He finished with a bang before the international break, having made the most recoveries in the match in the victory against Saint-Etienne (4-0), with 13. Youssouf Fofana is one of the most in-form players at AS Monaco and one of Niko Kovac’s key men on the pitch when it comes to making adjustments to the Rouge et Blancs‘ tactics. Deprived of his midfield partner, Aurélien Tchouameni, who will be suspended against FC Metz this Saturday (1 p.m. behind closed doors) for Ligue 1’s resumption, the French midfielder spoke about the team’s current form at a press conference.
Hello Youssouf. Can we see this as a decisive weekend ahead of the end of the season?
Yes that much is certain. After the international break, it will inevitably be important to manage a return to action for all the teams. But honestly the Paris-Lille match does not concern us too much. On the other hand, Lens are in fifth place, so we will watch for their result against Lyon, of course. We are entering the run-in, we will have to be solid.
Are you worried about Aurélien Tchouameni, who came off injured with the France U-21s yesterday?
I’m worried because looking at the images it’s really nasty. But I know Aurélien, he’s tough and I’m sure he’ll come back soon. Our relationship on the pitch? This is the fruit of the work done in the first few months of the season. The staff really focused on the physical side of things at the start of the season, so that we could be in shape by the time of the final run-in.
— Equipe de France ⭐⭐ (@equipedefrance) March 31, 2021
Personally, you only have one goal left to cap your season…
You’re going to bug me with that all the time! (smiles) Of course I would like to score, that would be icing on the cake. But I don’t focus too much on that. It’s true that I’m trying a little harder now, but it will come and I’m not worried.
Were you disappointed that you weren’t called up for the U-21 Euros?
Personally I was disappointed, but not to the point of complaining. In any case, I was very happy for my teammates Aurélien and Benoît. I saw that they qualified for the quarterfinals yesterday, so I’m happy for them. And also, the Euros are being played in two phases this year, so maybe I can catch the manager’s eye before May (smiles).
You could be playing with Eliot Matazo against Metz. How do you approach this?
I have already spoken about this in a press conference, the AS Monaco midfielder is not just Aurélien and me. There are also Eliot Matazo and Florentino Luis, who are working very hard and also doing very well in training. And to be honest, we call Eliot Rio between us, because of the similarities he has with Rio Mavuba in his game. He has a fairly low center of gravity, he runs in all directions, and has a combative style in midfield. I often talk with Eliot, he’s like a little brother. So if I play with him on Saturday, there will be no problems.
He was sent off in December against Saint-Etienne…
After the match I sent him a message because I was away, and I wanted to express my support. Especially since his tackle was not worth being sent off. I think sometimes VAR accentuates contact between players. But he wasn’t down on himself, he has had some great games since, against Grenoble and Nice in the Coupe de France; with a little more time on the pitch he has proved he can be very responsive.
Which position do you prefer to have in the race for the top places in the run-in?
I prefer to be the hunter, personally. But we will hunt when there are no more hunters behind us. It’s the first time I’ve found myself this high up the table, so I’m under no pressure. We’re young and this is somewhat of a bonus for us; 60 to 70% of the players have never been in this position, so we’re under no particular pressure. We take things as they come, and in the years to come we will use the experience. but for now we are listening to what Djibril, Wissam, Cesc, and all the experienced players are telling us.
How exactly do these more experienced players accept the fact of being sometimes on the bench, like Wissam against Saint-Etienne?
Individual moods in a group must be put to the side. Wissam is our leader, he shows a great state of mind. Otherwise he wouldn’t be our captain. He will never go against the coach. We always give everything each day, because you never know what will happen in the next match. No one has a guaranteed place on the team. If you only knew how hard I worked during the break (smiles)…
Tell us a bit about Damien Perrinelle’s role in the staff.
His main role is to act as a link between the staff and the players. Sometimes he does translation when there is a lack of understanding. In addition, he’s the one who quit football the most recently among the staff, so he fully understands the requirements, and he’s there to talk to us, to calm us in the locker room when we’re upset after a match. He is very important.
You speak very good English now …
There are some players who can follow along because they have had incredible careers abroad. At the beginning it was a little more challenging, but now the instructions are repetitive so things are better, we understand things very well. And then there are several languages spoken between the players in the locker room: Spanish, English, even Russian with Golo’. This is life in a locker room.
What about the role of Robert Kovac?
I would say he’s the firm hand of the staff, he makes his position known even if he respects the role of the coach. But he is really important to the setup. When he speaks, we listen to him with great attention.
Some players have benefitted from the services of a chef at home. Can you tell us more?
We have a nutritionist for the players who actually want one. It is often the youngsters who do this, given that we are following the example of the veteran players. Two people linked up with the nutritionist to come to us to help us better understand our nutrition and advise us. I don’t think I will feel the difference in my body at present because I’m only 22 years old, but I think in 6-7 years I will be able to thank them.
Would you say that you are having the most successful season of your career?
I’ve been in different situations in the past, like I said, it’s the first time I’ve been this high in the table with my team. But yes, it’s my most successful season yet I think. We hope it will continue like this until the end. I can say it’s personally satisfying for the time being. It’s up to us to finish well.