Speaking in an extensive, exclusive interview with L’Équipe Magazine, Arsenal and French international defender Laurent Koscielny talked on a wide-ranging set of topics including scrabble, François Hollande and much more.
Do you really have not tattoos? Not one?
How many cars do you have in your garage?
Two, one for my wife and another for me. What make? One Mercedes for me. Yes…
Have you never attempted to make a statement (with money)?
No. I do not make much noise.
You do not Tweet, you are happy retweeting what you Arsenal teammates tweet, just like this photo in the dressing room just after your victory last night against Burnley?
Yes. I have private accounts though.
There is also Scrabble, you are a fan of Scrabble and you play against your stepfather as well! But your young teammates must treat you like a grandfather for this!
They are certainly more tech-savvy than I am. But, yes, I like to play Scrabble. I started with my stepfather and my stepbrothers and as I am a competition and someone who likes to win, I tried to improve. Today, I am not bad at it. It relaxes me.
It is like cards or board games. During the Euros, we played a fair amount with Jallet, Costil, Gignac, Giroud and Loris. These are friendly times, we laugh, we are together, instead of playing FIFA.
All of that is still achievable in football then?
Yes (he laughs). But it is for that reason that you see me rarely speaking to the media. My life as a footballer must be judged on the pitch and not off of it… Because outside of it, I live my life, I enjoy my family, my friends. I live like a normal person.
How is the Maugein accordion-making factory in Tulle that you invested in in 2014 and that was saved thanks to you going?
Thanks to me and others. It is going well. My parents keep me informed. The business is trying to bring itself afloat and reintroduce the machine. But it is long, it will need time, working on research, on new instruments, on marketing. I hope that it will start up again and that all of the employees will be able to continue to work there.
Why did you help this business?
These people had met my parents and explained to them their situation. The company was on the verge of bankruptcy, they needed investors. My mother spoke to me. The story touched me. It is a 100 year old business. The accordion, it is a patriotic cultural symbol for us, we have a highly-regarded festival, Nuits de Nacre, that is something important.
It needed saving. The people who worked there also needed saving, for their families and their futures. I am lucky to be doing well in my life and to have money. It was natural for me to help them.
You did not want your decision to invest nor the amount you wanted to invest (600.000 Euros) to be known. Why?
People did not need to know. People do not need to know that I am helping the business, where the money comes from… But people speak way too much.
Aside from your reserved character, do we know you only a little because you did not have a single year in Ligue 1?
Yes, that is certain. I played at Lorient as well, not a club with enormous media scrutiny like Marseille or PSG. Then I went straight to England. Those who watched Ligue 2 or Lorient, will maybe remember, but the majority of people, no. My notoriety, in quotation marks, in France, is much less big than in England.
During his 20 year anniversary at Arsenal, Arsène Wenger said that what he is the most proud of, much more than the trophies, is to have discovered so many unknown young talents and to have helped them reach mountains. He cited your name…
I am in the French national team and at Arsenal thanks to the boss. It was he who brought me here. It was he who had the balls to buy me from Lorient when I was nobody. It was my first year in Ligue 1, at an average club in Ligue 1. He took a punt on me for a club like Arsenal which is one of the biggest 10 clubs in Europe.
He took a risk in bringing me here, to make me progress and grow as a player and a man. I will be grateful my entire career.
Wenger also explained that you came from a small village in the middle of France and for this reason, it took you longer to believe in your potential. Is that true?
In my region, there were no professional football clubs. I was not used to watching 1st division matches every weekend, I watched them on TV. And we, as youngsters, we had the sense that we were left a little bit on our own, that we would not have the chance to enter the professional world like certain people in the Paris region who were certain to be watched by scouts each weekend.
Me, I never saw a scout, apart from during my year at Limoges. So maybe yes, I needed to believe more in myself and my potential.
You played for Guingamp in Ligue 2, then you decided to go back down with Tours in the National (3rd division) before joining Lorient. Your road was long and torturous. Not like Pogba, blooming at a very young ages…
Yet again, you need a little bit of everything to make the world. I am not the only example with an unusual career path. There is Giroud, Valbuena and others… We went through complicated things during our careers, but we managed to overcome them. We know that work always pays.
Work, humility, respect for people who enabled us to improve and to reach new levels. And then maybe we took a bit of time to get there, but we are also more seasoned and collected. I am lucky to be a professional. To play at the highest level every weekend in stadiums that are full. For me, it is only joy.
Your dad, Bernard, always told you: “You need to know where you come from.” Is it important to remember your roots in a world of football that is very globalised?
Yes, it is important. That is what gives me strength. I know where I come from and how I have got here. I stayed close to my family, remain attached to Corrèze, it allows me to keep my feet on the ground, to be calm, and that shows in my performances. I know how to relativise things. We are lucky to live our passion. But we live in a different world. A world that often carries us on a little cloud.
How were you brought up?
My dad never dictated the decisions I had to make, but when I decided on something, he was always behind me and pushed me to the maximum. We were always immersed in football. And it was always the competition aspect.
I have brother who is 10 years older than me who played in the amateur leagues and who now trains at Argentat, in Corrèze. My dad, he played in the fourth division with Valenciennes, Brive and Tulle, before becoming a manager as well.
The story of your grandfather and your great-grandfather, Polish miners in the North, is it still present in your thinking?
Yes. Even if I have very few links to my Polish origins. I do not speak Polish and I have only gone there once in a friendly game with Arsenal. But my dad, who was born near Valenciennes, has always spoken to me about my family. I also knew my grandfather who came to live with my parents in Corrèze, and we spent lots of time together.
I know that they were difficult times in their lives, and my father made that clear to me, the value of work and humility. I would have liked for my grandfather to know what I have become. He left us when I was at Tours in Ligue 2. He would have been proud to see his grandson playing at the highest level.
As a youngster, you rejected the chance to join the youth training centre at RC Lens, who were offering you a chance, because it was “a luxury in the middle of a bunch of settlements”.
Lens, is a great club in terms of developing youth but, due to my nature, it would have been too big a club for me. I would not have enjoyed myself there. I saw myself fitting better at Guingamp…
I was 16, I was coming from a small town, I did not know the culture of the highest level. We know that for a footballer what is important is to feel good in your own skin.
You have been made Arsenal captain. What sort of captain are you?
I do not mouth off, that is for sure. I am not a great orator, I do not like long speeches. It is not in my nature. But, for me, that is not the role of the captain. The captain, is a player who must act as an example on the pitch, who needs to bring his teammates onto the right path to win. I try to do what I know to do the best that I can.
Fight on the pitch. Win my duels. Have a good game. Show my teammates that they can count on me. It is my performances and my qualities on the pitch that show my leadership, in inverted commas.
You are a sort of Hugo Lloris-type captain, who does not talk much either?
I do not know (he laughs)… But Hugo, when he has things to say, he says them. Me too. And he, also, is someone who shows his leadership on the pitch. What is for certain is that we get on, we appreciate each other. We are neighbours in Hampstead, and our girls go to school together.
You have been at Arsenal for 10 years now. To move, go from Tulle to Paris, like François Hollande, would that be possible for you?
Oh no, I will never live in Paris. Nor will I play there! I will finish my career in England or at my old club, at Lorient. I do not see myself in Paris. In terms of the PSG-OM rivalry, because I was a Marseille fan as a kid, but also because I would prefer to live in London than Paris.
I love London. I remember that when I arrived I was 24. I had never lived in a big town, it was a big step into the unknown and a radical change. But, today, I feel good. My family is happy. People are calmer than in Paris, there is respect. I have everything to be able to enjoy myself as a footballer and I do not know if I would find that anywhere else.