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      Guéhi’s lessons from Maldini, Roberto Carlos, Hodgson & England


      Marc Guéhi’s rise has been a joy to watch for Crystal Palace and England supporters alike; a young man whose character befits his footballing quality, whose determination is paying dividends.

      The 23-year-old centre-back is currently with Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions squad preparing for their closing Euro 2024 qualifiers against Malta and North Macedonia – their place at next summer’s finals in Germany already assured.

      The next step in Guéhi’s own personal ladder, therefore – having been called up for four of England’s last five squads, only missing out on the 2022 World Cup in Qatar – is to finally cement his place in a finals squad.

      With seven caps to his name, three of which have come in England’s last four games, it is the next stage in a structured – in Guéhi’s own words, “steady” – rise from a player of untapped potential when he first signed for Palace in 2021 to a commanding, but calm, figurehead on and off the pitch.

      “[I feel] an integral part of it,” Guéhi said of England’s squad. “First of all you get called up, which is amazing, but also you all have one common goal together – and that’s to try and win. Every time you come here, the level of detail the staff give is second to none.

      “I feel like me being a leader… I am just myself. I’m not trying to do anything different. When I come here, I can be a leader, but at the same I am very conscious of learning a lot from those around me, those who came before me.

      “I look at the team — so many captains of their clubs.” Guéhi has already worn Palace’s armband on select occasions, but it speaks much to his maturity that he feels so strongly he has plenty left to learn – and plenty of people to learn it from.

      “As far as being a centre-back, I try to improve every time I come here, each training session at a time, each game at a time, and see what happens.

      ‌“To even try and put your name wherever is difficult. Ezri Konsa has been called up – a top player. Fikayo Tomori is always here, obviously Harry [Maguire]. John [Stones] will come back – there are so many players so it is hard to imagine.”

      While being surrounded by high-level players every day on international duty has been of great benefit to the young defender, so too has the experience and guidance of his manager in south London.

      Guéhi says of manager Roy Hodgson: “Some of the gems he says every single day… you just have to take a step back sometimes and think: ‘Did he just say that?’.

      “They definitely help you a lot with games coming up with Palace and coming away with the national team. “I think he mentioned something about Inter Milan, back in the day, and he was talking about Roberto Carlos. Even to think he has coached Roberto Carlos! You are sat in the meeting and you are like: ’Honestly, wow!’. You are taken aback.

      “He has done so much in the game, so when he talks, you listen. He tells me to be myself, to express myself and to enjoy and keep doing what I am doing for my club.

      “As long as the gaffer is still involved in football, I think he will always have an impact. He and his staff have done a fantastic job. They are really ambitious, so just doing a good job isn’t enough for them – they want to push on and see how far they can take the team.”

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      I think I am a bit of both: I can be aggressive, I can be more cute.

      Marc Guéhi

      As far as inspirations go, runner-up FIFA World Player of the Year Roberto Carlos is not a bad one for any defender – but as a central defender, Guéhi has another icon: “I think Paolo Maldini said something like: ‘If you have to make a tackle, you weren’t in the right position in the first place’.

      “If a defender can go in a game and seem to be doing absolutely nothing, then he is doing absolutely everything right. Obviously there are times when you might have to make a last-minute tackle because of whatever is happening, but if I can avoid being seen in a game, as crazy as it sounds, I am doing my job.

      “There are a lot of defenders that are overly aggressive, so they rely on that in their game. There are a lot of defenders who don’t worry about that, they are a lot cuter in their movements and how to win the ball. I think I am a bit of both: I can be aggressive, I can be more cute.

      “How do you learn this? There are top players here [with England] you can look at, there is positioning, there is communication – speaking to the players in front of you, putting them in positions to do your job potentially, if that makes sense, so you don’t have to do it – so the opposition can be stopped higher up the pitch.

      "There are loads of things.”

      Perhaps reflective of those characteristics on the pitch – calm, composed and in control – Guéhi’s rise, as far as one of a footballer’s goes, has seemed remarkably measured.

      From south London neighbourhood prospect with Cray Wanderers, to England international status as one of the Premier League’s top centre-backs, Guéhi admits: “The trait of my life is that everything has been quite steady. Growing up I was never pushed on too soon or left behind. It was always quite steady.

      “In the Chelsea academy, going out on loan [to Swansea], steadily playing game after game for them and gaining confidence… getting the move to Palace [in July 2021], finding my feet in the Premier League and now coming here with England…

      “When you talk about those steps and progression, everything for me has been quite natural. I just see things how they are and take things how they come.”

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      It’s about... using those moments to prove yourself. It is like building calluses, but in your mind.

      Marc Guéhi

      But beneath the surface, Guéhi admits to facing his own trials – his own battles, particularly at the start of a one-and-a-half year on loan at Swansea City, which coincided with the onset of the global pandemic – but feels they pushed him on to fulfil his potential.

      As he explains, speaking of when he was 19, living alone away from home for the first time: “When I said about the steadiness, along that pathway there is those setbacks – but I think it’s your job as an individual to just learn from those as quickly as possible, and not allow them to drag you from behind.

      “There’s been many setbacks and always will be. It’s about learning from them and using those moments to prove yourself. It is like building calluses, but in your mind.

      “Going through those moments does help you. You might have a bad game, but you remember what you’ve gone through before and you almost put it to bed and go: ‘I just need to prove myself in the next game.’ Moving steadily…

      “Not many people know, it was tough for me at Swansea. I have not spoken about it. Everyone thinks it was plain sailing, great. I played the first four games and then I didn’t play up until after lockdown.

      “Being away from home, in Swansea, different country, on your own, there’s going to be challenges. Those moments were difficult, but you take those moments, learn from them, try to move on and put them right. I was just out of favour – not anything in particular.

      "I came from Chelsea and came with a lot of confidence, and my confidence almost gets knocked.”

      Guéhi was able to leave Wales during football’s initial suspension in the pandemic, and before more stringent lockdown rules were imposed, returning to his family home in Surrey.

      “It was so strange to say it – for so many people around the world it was horrible, for my family, and so many people around – but it came at probably the best moment. I could get away from football, be with my family, and just focus on myself.

      “How can I now, if football does come back – thankfully football did come back – if we do get back to playing, how can I get back in this team?

      “Sometimes you just need a break. Sometimes you just need that time to get away from football and reflect, think, improve, and spend time with your family. They have been a big part of my journey, and always will be.

      “It is the harsh realities of life and football: things might not be going great for you, but you have to persevere, push through and stay strong.”

      He remains, above all, on course for a rise which, "steady" it might have seemed, but 'spectacular' it has transpired.