In Yacouba Sylla’s first major interview since joining Rennes, given exclusively to Get French Football News, the former Aston Villa man reflects on some interesting experiences in Turkey and looks ahead to the future as he sets off to experience Ligue 1 for the first time in his career.
What exactly will you take with you from your time in the Premier League?
I will keep everything about those years with Aston Villa with me. Who could have thought that after just two years in Ligue 2, I would end up at a Premier League club, the best league in the world, and all the while be playing regularly in my first season there? I contributed to the club’s survival (in 2013/2014).
I learnt a lot in terms of maturity and professionalism in England. As soon as I arrived, contrary to what you might see in other leagues, the fans immediately wrote me a chant. It touched me and surprised me to be welcomed like that. I want to truly thank the fans as well as Benteke, N’Zogbia and McClelland (player liaison officer at Aston Villa).
By embarking upon an adventure in the Turkish league, what were you leaving behind?
With hindsight, by going to Kayseri Erciyesspor, I knew that automatically I was ruling myself out of Aston Villa. I did not realise that immediately, but a little bit later on, I understood that for Villa and I, it was over. I don’t regret anything because the fact that I went to Turkey allowed me to experience a lot of things, and above all to fill certain voids.
This year, I participated in the African Cup of Nations, it (the experience in Turkey), also allowed me to earn playing time and experience.
You managed 27 games in your first season in Turkey (where he went on loan), why do you think you were unable to convince Aston Villa to keep you?
I don’t have the answer to that. Personally, I take everything that is given to me. Today, you have nothing fortuitously. In the path of a career, luck always plays a part. Perhaps I found myself at Kayseri Erciyesspor because I did things hastily because I thought that they were good for me.
With hindsight, one can admit that the choice that I made is questionable. I could have had other opportunities if I had waited but I don’t ask myself those questions. Today, I am a Rennes player for the next four years, so I don’t hurt my head with all of that.
When you returned from Turkey, did you get the chance to discuss your future with Aston Villa manager Tim Sherwood?
I’m going to be frank: I didn’t receive any news from him. When I returned, I felt that I was not part of the manager’s plans. I did not have the chance to have a discussion about my future with him. I knew that by going to Turkey, I would need to find myself a new project. I am happy to be here at Rennes, the project really suits me and I am here with great determination.
Did Aston Villa really give you a chance, in your opinion?
In my first season, I practically played in all the matches. I am not going to say that it was thanks to me but the club was then able to stabilise itself in the Premier League, but I maybe contributed something to that in terms of what I brought. I was given my chance, I played, but they were not patient.
We all know how things go in big clubs but I have no remorse and I’m not angry at anybody. I want to thank Aston Villa for allowing me to discover what things are like at the top level, I learnt a lot of things that allowed to surpass certain levels and I am now in a position here in Rennes to put it all into practice by giving the best version of myself so that the club can reach its aims.
When you realised that you were going to have to move on, was your primary aim to return to France?
After my season in Turkey, I had offers from Turkish clubs. This sort of exotic destination did not interest me. A return to France was for me a priority in order to stabilise myself, to work in good conditions, to continue making progress and to sign myself up to a single project for the long-term.
That is what Rennes were offering me and I didn’t think about it for too long because their project is clear and I understood that. It is a very stable club with a wonderful history.
How did your move to Rennes come about?
I spoke to Mr Montanier and the Sporting Director on the phone and what they were saying was clear and allowed me to have confidence in myself and to join Rennes. I was convinced by what they said and let’s just say that I found what I was looking for in terms of a project. It is a stable club and ambitious with large facilities.
The fact that they reached out to me to lay out the plus points of the club counted for a lot and I said yes for the next four seasons. When the manager calls you personally to tell you that he would like to have you in his squad, it is something very important.
Do you think you are arriving at Rennes with the status of a substitute or that of a member of the starting XI?
Today, when you first arrive in a club, you need to prove yourself to the people there that you have the qualities to be able to play. I’m working the best that I can, I will give the best of myself, after that we will see, the manager will make his decisions. I am at the disposition of the team. I have never come to a club telling myself that I will be a substitute, or a starting player.
Some players arrive with that mentality by telling themselves that they are superstars and so will be starting and they end up on the bench because they haven’t impressed. The truth is what happens on the pitch and I am not worried about that.
At the time of writing, you’ve played in two friendly matches so far, against Laval and Brest, and you came on as a central defender against Le Havre. What have the early feelings been for you in this new team?
My first moments went very well, my teammates were very welcoming, the manager and the technical staff set me straight. I feel well integrated, that’s the important thing. It is of course quite unique to come back to the French league because we know that it is very organised on a tactical level. Today, I need to acclimatise myself again in the forthcoming friendly matches because, in terms of the game, to come back to Ligue 1 after spending time in Turkey, it will really allow me to progress.
Which parts of your game need progressing?
I am not going to tell you! (he laughs) No, it is more to do with concentration levels because the Turkish league is much less demanding than Ligue 1. In many ways, I will have to be 200% concentrated all the time, making sure that everything I do is assured and to play with freedom as well because on a psychological level, you cannot compare the two leagues. It is normal to have to get back on the horse somewhat and pre-season is the time to do it.
What do you think about the competition in your area of the pitch at Rennes?
There are some very good players and that will enable me to progress. There is quality in all the positions and a good tactical basis, based on the playing style that Mr Montanier wants to implement. I feel it, this going to be a very good season.
What do you feel awaits you in the coming months: fierce competition where you have to really fight for your place or the immediate opportunity to bounce back?
You never know what awaits you in football. Personally, today I have subscribed myself to a project for four years, now is not the time to talk about bouncing back. I am in a club that is offering me great conditions to work in. I will try to be as competitive as possible and it will be my performances that will make me into someone. I have yet to show anything and I have it all to prove.
I have qualities, I didn’t end up in the Premier League for no reason. People forget a bit too quickly that things are not simply given to everyone and that I am aware of and I will have to prove myself. I am challenging myself to grow at this club.
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