Youssouf Fofana (Monaco): “I have matured”

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RMC SPORT interview – In difficulty with the arrival of Philippe Clement, the defensive midfielder flourishes again alongside his friend Aurélien Tchouaméni. At 23, the ex-Strasbourger has regained his legs and rhythm to the point of seducing his trainer. “They made their place for themselves”, explained Philippe Clement last week. Youssouf Fofana does not intend to let go.

Youssouf, you had three complicated months from December to February playing parts of matches when you established yourself as a starter last season. How did you experience it?

It’s part of a player’s career and my period has arrived. It was a bit more complicated. At that time I was less physically ready, it helped me because I focused on myself and less on what I had to do more on the pitch compared to so and so. First of all, I wanted to be 100% before aspiring to a starting position.

How did this comeback come about until your recent good performances?

I spoke a lot with the coach. The first ten days after his arrival I had no contact with him (he was positive for COVID and therefore in isolation). When I came back, we were presented as the Tchouaméni-Fofana duo but there was no Fofana. He wondered why, how we could work to get things back to how they were before. We went step by step, it took time but the most important thing is to have reformed this pair in the big matches.

Since the match against Lens in the Coupe de France (note, January 30) I started doing video reviews with the coach and a member of his staff, which I didn’t necessarily do. I realized that it worked well so we continued. The match against Paris (3-0 victory) was complete for me because in all the aspects on which we worked I was present. The video brings me little marbles. When I haven’t taken the info before or when I’m a little less lucid, I know that I always have a solution and the video allows me to see it, to know how to position myself without necessarily looking around me.

A month ago you reproached a journalist, at a press conference, that we were too hard on you…

We were in a complicated situation. The media have last season as a reference. To say that we are not at the same level as last year and that AS Monaco is dead is not appropriate. I found it popped up often. We are a young team, we are often on the networks and we exchanged about that. This was not the right time to read this stuff. I’m not saying that we needed people who caressed us in the direction of the hair, but at least forgetting about us and focusing on the better teams than us, that might have done us good.

We hear here as everywhere the expression “match after match” but lately it has become very frequent in Monaco. Is it because you were too focused on ranking?

For me, yes. We all had one goal, which was to return to the European Cup and do better than last season, that is to say qualify directly for the Champions League. During the season, we saw that it was not taking shape as we wanted. In this case you have to go back to the basics, play 90 minutes thinking it might be the last game of the season, you have to win it and then so on. We see that right now it smiles at us. We will play two direct competitors on Friday (Rennes) and Wednesday (Monaco). If we win these next two games we are back as competitors, we are scary. It may be too late, but we’re here anyway.

You rose to the occasion against the big players in the championship (victories against Rennes in the first leg, Marseille, Lens, Lyon, Paris) the hardest part finally happened with Metz and Troyes?

We had to prove and show that we could beat teams at the bottom of the table, we did it and it’s a good thing, but in football you always have to prove. Rennes are one of the best teams this season, they’ve shown it to us for a few years. We will have to reconfirm again that we can also beat those in front of us.

You will find Jonas Martin whom you knew in Strasbourg…

Yes it was a manager and I had just arrived in the locker room. I learned a lot from him whether on the pitch or off, how to behave in a locker room. We didn’t trade before this match but I’m very happy to find him again to show him what I can do.

Philippe Clement arrived with the label of “nice” and yet he raised his voice only a few weeks after his arrival. Did you need to be moved?

At first glance, when you meet the coach, it’s true that you think he’s really calm, but he’s like everyone else, when things aren’t going well, he’s going to give a little rant, he tells us the watch. It was necessary to acclimatize for him as for us, I think he has become much calmer now (laughs).

What has changed in the way you train compared to what you did under Niko Kovac?

To begin with, the schedules have changed, from 9:45 a.m. we went to 9 a.m. and that will never change. Forty-five minutes counts! (laughs). At first we trained a little longer but with coach Kovac it was much more intensive, we had fewer breaks, it was twenty seconds to drink. Coach Philippe favors quality. If we need five minutes, we take five minutes. They each have their own method, with coach Kovac we chained the terminals before touching the ball, now we integrate the ball, we take more pleasure because we are a footballer above all (laughs). Then, it is not the same vision of football. With coach Kovac it was more direct and oppressive while with coach Philippe it’s more calm, patient, over time and I think we can feel it. Even if we win by small margins I have the impression that we are much more dangerous at the end of the match.

You were talking about the Tchouaméni-Fofana pair, does seeing him perform in the France team make him a model as a recuperator?

Aurel is Aurel, Youssouf is Youssouf, we are two different players but at the same time similar. That he goes to the France team I think it’s nice and I take it for myself too because I’m often associated with him, it’s as if I took him to the top. I do my thing on my side and if we can go to two we go huh (laughs).

Next Wednesday, the derby against Nice will be your 100th Ligue 1 match, how do you analyze your development since your first match with Strasbourg?

Oh good ? I didn’t know (laughs). On the pitch, I made great progress from the start before stagnating for a few months before coming to Monaco. Then there was the COVID, a small drop, a small increase and then another small drop (he smiles). I was not consistent but the curve is quite high I think. On a human level, I have really evolved, especially in the people around me. I have matured.

At AS Monaco you have a lot of people at your disposal but you also work with other people on a daily basis, in connection with the club.

Yes, in a short time I chained the matches and things had to be put in place around me whether it was a cook, a mental or physical trainer, a psychologist… if you had told me that three years ago I would have told you no. I now know that it is beneficial. My cook has followed me every day for a year and a half, I didn’t pay attention in relation to my training sessions to what I ate for lunch and dinner. A physical trainer in addition to that of the club… a few years ago it was no. A rest day was a rest day. There I take time to improve myself, it’s not really pushed, it’s mainly prevention. I think it’s part of maturity.

Next step, a personal coach to work in front of the goal? (He is still looking for his first L1 goal this season)

Frankly I already have it at the club after if I can take it outside it’s great too. I put myself in more interesting striking positions, they seem more dangerous than before, are much more framed, I now hope that it fits. For my 100th in Ligue 1 in the derby? That would be great (laughs).

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