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Exclusive | Ex-Angers Marketing & Communications Assistant, Matt Proctor: “People like the Head of Marketing would be lifting sofas & furniture to help with the hospitality!”

Speaking in an interview with Get French Football News, former Ligue 1 side Angers’ Marketing and Communications Assistant, Matt Proctor, discussed a turbulent campaign for the club, which say General Manager Olivier Pickeu dismissed and club president Saïd Chabane forced to step down owing to allegations of sexual assault.

Proctor is currently a Marketing Executive at Inside Edge Sports Marketing.

So Matt tell us a little about yourself and how Angers became part of your story? It’s not exactly well known outside of France.

It started quite a few years ago, through nepotism as a lot of these things seem to. My dad was a friend of a foreign exchange student who ended up leading one of the sponsors of Angers which is how I became aware of the club.

I was given a work experience opportunity for the 2016/17 season, fell in love with the place and impressed with the work I did there so was invited back after I had graduated for another 6 months of work. It’s a club that over the years became very close to my heart and I thoroughly enjoyed my time there.

What was your role at the club?

Initially I was a marketing and communications assistant, from the club’s perspective I believe it was useful to have a foreign viewpoint working within the structure. For example, the club wanted to introduce a youth membership scheme, something which isn’t common in French football.

I was tasked with researching the set-ups in England and developing a way in which this could translate into the Angers model. I helped to translate the club’s website as well as assisting on matchdays as part of the welcome committee for club sponsors.

My role had so many different aspects to it which is common at Angers, and it’s something I loved about the club. It’s such a small team of people even to this day, so when a club like Arsenal turned up for a pre-season friendly, they brought what felt like 90 staff and at least a dozen chefs.

It was a different world to anything you’d see at Angers where it is only a small team and where everyone will chip in to help out, it meant that all the staff are so well connected. People like Morgan Potier, the stadium manager and head of marketing and commercial, would be lifting sofas and furniture to help with the hospitality. That for me is the perfect microcosm of the club.

You mention the difference between Arsenal and Angers, but are differences that separate a club like Angers to anything, are they seen in the Premier League?

There are attributes of French football that separate it from English football, but I also believe there are things very unique to Angers that separate it further. Anyone can go and watch the team train, the access you have to the players is incredible in this modern football era and stands out not just from English football, but from many clubs in France.

The complex, La Baumette, is small but has fantastic, modern facilities. The offices look out onto the training pitch so it’s a great excuse to take a coffee break and watch the team train!

Was there anything that surprised you when you first joined?

There are traditions at the club that were very new to me, I’m not sure if it is common in France but if you are in the training ground for example and you walk past anyone, be that an under 15 player or Saïd Chabane himself, there would always be a handshake and greeting, it’s almost an unwritten rule.

If you go into the canteen where everyone eats, you would put your food onto your table and proceed to go round every single person sat there and greet each one. It opens a lot of doors for conversations with people you wouldn’t usually talk to at other clubs. I don’t know if the backroom staff at other clubs would be sat down at the same table eating a meal with the team captain.

Angers is known for having a family atmosphere embedded into the club, did you experience this?

100%. Everyone knows everyone and they all get along, it’s such a small but extremely dedicated team. Rather than having four people doing a three-person job, you’ll have one person doing a four-person job and it just works. It’s a very nice atmosphere and I loved it, it did not feel like work sometimes, even if my task would be as mundane as translating the terms and conditions for a website.

Everyone is encouraged to interact; you all eat together and do everything together. For example, from my limited experience, I think at many clubs there would be an end of season event for the players, then one for the backroom staff and those two would not mix. Not at Angers, the carpark was turned into a huge barbeque setting and everyone was there, mixing and getting along, it was a very pleasant environment.

My line manager, Florian Semet, who is responsible for a lot for the marketing and communications at the club, knew I was an Arsenal fan, so he called me in June of last year breaking the news that the club would be playing Arsenal in a pre-season friendly. He asked me to come and be the liaison officer for them. What he didn’t know was that I was back in London and didn’t have a place in Angers so he invited me to stay at his home.

That might not sound like a huge favour, but he had two young kids and his wife had just given birth days before I arrived. So, there I was sleeping on the sofa in his house and dealing with Arsenal. It was the perfect end to what was a perfect stint for me at the club. He is high up at the club and has been there for a long time and was so warm and welcoming to me, it’s a small story but it gives another impression of the kind of people that work at the club.

There has been a lot of recent news at Angers around Baptiste Santamaria, we know about him as a player but what about his personality off the pitch?

I’m the same age as Santamaria so we got on quite well, he’s a really great person. I distinctly remember that one day he came into the office asking for some help organising a charity event. The event was setup in the car park of the training ground where lots of kids from the local hospital came down to enjoy anything from football freestylers to magicians.

