M'Vila began his football career playing for ES Sains-Saint-Fussien in the commune of Saint-Fuscien. He spent three years at the club and, in July 1999, joined the biggest club in the region Amiens SC. M'Vila joined the club as a youth player and practiced in the club's soccer school, which was established by his father, who had previously played on the club's reserve team.] After spending five seasons at the club, M'Vila left the club after developing friction and ventured to Paris to join FC Mantes. During his short stint at Mantes, M'Vila lived with his grandparents. M'Vila admitted that, during his time at Mantes, he had "forgot his dream" of becoming a professional footballer. The desire was brought back after he was discovered by a Stade Rennais scout in October 2004. The following month, M'Vila departed Mantes to join the prestigious youth academy of Rennes after signing an aspirant (youth) contract with the club.
Among M'Vila's teammates in the youth system included fellow prospects Damien Le Tallec, the younger brother of Anthony Le Tallec, Yohann Lasimant, Abdoul Camara, and Yacine Brahimi. The combination of M'Vila, Brahimi, Camara, and Le Tallec, all four being members of the class of 1990, were particularly instrumental in their youth team's successes. With the under-16 team, the foursome won the Tournoi Carisport, a national tournament that regularly pits the top academies in France against each other. Two seasons later with the under-18 team, M'Vila won the under-18 league championship for the 2006–07 season. In 2008, the youth academy achieved its biggest honour after winning the Coupe Gambardella. The title was Rennes' third Gambardella Cup and its first since 2003 when the likes of Yoann Gourcuff and Sylvain Marveaux were playing in the competition. In the final, Rennes faced Bordeaux and M'Vila was tasked with the objective of containing fellow French starlet Grégory Sertic. He accomplished the task and also scored a goal on a left-footed strike from 25 metres (27 yd) out leading the team to a 3–0 victory.
Following the 2006–07 season, on 11 August 2007, M'Vila, alongside teammates Le Tallec and Camara, signed his first professional contract after agreeing to a three-year deal with Rennes. He spent the entire season playing on the club's reserve team in the Championnat de France amateur in the fourth division before being officially promoted to the senior squad and assigned the number 15 shirt for the 2008–09 season. Due to having minor surgery on his toenail and his attitude being questioned by manager Guy Lacombe, M'Vila missed significant practice time with the senior team and began the season with the club's CFA team for the second consecutive year. Despite Lacombe questioning the player's attitude, M'Vila has declared that he bears no ill feelings towards Lacombe. He, subsequently, appeared in 20 matches with the reserve team and scored no goals as the team finished 1st among professional clubs in its group, thus qualifying for the playoffs, where the club lost to Lyon in the semi-finals.
Following a successful international campaign with the France under-19 team, on 13 August 2009, new manager Frédéric Antonetti announced that M'Vila would be earning some significant playing time with the club for the 2009–10 season. Two days later, after appearing with the CFA team in the first week of the season, he was named to the 19-man squad to face Nice. M'Vila made his professional debut in that match appearing as a substitute in the 80th minute. Due to the suspension of Japanese midfielder Junichi Inamoto, M'Vila earned his first start the following week against Marseille. He played the entire match, which ended 1–1. The following week against Lens, M'Vila earned his first professional red card. After returning from suspension, M'Vila never lost his place within the team breaking the starting eleven in all the remaining league matches, except for one.
On 15 September 2009, M'Vila signed a contract extension with Rennes until June 2013.On 27 August 2010, he agreed to another extension with the club. The new deal will keep him at the club until 2014. On 18 December, in a 1–0 win over Valenciennes, M'Vila played the entire match completing 100 of his 112 attempted passes, the former statistical output being a league-high for the season. Due to his performances domestically and internationally, M'Vila was linked to Spanish club Real Madrid and English club Liverpool during the fall season. In December 2010, the midfielder quelled the interest by declaring his commitment to Rennes and also jokingly stating that he would only depart Rennes after scoring his first goal. Coincidentally, he scored his first professional goal on 9 January 2011 in a 7–0 hammering of Championnat National club Cannes in the Coupe de France. A week later, M'Vila scored his first career league goal in a 4–0 win over Arles-Avignon. On 20 February, M'Vila scored the opening goal for Rennes, converting a free kick, in a 2–1 win over Toulouse. M'Vila was rewarded for his performances during the season with a nomination for the UNFP Ligue 1 Young Player of the Year. The midfielder lost out on the award to national team teammate Mamadou Sakho, but was given consolation with an appearance on the organization's Team of the Year. A day later, Rennes confirmed on its website that M'Vila had signed a one-year contract extension with the club. The new deal will keep him with Rennes until 2015.
