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“It is above all a collective consecration”

An individual reward to crown his stratospheric year 2021. Antoine Brizard was voted best player in the world on Sunday January 16 by the International Volleyball Federation. Predominant in the quest for Olympic gold in Tokyo, the smuggler from Piacenza (Italy) is at the top of a ranking where the French are highly represented. Behind him, Earvin Ngapeth (3rd), Jean Patry (4th), Jennia Grebennikov (5th) and Barthélémy Chinenyeze (10th) are also in the spotlight. The day after his award, it was a very relaxed Antoine Brizard who answered our questions.

Franceinfo: sport: How does it feel to tell you that you are the best player in the world this year?

Antoine Brizard: Well already, it’s not true (laughs). Volleyball is the team sport par excellence, it’s difficult to bring out individualities. It is above all a collective consecration. We are five players in the ranking. It’s very specific to what happened this year and what we did at the Games. This reminds us that the year 2021 was particularly good for French volleyball.

You met Earvin Ngapeth on Sunday evening (their respective teams faced each other in Italy). He fucked you?

Not too much… it was a bit of a tense match. Well, we always laugh before playing against each other, but he didn’t tell me about it.

Do you have the feeling that French volleyball has shifted into another dimension since the Games?

Completely ! I’m glad to see that, among all that happened there, many considered our run in the elimination phase to be the most beautiful moment of the Games. It’s huge that our sport has been so followed. The French have been marked by our journey, they feel that we love each other and that we are more than just a team. We are proud of it.

On a personal level, have you acquired more notoriety this year?

People don’t recognize me a lot, but when they recognize me a little, it’s already more than before (laughs). After the Games, it was a few times a day. Here I am in Italy, so less, but yes, very clearly. It’s still cool to have personal recognition and to be put forward.

You left France in 2017 and have just signed for Piacenza (Italy). Even if the level of the championship is lower compared to Italy, does this notoriety make you want to get closer to the French public in Ligue A?

I think we all want to go back to France! If we could come back tomorrow, we would. It is not a pleasure to be abroad. Even if it’s going very well and we love our lives, it’s sacrifices to be far from our family and our country. Afterwards, the financial and level gap is too great between France and Italy… The French championship is often underrated. But even at a slightly lower salary and at the same level, we would all return.

Through your role as a passer, you were often less highlighted than other teammates with the Blues…

It’s kind of the basis of the passer game to be in the shadows, so I never particularly wanted to be in the light. And then, it is also our duo of passers in the France team which is represented by me. Benjamin Toniutti is super important in my progression and our performance at the Games. We support each other. We must not forget that he finished champion of Poland, he won the Champions League and won the Games. He couldn’t do much better and is somewhat overlooked in that list.

Precisely, what is your daily relationship with him?

We have always had a lot of respect. I arrived as the second setter, and he always left his ego aside in favor of collective performance. When I had to play at certain important moments, he helped the team without ever trying to hold on to his indisputable starting place.

Antoine Brizard and Benjamin Toniutti, smiling around Earvin Ngapeth, last August (LIONEL VADAM / MAXPPP)

He always gave me space to move forward and progress. I have enormous respect for what he has done for me and for the team. Afterwards, on a daily basis, we sleep like the others, there are no exceptions (laughs)! But in competition, there is no animosity, we just want to win together.

What can we now wish you for 2022?

A medal at the world championships with the French team (from August 26 to September 11, 2022). This is what this generation lacks, we all have that in mind. And personally, to go as far as possible in the Italian championship.

We imagine that Bernardinho, the coach of the Blues, holds the same speech …

He doesn’t talk about medals, he talks about victory (laughs)!

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