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Exclusive | Étienne Didot gives 1st in-depth interview post-retirement: “I always tried to give my all – often I wasn’t very good but I still always tried my hardest.”

36-year-old veteran central midfielder Étienne Didot chose to give Get French Football News his first in-depth interview since deciding to retire from football last June.

The former France U21s international played for just 3 teams in a career spanning an exceptional 17 years: 6 years at Rennes, 8 years at Toulouse and 3 years at Guingamp.

I read that you were once asked in an interview what you hate most in football and you said those who retire from football and then criticise the sport, so we’ll try not to do that today!

Let’s hope not!

As a new retiree, what are you up to? How are you adjusting to your new life?

It’s quite intense at the moment and I haven’t really had the time to come to terms with the fact that I’ve retired, as I’m doing lots of things to try to prepare for the future. I’ve got lots of plans, both inside and outside football, that are getting off the ground, and that takes a lot of work, so I’m very busy.

One of those projects is as a pundit for L’Équipe TV?

Yes, they asked me so I’m doing it, but I’ll only do so until the end of the year as I will no longer have time afterwards. But their offer came up at just the moment that I’m spending quite a bit of time in Paris so it works out well for me right now. But it won’t go beyond the new year.

With your brother just having taken the reins at Guingamp, is there a possibility of you getting into coaching?

It’s not the plan right now. I think I might like to bring something else to various clubs, and why not try to help out several clubs, but head coach isn’t really something I want for the future. That might just be because I don’t have the right skills to do it – my brother is good at it and so it’s the right thing for him, but it’s not what I want to do right now.

Going back to last season, your career must have finished on a bit of a sour note, with the Coupe de la Ligue final loss and the relegation?

Well I knew I was going to stop, but I didn’t want to announce it until the club was going a bit better. When I announced it we looked close to climbing out of the relegation zone and were in the cup final. I would of course have liked to finish with a cup victory and Ligue 1 survival. I guess that was just my destiny – but that’s football – you can never predict how things will turn out. If that’s how it happened, that’s what I deserved and that’s how it goes.

In the same interview that I read, you were asked what your football dream was, you said “to win a cup”, and asked how you’d like to do your job for the very last time, you said “in a Coupe de France final”.

Yes, I wasn’t too far off all that but it didn’t quite happen in the end! But looking back at my career, great things happened, and some not so great, but I always tried to give my all – often I wasn’t very good but I still always tried my hardest – so I don’t have any regrets. We didn’t win the cup or stay up and I would have preferred to finish far more positively, but I don’t regret anything because it was my choice to go to Guingamp, my choice to extend my contract for a year, and it’s my decisions that led to my ending my career that way.

Did you consider postponing your retirement?

No, not for a second – firstly, because the physical side was becoming a struggle, and then also because I had already made plans family-wise, and that’s just as important as football. So I didn’t waver at all once I’d announced it, and haven’t regretted it for a second.

You mentioned your family there, and you often speak about them, about your twin daughters, for example. I always wondered how difficult it is to be a footballer from a family point of view – I suppose on one side you might have more free time during the week, but then every other weekend you hardly see them?

It’s actually every weekend, whether we play home or away, as we often stay in a hotel the night before the match, then there’s the whole match-day, with matches usually Saturday evening or Sunday, so it’s the same every weekend. But no, family-wise, we catch up during the week as we’re lucky enough to be able to take our kids to school, to pick them up. And these are precious moments for a father, so I’m very lucky in that sense. Yes, sometimes, as part of a couple and as a father, it happens that you miss important moments, but I think that happens with all jobs – you as a journalist for example, or in other professions – other people are absent a lot more than footballers, so I can’t really complain on that front.

And are your daughters interested in football at all?

They’re interested because dad played, and it was fun for them to see friends on the pitch with dad, so it was more about watching on TV, in the stadium, seeing everyone singing, so more about three little girls finding it all fun, but no more interest than that – for the moment!

You mentioned before that it was your choice to return to Guingamp. I have to ask on behalf of my colleague Rich, who is a huge fan of Brittany and of Rennes – and who says hi to you –

Please say hi back to him!

Will do! He wanted to know – you come from the Côtes-d’Armor [Guingamp country], began your career at Rennes, but spent most of your career at Toulouse – maybe it’s an unfair question, but does your heart belong to one club a little more than the others?

