In a long, exclusive interview with France Football, Newcastle United’s midfielder Moussa Sissoko discussed his situation with Les Bleus, including an interesting comparison with the other individuals fighting for his place.
You have not been left out from Didier Deschamps’ squad for two years now. How do you feel each time you get a new call-up?
I am always very happy to be selected. For me, it means a lot, I am of Malian origin, but France is my country, I was born here. To be able to wear this shirt is something enormous and a privilege. I am always proud to see my name on the list.
When I was a youngster, my life revolved around football. During the week, I was always with my football. I wanted to become a professional football. That was all that I thought about. I started when I was 5, I became obsessed, I did everything to become successful.
How did it all start?
I started playing football at Aulnay-sous-Bois, then as a pee-wee, I went to play two years with Red Star. As it was far from home and I kept coming home very late each time, I came back to Aulnay. Then, a friend of my uncle called and told me that a scout for Toulouse had noticed me. He wanted to see me one day in Paris for a further viewing.
Sadly, the day of that viewing, I woke up too late and I did not go! I was disgusted with myself, that was THE chance. But my disappointment was turned into joy because during the day, I received a call that told me to go straight to Toulouse for a trial. I spent four days there before going home, I received mail telling me that I had done it. I arrived there at the age of 13. My career began.
What will you remember of your first call up to Les Bleus?
It was Domenech, against the Faroe Islands. In the away match, I stayed in the stands, but in the return match, in Guingamp, I played ten minutes I think (he actually played 28 minutes). I was 20 and to find myself alongside Thierry Henri, William Gallas, Nicolas Anelka, all these big names, for me it was beautiful.
These players, they were my idols and to train and play with them was something immense. I was in a dream.
You have been part of the French national team for nearly 6 years but we get the impression that very few people actually know who you are. I you trying to be anonymous?
I am trying to improve on the pitch, that is all. I do not need to be in the spotlight, to be some notorious figure, it is not something that is important for me.
There is one thing that the public knows about you: you watch “Les feux de l’amour”…
(He laughs) I said that in an interview when I was asked what I do after training. I admit that when I go home, I watch this program which I still continue to love as ever.
What is your daily life outside of football?
I am a stay-at-home person. I got to training and then I stay at home, I watch TV, I have my friends over, my son comes from time to time, my family too. I am not somebody who goes out a lot. I try to have everything I need at home to relax and to do everything at home. I play video games, I also watch lots of films. I live my life normally.
Are you trying to stay out of the limelight?
No, when I am asked to be in front of the press, I do it. I do not want to be in front of the press all the time but sometimes it is good to do it, to say what you are thinking and feeling. But I don’t want to be show myself non-stop. I like being in my corner.
What are your plans between the 10th June and 10th July 2016?
(He smiles) I hope that I will have had a good season with Newcastle to be able to hope to be on this list for the Euros. Nothing is certain.
Are you doubting yourself?
You can never be 100% sure. I know what I am capable of. I think about the staff, the manager and the players that believe in me, that is why I am regularly called up. But we are never in a safe place from anything. It is up to my to perform well and to show that I want to be there because lots of players want to be part of this list.
Have you had this event in mind for a long time?
Having played in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, that was already fantastic for me. Here, the chance to play in the Euros at home, that will be magnificent. It is for that reason why it is certainly in a corner of my head.
Out of the 23 present for this most recent squad of September, you are the eighth most capped player (30). Does this number make you an essential member of the group?
To be the eighth most capped player, it is a pleasure. People know how I am: I don’t cheat, that is what I have always done, that is how I am in my life. It is also for that reason that the manager calls upon me. I have always given my all, even if I have been less good at times before.
Moussa Sissoko, loyal soldier of Didier Deschamps, is that a good description?
You would have to ask the manager that question.
Some people call you the “pet of Deschamps”…
Ah? That is the first time I have heard that. (he laughs) Personally, I know that he likes me. But he jokes with everyone.
We talk more about your irreproachable attitude than your performances on the pitch. Does that annoy you?
What is said does not affect me. I know what I can bring, I do my job, and that’s it.
What do you bring to this group exactly?
I am someone who is joyous, who is good humoured. I like to tease.
In the the 29 times you have been capped, you started 15 times. To be a sub once every two games, are you ok with that?
I am in the place where I deserve to be. Like everyone, I want to start all the games obviously. But if it is for five minutes, one hour or ninety minutes, I am always happy to be playing.
Are you never frustrated?
In the French national team, you can never be frustrated. If this situation was the same at Newcastle, I would have other things to say…
In your view, what are you missing in order to gain more playing time for France?
Today, I look at those who are playing in position: there is Blaise who is doing extraordinary things at PSG, Paul, who is marvellous at Juventus, Yohan Cabaye, who has just signed for Crystal Palace and Morgan Schneiderlin who is now at Manchester United… Compared to me, they are all playing in big clubs.
Is playing for Newcastle affecting the extent of your rise with Les Bleus?
No it is not that. Be careful, I am happy at Newcastle, but it is not a Big Four club… And don’t forget that there are other midfielders who are playing at bigger clubs than mine and they are not being called up. It is up to me do to even more to push for a starting place.
Do you think that one day you will get this starting place?
Yes, I believe so.
Do you think that you are fairly recognised for your actual worth?
Seriously? I do not pay any attention. If somebody does not like me in the world of football, that is not going to bother me. It will do nothing to change my life and my game. Everything that goes around, I do not worry about it, I stay in my bubble. I know that in England, I am more talked about than in France. Maybe that is because the English know me better than the French…
Would you like it to be the other way around…
Not really… I have had the chance to do some very beautiful things since I have arrived at Newcastle and it is for that reason, I think, that English football rapidly adopted me. But I do not need to feel renowned in France in order to be the best on the pitch.
Last June, you said that you were going to have to make the right decision for your future. The right decision was to say at Newcastle then?
(He laughs) It could have been the right moment to leave. I had some discussions with the club who told me that they were against my departure.
Were the playing time guarantees one year before the Euros a factor in not trying to force through a departure?
The manager has said and he has repeated, you have to play. I took that into account.
But what did you actually want to do…
I will keep that to myself…
Is that an answer which suggests frustration on your part?
No, not at all. I feel good over there, I have the opportunity to play every weekend, to play in a fantastic stadium. What I am missing, is playing for the leading positions. Now, in my view, we have recruited very well (this summer). We have a good team this year with which we can have a good Premier League campaign. We know that it will be difficult to finish in the top 5. But if we finish 6th, 7th or 8th with Newcastle, I will be very happy.
Did you have offers this summer?
Yes. There were clubs… but Newcastle vetoed them.
Did you discuss your situation with the manager (Deschamps)?
No. His role is to coach us. But if I had been hesitating between two or three clubs, I would have certainly asked for his opinion.
Not annoyed to be watching the Champions League on TV?
I would like to experience it very soon. Watching it like this boosts me to hope to be there one day.
Have you already agreed on an exit for next summer?
It is still far away. I have ambitions but I will first think about having a good league season and a good Euros, that I hope to win with France. After that, I will have all the time to think about it.
What do you think about the crazy spending done by English clubs this summer?
It is incredible. When you look at certain moves, I said to myself this is enormous. Certain transfers shock me…
Do you tell yourself that some of them might have made that financial effort to get you?
They could have… (he smiles)
How much is Moussa Sissoko worth on the market?
Now that… If I was president of the club, why not €100m? (he laughs) We see lots of things on the transfer market today…