world champions, became the first to capture all five of Fifa’s major tournaments (which is comprised of the 17s, 20s, Olympics, Confederations and World Cup). The then Auxerre performer had a bystander role in a team captained by Manchester United’s Paul Pogba, and which had contributions from Real Madrid keeper Aphonse Areola, Samuel Umtiti of Barcelona, Everton’s Lucas Digne and Chelsea signing Kurt Zouma. And he has had a bystander role in international football ever since… which leads him to view in-season downtime such as he is currently experiencing with ambivalence.
“I was a little bit used to these international breaks before this year. After playing for the young team in France stopped, I knew they were times to focus on myself and the things I need to work on,” he said. “It’s true it’s really quiet in Lennoxtown with not many players around and I’m happy there are so many international players here. I have some more days off but I’d love to stop that. I would love to cut those days off to become an international player.”
Doing so is the tallest of orders when you are French, even if Celtic’s European form in recent months has given him a profile he did not have at previous club Toulouse.
“It’s my dream to be an international player,” he said. “When you touch it a little bit when you are young and you see others you have played with going on to represent France, it’s unbelievable. As I say, it’s a dream but I know I am far from it just now because there are so many good players. But who does not dream of playing for their country?
“When I won the Under-20 World Cup with France, it was the first trophy of my career. It was just unbelievable playing in that team. I think eight of the first 11 have played for the full national team. I’m really happy that they made the French team but in my head I am dis appointed in myself because I think I can do it and I would love to do it. The step is very high but I will keep working.
“You don’t have that kind of game every week [like the Rome win] but it was really good. I’m just trying to keep the momentum going. All my team-mates are good with me and I will just try to do my best to help the team. It was not easy to come into a team that wins everything. It’s really difficult but I’m just trying to do my best every day then you never know what will happen in football. In football, it all happens so fast. I’m just trying to remain focused.
“Who knows? If you have the number of the national trainer in France and you want to call him about me there’s no problem. It would be a dream but there are so many good players in that team – that’s why they won the World Cup.”