French young prospect and 19-year-old FC Sion attacker Yassin Fortune has discussed his move and subsequent time at Arsenal in an exclusive interview with Foot Mercato.
When Lens decided to accept Arsenal’s offer, the club was in financial difficulty. Did you really have a choice?
I didn’t really have a choice. You could say that I was forced to leave. At the beginning, I really did not want to leave Lens. I wanted to stay. I was good there, things were going really well. I had coaches who were allowing me to progress a lot. I did not want to leave at all but the board made it clear that I kind of had no choice. My priority was to play at Bollaert (Lens’ stadium).
I still had 2 years on my contract and I was performing well, notably with the U17 national team. I even went up with the U19s and the reserves. I think that I was not far from the first team. I had all my friends in the youth academy, and it was hard to leave.
Do you think you left too soon?
Too soon, no. At Arsenal, I learned a lot. You do not refuse Arsenal. Part of me wanted to stay, the other part told me I was lucky. I was between the two.
Was Arsène Wenger responsible for your transfer?
Yes, he had already seen me play. He spoke with Lens. Today, I thank him for all that. I could never thank him enough for that. In the youth teams at Arsenal, he would come and see us often, he would speak with us.
What struck you about Arsenal?
It is a very familial club. From employees to gardeners, everyone loves each other. That really struck me.
At the end of your contract, Arsenal offered you an extension. Why did you turn it down?
Arsenal offered me a 4-year extension. But I wanted to enter into professional football. Arsenal is a great club, but I needed playing time. I had to play, and I preferred to leave. It was difficult to stay at Arsenal in the sense that there were big names and a new manager (Emery). I spoke with Per Mertesacker which made me think very hard. He wanted me to absolutely stay. But I felt again that the best solution was to leave. At that moment, I was not yet in contact with Sion, but with other clubs. I was contacted by Sion a couple of weeks after deciding to leave. I wanted to come back to France but despite a few contacts Sion convinced me.
If a 16-year-old is reading this interview and has a choice to join the youth academy of Lens or Arsenal, what would you advise them?
I would tell him to make his own choice. To listen to his heart. To leave for a foreign country at a very young age is both a challenge. It is up to him to take the right decision.