Unsmiling, with clenched fists and a set jaw, Nicolas Sarkozy found himself yet again in the stance that has so often marked his political career - his back to the wall.
The French former president's aggressive, televised counter-attack on Wednesday to allegations he tried to obstruct a legal investigation into election campaign irregularities is the clearest sign yet that he intends a comeback, seeking leadership of his party this year ahead of a run for president in 2017.
Though he said he will keep his plans to himself for another few weeks, supporters noted that, as if to better fit the presidential part, he has shaved off the man-of-leisure stubble that had been the hallmark of his official retreat from politics since Francois Hollande thwarted his re-election bid in 2012.
Less obvious is whether his 17-minute, primetime defence can convince fellow conservatives, and voters, that he is simply a victim of biased judges and left-wing ministers out for revenge.
A BVA poll published on Wednesday found that 59 percent of voters were tired of Sarkozy, whose prickly, hard-driving style and celebrity marriage marked his five-year presidency and who is now involved in various ways in six separate legal cases.
Given the low esteem in which many voters hold the French establishment - after two years in the job, Socialist Hollande's approval rating is just 18 percent - Sarkozy's poll numbers do not rule out a comeback. But this week's unprecedented arrest and interrogation of a former head of state have not helped him.
Pollster Celine Bracq of BVA said that Hollande's troubles with the economy gave Sarkozy, 59, plenty to campaign on. "But," she added, "the exercise will be tricky. The calendar of his legal cases is particularly unfavourable for him."
On Wednesday, a judge placed him under formal investigation, raising the possibility of an eventual trial.
Sarkozy leads polls among members of his UMP party ahead of leadership ballot in November to replace Jean-Francois Cope, who quit in May over a funding scandal. But with 25 percent support, his advantage has narrowed - to four points this week from nine a month ago over former prime minister Alain Juppe.
"It's still there, but it is melting away - and that partly explains why he's speeding up his comeback," said Bracq, referring to Sarkozy's comment on Wednesday that he would decide in August or September whether to seek public office again.
That his closest party challenger, Juppe, has a