It was with his characteristic big smile and the modesty of a great champions, that Shabani Nonda took the time to tell his story before the big match in Ligue 1 between Lens and AS Monaco. He came to visit the Performance Centre and La Diagonale on Wednesday, ahead of the Elite Group’s match with Chelsea which he attended. The former Rouge et Blanc striker took the time to retrace his time at the foot of the Rock, with infinite kindness… and a lot of humor!🎙
"𝗖𝗮 𝗳𝗮𝗶𝘁 𝘁𝗼𝘂𝗷𝗼𝘂𝗿𝘀 𝗰𝗵𝗮𝘂𝗱 𝗮𝘂 𝗰𝗼𝗲𝘂𝗿 𝗱𝗲 𝗿𝗲𝘃𝗲𝗻𝗶𝗿" ❤️🤍
Le serial buteur Shabani Nonda nous a fait le plaisir de venir nous rendre visite au Centre de Performance.
L'occasion de se remémorer ses belles années sur le Rocher ✨ pic.twitter.com/PNAsyZPa6J
— AS Monaco 🇲🇨 (@AS_Monaco) April 21, 2023
Hello Shabani. To begin with, how does it feel to come back to AS Monaco?
This awakens in me a lot of memories that are coming back to me. Even though things have changed enormously in terms of infrastructure in particular, of course! So it always evokes something in me. In sporting terms, I learned a lot here, and rubbed shoulders with great players.
What does this club represent for you?
For me, AS Monaco was an important part of the progress in my career, because I arrived from Rennes and the Club had just been crowned champion of France in the year 2000. So I learned a lot here, and from a personal and family point of view, this is where I got married and had children. It means a lot to me, since I had the peak of my career here!
At the time you arrived from Rennes with the status of being a great young player. How would you sum up your five years spent in the Principality?
At that time I was joining a big club, with a lot of ambition. At the beginning it was a little tough, we can say, but with the arrival of Didier Deschamps, the situation changed for me. This true even if on the sporting level, there was an injury which hindered my momentum in the summer of 2003 and which remains a regret.
However, we also reached the Champions League final, having won the Coupe de la Ligue the year before. These are simply good memories. I did not resume my career as I wanted after my knee injury, even though Professor Jaeger helped me to come back. But it’s okay, I’m not complaining (smiles).
Jérôme Rothen recently said that Monaco were the best team in Europe that year. Is that your opinion too?
I think yes ! I don’t know, there was a generation of players, a great squad that got on well together. There was joy! It went beyond the professional side, football, we liked being together. It was truly a family. When you came home and you were told that you had to come back to training, you knew you were going to see your friends.
I think that was the key! It was Didier who managed to build this cohesion, this atmosphere in the squad. And we have seen it everywhere he goes, he manages to create the same thing and the results follow.
Is he the coach who has been the most important in your career?
(Without hesitation) Oh yes! But not just for me, he was crucial for many of us. It was really him who knew how to create this atmosphere around the 2003-2004 team.
In this generation of the 2000s, you rubbed shoulders with some great players! Which ones impressed you the most?
(He thinks) Marco Simone! Marcelo Gallardo! When I came from Rennes, I saw these guys and I say to myself: “What is this level?” (laughs). It was impressive. Then there was Fernando Morientes who had came from Real Madrid. There was also “the left foot,” Jérôme Rothen. The revelation, however, was Patrice Evra, because at the time he came from Ligue 2.
He surpassed all predictions! We had Vladimir Jugović who also came from Juve, and Oliver Bierhoff. I didn’t even need to change leagues to rub shoulders with big names (laughs)! Being with them every day in training, I learned a lot.
Do you feel like you are part of the lineage of great attackers in the history of AS Monaco, like Onnis, Weah, Trezeguet?…
(He cuts) No no! Maybe some people think so, fans for example, but I don’t have the hindsight to judge it. Personally, I spent five years here during which I tried to give the maximum to satisfy the Club. But that’s all I can say.
How do you explain the attachment that the supporters have maintained with you?
I don’t know to be honest. I was asked the same question recently by Ligue 1! I was told that few players had had a song for them in France. So I don’t know (he bursts out laughing). It’s always difficult from our position, because you don’t know what the fans see in you — it is something inexplicable.
To come back to your journey, you finished top scorer in the league in 2003 with 26 goals. How does that make you feel in hindsight?
A lot of pride! Even if we missed winning the title by so little. We had to play twice as much that year. After the Coupe de la Ligue victory, Didier caught us off-guard against Guingamp, and in the end we lost (3-1). There was Didier Drogba and Florent Malouda playing for them. They were waiting for us and they were under pressure!
Is there a particular goal that sticks with you?
(The one against) Chelsea ! I scored on my return from injury, so personally it was a big moment for me, like a resurrection. (He sees a photo of a battle with John Terry) Ah ok (smile)! John Terry was not the most easy to play against among the defenders..
🔙 20 avril 2⃣0⃣0⃣4⃣ :
Vous étiez où ce soir-là ? #Legendary
— AS Monaco 🇲🇨 (@AS_Monaco) April 20, 2018
But in Ligue 1, I would say that the one who gave me the most trouble was the Argentinian Gabriel Heinze. Oh that one I didn’t like! He was mean, vicious, all at the same time. It’s the only one for which I said to myself: “It’s going to be very, very hard!” It was a real battle among men.
With which player did you have a special relationship with on the pitch?
(Without thinking) Jérôme Rothen! When Didier allowed us to work on our link-up play in training, I immediately felt that things were taking off! I knew in advance what he was going to do, according to his movement. Besides, if I finished top scorer in 2003, I certainly owe him 50% of my goals! He’s my guy! (smiles).
But there were also players “in the shadows”…
Of course, there was Gaël (Givet), Sébastien (Squillaci), Hugo Ibarra, Lucas (Bernardi) in the midfield! He didn’t speak often, but when he looked at you you said “yes yes”, because you knew he was going to tear you down (smiles). I haven’t necessarily kept contact with a lot of this generation, but we always enjoy seeing each other again when we have the opportunity.
Why is AS Monaco such a special club in a player’s career?
For my part, I know why, because that’s where I learned to raise my level of play. For the others, I don’t know. But for me it was very special.
We have not yet mentioned your international career. We imagine that it was a great honor to play for your country, the Democratic Republic of Congo?
When you have this status as a Monaco player, it also gives you importance in your country. You are given the captain’s armband and then you become the flag bearer of your country, so that’s something that obviously is important. Especially since we had the ambition, beyond qualifying for the Africa Cup of Nations, to participate in a World Cup. And then there is feeling of your family being proud of you. The country gave this pride back to us, because we gave our all — maybe that’s what can make you famous.
Is that also why you want to give back today by launching a football school?
That’s exactly right! There are things that we could not achieve when we were playing, things like qualifying as a team and a player in the World Cup. And now as a leader, we pay it back by working with young people by setting up infrastructure and an academy.
It’s a way of giving back to football everything it has given us. And if it is this new generation that manages to do what we did not succeed at the time, it will be something very positive for me. This is my goal and my ambition. I dream of seeing young people from my academy play in the World Cup!
It must inevitably be inspiring to see what George Weah is doing for his country, for example…
He always did things differently anyway (smiles)! He is the only African Ballon d’Or winner, the only player to become President of his country. Who will pick it up from him (laughs)? These are big shoes to fill. He was unique as a player, and he was our role model! He is the one who allowed us to get where we are today, because we were inspired by him. Even when you leave the Continent, you can contribute to its development, and he proved it before returning to lead his country. Through football, one can change things around us.
Photos: Pierre-Joseph Gadeau / Icon Sport