The whole event was run directly by Santamaria, he was the first person there to setup the tables and the last person to leave taking the bin bags. I’m not sure why that seemed surprising to me, as in modern football we tend to forget they are just people like us and it was a great indication to me of the superb characters that are at the club.

With Santamaria to nobody’s surprise announcing that this will likely be his final season at Angers, what do you see for the team after his departure?

We see Zinédine Ould Khaled coming through; he looks like a strong midfielder, potentially not as mobile as Baptiste. It could just be the Angers way that when Santamaria leaves they have a replacement who has come through the academy so they don’t necessarily need to go out and spend millions and millions on a replacement and the reality is they won’t.

Angers typically do not spend more than €2m and I do think that needs to change. It feels as if there has been a growing discontent from fans towards the transfer policy, it’s all fine being a selling club, but you need to show some kind of desire to replace adequately. They have got it right at times but I do think there needs to be more investment on the pitch for sure.

I’d like to see a record signing to be honest, it feels strange to be speaking about transfer windows and next season when we don’t even know what that is going to look like. However, it’s time for a signing to go over that €4m mark.

We know that the club has the financial means to do this but it appears stubborn with using its earnings, what are your thoughts on this?

Yes, there are definitely grounds to that claim. I was surprised, for example, by the prices of the matchday tickets. The prices at Angers are quite high and the stadium is not really ever full unless teams like PSG and Monaco are in town or it is a Nantes derby. I’m not an expert on football economics but that decision for the ticket prices seems to me to be potentially detrimental to the atmosphere that could be created at Raymond Kopa.

Surely, we want as many people in the stadium as possible, we want to create an atmosphere every game be it against PSG or Dijon. I have witnessed great matchdays where the stadium has been rocking. Hopefully the new stadium will attract a bigger crowd on a more consistent basis. On that note, the fact that a modern new stadium is being built shows the ambition of the club continues to grow.

You touched upon recruitment, what in your mind do you think differs between how Angers recruit players in comparison to other clubs in France?

I think player attitude is something that is looked at with every professional club but one thing that strikes me about Angers is that the person is as important as the footballer when it comes to recruitment. I can think of less than a handful of players who perhaps displayed a little ego or disinterest in mixing with everyone else, other than that they are very down to earth people, very hardworking and very humble. That was a clear strand of the recruitment policy that they had to fit the Angers mold, that must remain going forward. You can’t play for Angers if you are too much of a luxury player.

It’s the same when it comes to the academy. I know that Abdel Bouhazama, the head of the academy, is a very firm, strict coach but quite fair, he has a good reputation of that. The young players are very well coached on the pitch but also the coaching staff does their bit to try and minimise an ego problem.

The recent news from Angers is the suspension and subsequent dismissal of General manager, Olivier Pickeu. What are your thoughts on him from both a professional and personality perspective?

I only have good things to say about Olivier, I was already aware of his reputation not just within the club but the fans who hold him in high regard. He was a really warm person, very welcoming and always made an effort with me and liked to try out his English speaking to me. He didn’t spend a great deal of time at the office, a lot of his work was out of the office scouting, player-facing activity as well as video analysis.

I think that a lot of general managers across Europe are not as invested in the football and only the football as someone like Olivier. It’s a testament to the fantastic transfer deals that occurred under his watch. Angers are now an established Ligue 1 club, that is impressive considering where they were only 15 years ago and I do genuinely believe that a large portion of that is because of Olivier.

Like you mentioned they have transitioned into an example of what can be done with the right personnel and system in place.

Also going deeper than that, it’s built up a very strong reputation of having one of the best academies in France. When you’re a selling club like Angers, you need to make sure you have an academy at a good level like that. This is down to the recent facilities at La Baumette and the people that are in charge of the academy.

I had great exposure to the academy, the first time I met Abdel Bouhazama I mentioned that I was interested in the academy coaching. He allowed me to go to lots of academy training sessions, I sat there and made lots of notes and the training is of a high quality. They have some really talented players.

President Saïd Chabane was at the forefront in the decision to remove Pickeu. What are your thoughts about that decision and also Chabane himself?

It’s a very delicate situation and obviously the overall feeling of losing Pickeu is a massive shame. I had weekly conversations with Chabane when he would come into the office and say hello to everyone. He had a reputation of being a firm president and a shrewd businessman. As is common you would greet him like anyone else, with Saïd you would want to stand up and give him a nice, strong handshake.

The other main man at Angers is of course the coach, Stéphane Moulin, what were your interactions with him like? Where do you think his success with the club comes from?

Quite limited in terms of conversations, but he was very pleasant. He’s very business focused, takes his job very seriously. He might seem very normal with his appearance but also, he gets down to business. He’s very much the boss and extremely vocal on the training pitch.