I’d say that the two clubs that are up there are the two Breton clubs, as Brittany is my region and I’m very attached to my region. So although I spent a lot of time at Toulouse, beginning and ending my career in Brittany were very strong moments for me, and it was very important for me to be here, close to my people – to my friends, my family.

They were privileged moments for me. I can’t pick one club in particular, but I was lucky enough to play in Brittany in my career – that was my main ambition – I dreamt about those teams growing up, being in Breton stadiums, and I would have been happy to spend my whole career in Brittany.

There were moments, during your career, of other clubs being interested – Lyon in France for example, and Atletico Madrid abroad. Did you ever consider joining them or was it more important for you to stay in Brittany?

Those rumours were when I was at Rennes, when I was 20, 21, 22. There were contacts, but at that time we were qualifying for Europe with Rennes, I was young, I was playing all the time, I was in the French U21 team, I was sometimes team captain – so I was very happy. I didn’t see myself leaving, in order to be a substitute, at that age. After that, I received fewer opportunities to join clubs of a higher standing, and I didn’t take that next step up to go elsewhere. But at that time I was very happy playing regularly at Rennes.

I feel like there is a strong thread of loyalty throughout your career – to Brittany, to your clubs, to your family. And I wonder whether it’s also to Ligue 1?

I’m thinking of three things – when David Beckham retired you were quoted as saying “Everyone’s talking about the end of Beckham’s career. What about Arnaud Le Lan [defender who played for Lorient, Rennes and Guingamp] – he was also some player.” and then your two recent tweets criticising Fabregas and Neymar [for their disrespect towards Ligue 1].

[Laughs] The thing is I grew up as a fan of the championnat and of all its players – the stars and the lesser-known ones. I was a real fan. Then I was lucky enough to live my dream for several years, which was amazing. So it’s true that I’ve got – well let’s not say loyalty – but a love for the French championship. I’m not naïve – I know there are other leagues which are better – but it’s true that it annoys me when people, whether from here or not, constantly put our championship down.

It’s already something that we French do ourselves, but if we start letting others do it too – that’s what gets on my nerves. So sometimes I exaggerate, a little bit for fun and for a wind-up – but it’s also annoying to constantly hear the criticism – yes it’s not the best here, but one should still respect it. There’s other countries and leagues where the quality might not be as good but people take pleasure in going to matches and showing their enthusiasm, and I’d like to see more of that.

Well we’re trying to do our bit at Get French Football News. For English people to criticise Ligue 1 without even knowing it is one thing; but I’m always shocked by how quick the French are to criticise it.

I don’t think it’s just a football issue. People here complain a lot anyway – I think it’s our mentality – it’s in our nature to moan. That’s very difficult to change, so that’s why when I try to defend something, such as the championnat, I know that I’m going to receive a lot of criticism, because people are very critical. But there you go – that’s how I feel – I know that our championship is not always great, but I love it and I’d like those who come to join in – don’t just criticise but try to be positive and support it.

We’re trying to do exactly that from England!

It’s very kind of you all!

Talking of the likes of Beckham, Neymar – compared to when you started your career, do you think there is too much soap opera? Do you miss there being more focus on the football itself?

We grew up with different football generations and in my time I liked going to amateur football matches, following my dad, where you could smell oil in the changing rooms, the amateur atmosphere – I was a big fan of that. So yes, the soap opera mentality is a bit strange to me.

But you look at politics, for example – people are now more interested in politicians’ private lives rather than their opinions of what they can do to help us. And it’s the same in football. People are more interested in the players and their issues, because it’s more of a talking point. I think that’s just the world today, with the tabloids, and the buzz it creates. People are interested in that and maybe therefore a bit less interested in real football.

And in terms of what is making a buzz at the moment, would you mind giving your thoughts on the current controversy in French football, regarding homophobia and the banners appearing in the stadiums?

It’s a really complicated issue, but I think that football is so popular that some want it to solve some societal problems. In the stadiums you always hear criticism that is chucked in all directions – whether it’s angry fans throwing insults, or people trying to put players off. I don’t think that in most cases individual players are actually targeted – except in cases of racism, where players are targeted, which is disgusting.