M'Vila opened the 2011–12 season making his European debut in a UEFA Europa League third qualifying round first leg tie against Georgian club Metalurgi Rustavi on 28 July 2011. M'Vila played the entire match in a 5–2 win. On 25 August, he scored his first goal of the campaign in a 4–0 second leg win over Serbian club Red Star Belgrade in the Europa League playoff round. On 15 September, M'Vila captained Rennes for the first time in a 1–1 league draw with Nancy.
M'Vila has featured for all of France's national youth teams for which he was eligible beginning with the under-16 team. He made his international debut with the team on 23 May 2006 in a friendly match against Romania. M'Vila made his only other appearance in the team in the return leg against Romania. M'Vila began featuring as a regular international with the under-17 team making his debut on 5 December 2006 in a friendly match against the Czech Republic. M'Vila scored his first international goal on 20 February 2007 against Portugal in the Algarve Cup. He was a member of the team that reached the semi-finals at the 2007 UEFA European Under-17 Football Championship where they lost to England. In the competition, M'Vila scored a goal against group stage opponents Ukraine in a 2–2 draw. The draw resulted in France advancing to the 2007 FIFA U-17 World Cup held in South Korea. M'Vila appeared in all five matches helping the team reach the quarter-finals where they were defeated by Spain on penalties.
With the under-18 team, M'Vila appeared in six of the ten matches the team contested. He made his debut with the team in its opening match against the United States in the Tournoi de Limoges. M'Vila appeared in all 18 matches scoring 3 goals with the under-19 team. He was given the honor of captaining the team by coach Jean Gallice. He scored one goal during the qualification process against Romania in a 3–0 victory. The victory assured qualification to the tournament. At the tournament, held in the Ukraine, M'Vila appeared in all three group stage matches helping France reach the semi-finals. Due to picking up a yellow card in back-to-back matches, M'Vila missed the semi-final defeat to England. Upon receiving the yellow card in the final group stage match against Spain, a very distraught M'Vila palmed his face into his knees as he knew he would miss the important semi-final match.
Just days after the under-19 elimination, M'Vila was called up to the under-21 team, the only one of the under-19 squad, to participate in the team's friendly match against Poland on 12 August. He made his under-21 debut in that match appearing as a substitute in the 74th minute of a 2–2 draw. On 25 February 2010, M'Vila was reportedly named to the senior team for their friendly against Spain on 3 March. The news was based on the preliminary list sent to news agencies minutes before coach Raymond Domenech was to announce the squad in a press conference. However, following the formalization of the list at the start of the press conference, his name was replaced with Marseille midfielder Benoît Cheyrou. M'Vila was later called up to the under-21 team for their friendly against Croatia, but withdrew from the team due to injury. On 11 May, M'Vila was named to the 30-man preliminary list by Domenech to play in the 2010 FIFA World Cup but failed to make the final 23.
On 5 August 2010, M'Vila was officially called up to the senior team for the first time by new manager Laurent Blanc for the team's friendly match against Norway on 11 August 2010. He earned his first senior cap in the match starting in the defensive midfielder role. Despite France losing the match 2–1, M'Vila earned rave reviews for his performance, with many media outlets in France naming him the team's player of the match. Following his debut, M'Vila appeared in five consecutive matches for France. After starting in the team's UEFA Euro 2012 qualifying victory over Bosnia and Herzegovina in September 2010, he became the only player to feature as a starter in Blanc's first three matches as manager. On 25 March 2011, M'Vila completed 92.5 percent of his 134 attempted passes in a 2–0 UEFA Euro 2012 qualifying win over Luxembourg. The feat was the best by any France player in an international match since 2006.On 2 September 2011, M'Vila scored his first international goal in a 2–1 Euro qualifying victory over Albania
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