It’s interesting as Angers have a good academy and they do have a lot of good young players, but if you look at this season Moulin knows his best 11 and his substitutes. The squad doesn’t change that much; he likes to play the people he trusts. He does give opportunities to younger players, but they really have to prove themselves just to get that opportunity. Every set of three points matters, it is not a club that can risk playing unprepared teenagers in the league.

Moulin is another testament to how long-term stability is so important. A manager could feel that he needs to rush the progression of young players because if he does not play them now, he might not be in charge in nine months to give them a chance when are more physically mature and ready. However, Moulin has the assurance that he is built into the club and will be there in 9 months time, so he can be patient and allow these players grow before he exposes them to the first team.

It’s popular in football journalism to focus on the upcoming, young talents and players in their prime but there is sometimes a lack of exposure to the veterans of clubs and there are great stories to tell from these people. What are your thoughts on the veterans of Angers?

Angers is the perfect advocate of longevity and the benefits you get out of it. It’s a word that just doesn’t exist in football anymore with the ridiculous rate of turnover for players and managers. In Angers you have players like Romain Thomas, Ismaël Traoré, Thomas Mangani just to name a few who have been there for many years.

I was reading some recent Thomas Mangani quotes where he says he wants to keep playing football despite his contract about to end and potentially he moves on. That would be a big loss, he’s maybe not the player he was four or five years ago, but he is a really good player in terms of what he brings off the pitch. An extremely, extremely nice guy and the glue in the dressing room where I think everyone looks up to him. He’s the wise, calm symbol at the club and an integral figure to the dressing room from what I know, there are many of veterans that have been so vital to the success of the club.

This will be a tricky question but who are your favourite players from Angers?

I have [Cheikh] Ndoye’s shirt framed and it will stay framed forever. He was such a genuinely nice guy and he often popped into the office, very friendly just like Mangani as well. [Ludovic] Butelle was mental, he really fits that stereotypical profile for a goalkeeper coming into the offices and causing mayhem.

I was always a huge fan of Ismaël Traoré, in his heyday I truly fancied him against any striker in the league. For a couple of seasons, specifically in that 2016/17 season, he was too strong, physical and surprisingly quick for most strikers in the league. He’s perhaps lost a couple yards of pace now but he’s been a brilliant servant to the club and that goes for a lot of the current players who fit that description.

Do you have any favourite moments from the club on or off the pitch?

One springs to mind, when I went into the dressing room just after we’d beaten Bordeaux 2-1 in the quarter-finals of the Coupe De France in 2017. That was incredible, the players were leading a chant and it was so loud it really was an amazing atmosphere. I was lucky enough to go to the final that year which was heartbreaking, I can see that 90th minute Issa Cissokho own goal as if it was yesterday (Angers suffered a 1-0 Coupe de France final loss to PSG).

That game was a monumental performance, for anyone who watched that 90 minutes it was a game of two equals, yes Cavani missed a few chances but I distinctly remember Nicolas Pépé hitting the post. It felt like we were going to win it, I’d been exposed to the cup run and there was such a good feeling inside the club. It was the same starting 11 every game, everything was working. Alex Letellier, who is now a substitute in Ligue 2, was absolutely unbelievable in that cup run. Working with Arsenal was an amazing experience as well, a whole new level of exposure for me as both an Arsenal and Angers supporter.

With this departure of Pickeu, do you think this could be the start of a downturn in the club’s fortunes or a complete change from life with him?

I don’t think that’s possible, there are too many parts of the foundation that have been there for too long for that to happen. It’s very much a machine that has a very specific way of running so I don’t think huge change is possible. It makes sense to be optimistic, but also cautious because they have lost their right arm so to speak. This decision regresses them slightly from their aims further up the table, but it’s football and it’s very rare to have people in place at a club for so long. It’s very abnormal for Angers but in a footballing context it’s very normal.

There are genuine reasons to fear where the club will go next. Olivier’s role is quite difficult to understate, he had a massive influence at that football club and a wholly positive one from my experience, there will be a knock on effect from that. However, I am comforted as a supporter by the knowledge of how deep the foundations of the club are. I can easily think of six or seven members, from not much more than 30 backroom staff, who have been there for over a decade.

A great example is one of the kitman, Claude Aubin, who has been at the club for decades and is a legend who the players love, he’s been working voluntarily for almost a decade. He was always the first one at the training ground every morning – normally cigarette in hand. These people understand the club, know how it works and know exactly why they have been successful over this period of time.

Not to mention that they have one of the true tacticians in France, the job Moulin has done is ridiculously underrated. Yes, there could be a worrying blip, but in this current context, some time away from football is perhaps not the worst thing despite the unfortunate circumstances. It may work in their favour however morbid that sounds, only time will tell.

T.W.

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