The use of homophobic insults in football is ridiculous as it doesn’t even affect the individual footballers towards whom it’s directed, but does insult homosexual people in society. If, through football, we can help people, then all the better. But stopping matches won’t help solve problems in society. And let’s not always try to use football to solve society’s problems.

Talking of football stars, you played at Toulouse with two players who have earned a lot of column inches – Adrien Rabiot and Serge Aurier. I’ve always sensed that perhaps there are misunderstandings and that they are unfairly portrayed in the media. How were they as teammates – both in terms of footballing talent and personality?

I only played with Adrien for about six months, and with Serge a little longer. They were both charming, great lads. Then they both moved to big clubs and were both put in the spotlight, like you said, and then the expectations are raised and the slightest mistake or stupidity is magnified. So maybe they made small errors at bad moments which really cost them – especially Serge with some [stifles a giggle] childish mistakes at times.

But he really is a charming boy, very nice to be around – and even his teammates supported him when he had his issues, even though he really said some stupid things, and for them to support him like that shows that he is appreciated and a great guy.

As for Adrien, I didn’t spend as much time with him, but I think he’s very intelligent and knows where he wants to go, so for me, he’ll succeed at Juventus, I’m certain. And there’s no reason why he can’t one day return to the France team, because he has an extraordinary potential. Perhaps he just needs to mature a little and smile a bit more, and maybe people will forgive those little mistakes which really aren’t so serious.

You also played with Yoann Gourcuff, and there’s that frustration that he never met the potential that his talent promised.

He was exceptional at the beginning of his career and everyone expected that to continue but he had some bad luck, which made things harder for him mentally, and then he had so many injury niggles that he was never able to fulfil his potential.

And if he’s received a lot of criticism, I think it’s because people expected so much of him that they were frustrated. He was so exceptional that they wanted him to keep progressing. It’s a real shame, especially for him, because he could have been extraordinary. But he did so many great things that I choose to remember those things.

You’ve played with some great players – Jocelyn Gourvennec, Jimmy Briand, Petr Cech, Gourcuff, Kim Källstrom, Sylvain Wiltord, André-Pierre Gignac, Wissam Ben Yedder… But one of our favourite players at Get French Football News HQ – and who is a also a Breton – is Julien Féret. Can you tell us what kind of player and person he is?

He was an extraordinary player. As a person, for a start, he’s very intelligent, very quiet too – he makes a noise through his football rather than speaking. He arrived a little later than others on the national scene, in Ligue 1. But he had an exceptional talent and I think he could have achieved even more than he did – even though that was already a lot. But he’s a great person and was elegant on the pitch and is just as much off it.

Looking at your former clubs today. We’ve spoken about Guingamp who aren’t in the best shape – but hopefully your brother will sort it. Rennes seem in good health after last season. Are you optimistic for Rennes for the future?

Yes, I think so. It’s not a surprise for me as Rennes have been doing great work for several years. They were just lacking winning something to be rewarded and take a next step. I think they’ve done that now, with their good run in the Europa League and their Coupe de France win.

The club is well run, they’re lucky to have an exceptional major shareholder, with Mr Pinault at the head of the club for a few years. They’ve always had passionate people running the club and now there’s Olivier Létang who has come in and is doing good work, but above all there is a coach who has come in, who is young and who is doing an excellent job. So I really see a good future for Stade Rennais.

Speaking of Stade Rennais’ future, what do you think of another young player making a buzz here in England – Eduardo Camavinga?

He’s an extremely talented player. It’s impressive to see someone of that age show such confidence and be so comfortable on the pitch. If he continues as he has begun, he could become something exceptional.

We’ll probably see him in a few years in the Premier League. But it is a shame that France’s young talents quickly move to England or Spain. Can you see any chance of this changing, and players choosing to stay in France, in the near future?

We know the difference financially – La Liga and the English league are on a different planet financially-speaking, and PSG are the only team that can compete a little with their teams. In France only one or two clubs can buy and retain players – other than PSG there’s maybe Lyon, and Marseille at times. It’s incomparable with the other championships. So the French league will always be obliged to sell its best players.

Talking of PSG, do you think they’re capable of winning the Champions League this year?

