By the end of his first season, he had become the first-choice scrum-half for then-Toulouse coach Guy Noves. And he cemented his place in club folklore with a man-of-the-match performance in the final against Clermont, in which he landed four penalties from 50m or more.
Now, 16 years – and nearly 2,100 points in 314 club appearances and 77 international outings – later, the talk in France is all about whether a player for whom the word ‘mercurial’ could have been invented has one more season in him.
Some of his career has been good. Some of it has been bad – and some has been very definitely ugly … but there is no denying that when Freddie has been good, he has been very, very good.
Michalak, who will turn 35 on October 16, has said he will give himself until December to make his decision. “We’re going to think about it as a family,” he told France’s RMC Radio. “You have to take the time. It’s so complicated, it feels like you are able to play as long as possible, but it’s getting harder physically.”
Lyon head coach Pierre Mignoni has been careful to wrap one of his star players in cotton wool this season. Michalak regularly trades places in the starting line-up with another veteran fly-half – Lionel Beauxis – who is, ironically the player Guy Noves brought in to fill the fly-half gap when Michalak left Toulouse for the last time to join Toulon.
After three stints at Toulouse, two with Super Rugby’s Sharks and a four-season run at Toulon, this careful treatment seems to be bringing out the best in Michalak. It may not be his best start to Top 14 campaign – he would do well to top his debut campaign all those years ago – but this campaign has been pretty solid so far. He started Lyon’s last two games, both on the road, and was pivotal in guiding the side from southeast France to victory each time. And it’s clear his job-share scheme with Beauxis is doing neither of them any harm.
Lyon, sitting pretty in second in the Top 14 heading into the first bloc of European competitions, will surely want him to stick around for another season. Whether he will remains to be seen.