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Antoine Brizard, the conductor of the French team
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Antoine Brizard, the conductor of the French team

The French volleyball team has its “Mister Freeze”, a player whose mind is soaked in liquid nitrogen, capable of cooling boiling rooms with his clinical gestures. Antoine Brizard is the passer for the Habs, who face Japan on Monday, September 5, in Ljubljana, for a place in the quarter-finals of the World Cup, a competition they have never won. Since the Olympic title of the Blues at the Tokyo Games in 2021, Poitevin has asserted itself, match after match, as the world reference for this strategic position.

An action sums up Antoine Brizard: this tense back pass for Barthélémy Chinenyeze in the quarter-finals of the Games, while France, coming from nowhere, leads 10-6 in the tie-break against Poland. A daring gesture, taking maximum risk, which showered the last Polish hopes.

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“Mentally, he is very strong. He is an intelligent player, who is always two or three steps ahead of what the opponent is going to do. Above all, he impresses me with his consistency. He is able to put constant pressure on the opponent on serve and block.testifies Guillermo Hernan, the former smuggler of the Spanish team, who rubbed shoulders with him for three years at Paris Volley, his first professional club.

Named “best player in the world”

The World Cup, organized until September 11 in Slovenia and Poland, is the first major international meeting that Antoine Brizard plays as a holder, he who had started the Games on the bench, before winning, at age 27. , as the boss of the team. In January, he was named “best player in the world” by the International Federation. A consecration that he welcomed without exuberance, almost with shyness.

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“It’s a bit the basis of the passing game to be in the shadows, I never wanted to be in the lighthe said. Through this nomination, it is also the duo of smugglers from the France team who were rewarded. Benjamin Toniutti was super important in my progress. When I arrived in selection, in 2017, I was far from having his level. »

At 32, Benjamin Toniutti is a senior player for the France team (300 caps) and for the Polish club of Jastrzebski Wegiel, one of the best in Europe. But Andrea Giani, the Italian coach at the head of the France team since March, has decided to trust Antoine Brizard.

It is true that the Poitevin, with his 196 cm and his powerful serve, corresponds more to the profile of the modern volleyball player than the “little” Toniutti and his 183 cm. Today, the two men form an essential duo for the France team.

It is important for a team to have two passers who get along well, because the one who is not playing is better placed to read the opposing game and can provide an outside perspective.explains the former international Stéphane Faure, who saw Antoine Brizard arrive at the age of 15 at the Center for Resources, Expertise and Sports Performance (Creps) in Bordeaux, of which he directed the men’s section.

“He made himself”

It’s hard to escape volleyball when you were born in Poitiers, the stronghold of the discipline in France. As a child, Antoine Brizard regularly attended Stade Poitevin matches with his mother, a former volleyball player, and his father, who practiced athletics and football. “at a good level”. After having tried football and tennis, he followed his brother Benjamin when the latter signed up for volleyball. Upgraded to chicks at the Saint-Benoît club, he rubs shoulders with Earvin Ngapeth, older and already a physical monster, and thinks that his place on the field is perhaps not among the big hitters, but rather in that of the conductor.

A few years later, he finds himself in boarding school at Creps de Bordeaux. For a time, he plans to study medicine, like his mother and his brother, but the passion for volleyball prevails. If he does not yet have the physical strength of the best, the technique and the mind are already there. “Antoine is quiet strengthsays Stéphane Faure. When he came to us, he was a good student, with his head on his shoulders. He felt the game well, but he lacked explosiveness. As he is a hard worker, he worked hard to acquire this physical dimension. He made himself. »

At 18, Antoine Brizard arrives at Paris Volley, one of the best French clubs. For three years, he progressed alongside Guillermo Hernan. But the Parisian club, which plays in the Champions League, does not take the risk of giving responsibilities to a player with no experience. “He didn’t play a lot, but he didn’t complainrecalls Mr. Hernan. He was a mature, respectful boy who listened to others. He enjoyed discussing tactics for hours. Technically he was talented without being gifted, but his determination was impressive. »

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In lack of playing time, Antoine Brizard left Paris Volley in 2015 for Spacer’s Toulouse Volley, with whom he reached the final of the French championship in 2017, which earned him his first selections. Then, the call of the open sea: three seasons in Poland, one in Russia and, for the past year, Italy, “the best championship in the world”. In Piacenza, a wealthy little town on the border of Emilia-Romagna and Lombardy, the “quiet man” quickly found his bearings, but he remains attached to Paris Volleyball, to the point of becoming a minority shareholder of the club in 2021. .

Paris is my first pro club, it’s a city that means a lot to me, because I met my wife and my best friends there. This is my second family here”he told the Parisian in January. In two years, the City of Light will once again be on its roadmap. “The Games, I think about them every day”he said.