I think it’s possible this season – just as it was last season. Their elimination last season caused a bit of a scandal, with lots of criticism directed at PSG, but it really was – how should I put it – ultra-lucky that Manchester United qualified – for me it was a miracle. Ok, they made their luck, but they should have had no hope and it was very unlucky for PSG. But this season I can see PSG going far in the Champions League and, why not, winning it.

And is the fact that Neymar is staying a good thing for PSG and Ligue 1?

Yes, definitely. Having a player like that in the championnat is brilliant. He’s one of the best players in the world so of course it’s good. It’s just a pity how it all played out. It should have all happened more discreetly, whether on the part of the player or the club.

At some point – you belong to a club, you wanted to join them, so if you then want to leave you should go about it in a more discreet way, rather than shouting it from the rooftops, because it’s hard for a club like PSG to hear every day that their player wants to leave. So it didn’t happen in the best way. But having a player like that in the championnat – I’ll take that every day of the week, because he’s an exceptional talent.

I just wanted to finish with some Paroles d’Ex-style quick-fire questions. Firstly, who is the best player with whom, and against whom, you’ve played?

The best player I’ve played against is Ronaldinho. The best I’ve played with – there was a player who always impressed me when I was at Rennes – that’s John Utaka. Maybe he wasn’t as renowned as his talent deserved, because he was inconsistent at times. But he was a player who could change matches single-handedly – he was exceptional. Ronaldinho – we’d try to man-mark him, but even if we had put two or three players on him it would have made no difference – if he wanted to do something he’d be able to do it.

We talked about Yoann Gourcuff earlier. You also played for his dad Christian – another proud Breton – when he was Rennes coach. Of all the coaches you played under, who had the biggest influence on you?

Yes, I signed as a professional under him. And I’d say he had the biggest influence, because he enabled me to discover the world of professional football. That was my dream and I achieved it under him – it could have been under someone else, but it was under him, so he’s someone who will always have marked me, because he allowed me to experience one of the best moments of my life with my professional debut.

Although maybe tonight you’re a little less in love with him [Gourcuff’s current club Nantes had just beaten Rennes]?

[Laughs] No, of course my heart wanted Stade Rennais to win, but if Nantes were going to win, there’s a small positive, thinking about Christian Gourcuff, who is a very good coach and I’m pleased for him.

You also played under Pascal Dupraz and were there for his famous team-talk before Toulouse’s relegation decider at Angers [which Toulouse won 3-2 in May 2016]. You must have sat through hundreds of team-talks. Was it really goosebumps stuff?

Yes, totally! It was amazing. He actually gave another one, which he wouldn’t allow to be filmed, earlier that day, which was possibly even more exceptional. But I never experienced team-talks that were as passionate and gripping as those of Pascal Dupraz. He was amazing at them.

What was the most powerful moment in your career?

Well that last-day survival with Toulouse. The last two to three months of the season were amazing because everyone had already buried us, but that period with Pascal Dupraz – I must have spent three months with him – was amazing.

When in your career did you feel at your best?

With Stade Rennais, when we almost finished third in the league, but at the last second conceded a goal at Lille. We were really strong that season.

In 2008 you were pre-selected for the France squad for the Euros. You played for the U21s but never played for the A team. Is that a big regret?

No, not at all. I had very good seasons during my career but often, at my best, struggled to back up one good season with a second of a high level. The great players are able to back it up, and I don’t think I was able to always remain at my best level. I think that maybe physically I wasn’t able to do it.

You weren’t a prolific goalscorer, but what was your best or most important goal? I know you scored a cracker for Guingamp vs Monaco, but maybe for you your goals against Nantes were more important?

Well especially the goal that I scored at Nantes for Rennes, because the club hadn’t won there for 40 years – 42 years I think – so in terms of importance, it was very powerful. My family was at the match and for Rennes it was a special moment – the club really needed it – so let’s say that one was the most important.

What in your career are you most proud of?

The fact that I made my parents proud. It’s the best present I could have offered them, so that’s what I’m most proud of.

And finally, what would your football epitaph be?

“He lived his dream.”

Perfect! Thank you very much.

It was very enjoyable to speak to such a nice journalist.

Thank you – a pleasure to speak to such a nice footballer too.

J.S.

 

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