Speaking in an exclusive sit down with Get French Football News, 19-year-old English central defender Jonathan Panzo discussed his season on loan at AS Monaco’s satellite club Cercle Brugge, working with Thierry Henry, advice from John Terry and Falcao and much more.
With France and Belgium both cancelling their leagues, you’ve had to wait and are continuing to wait for any sort of competitive football, how do you feel about the seasons being called off?
Yeah it’s a shame but obviously health comes first so we’ve got to be aware of that as well, and obviously health and safety, and protect people and protect each other. As I say it’s difficult but we’ll just have to wait for our time to come back to play football.
For those not fully aware of your story, what instigated your move away from Chelsea as a young player and how did the move to Monaco come about?
At the time, I wasn’t playing as many minutes as I should have been, so I thought to go somewhere else to broadcast my talent would be a better option for me. So the idea of Monaco came up and I liked the project that they had for me and obviously I had the familiar face with Michael Emenalo going over there so I just made the journey.
How involved was Michael Emenalo in the move and was there a lot of interest besides Monaco?
Yeah there was a lot of interest from teams in Germany and Holland, but I wouldn’t say Michael played a big part, but he was a familiar face so it just made the journey and made the process much easier.
What was it like moving to Monte Carlo, it must have been quite the change from London?
Yeah it was crazy, for me coming from South London to staying in a place like Monaco there’s a massive difference. Just the luxury of the stuff around, everyday you’d see at least a minimum of five Porsches or Ferraris so it was a big change for me.
Is that change something you’re enjoying?
The lifestyle in Monaco is good but because it’s so good you don’t want to get carried away. You can feel like you’re on holiday instead of actually doing what you should be doing. So just it’s staying focused and training at the same time but being sensible as well.
On Chelsea, obviously you couldn’t foresee the way things would turn out with Frank Lampard taking over and young players like Billy Gilmour and Callum Hudson-Odoi in the team, but are you a little rueful about it all?
No, I don’t feel any type of way, everything happens for a reason. Obviously as you know I’m so pleased that Callum, Billy, Reece James, everyone has been playing and broadcasting their talent to the world which they deserve so I don’t feel any type of way about it just that everyone has their time. It might be harder or slower for some people but you just have to keep working and hopefully you’ll get there in the end.
You’ve mentioned before you’re good friends with Callum Hudson-Odoi, do you still keep in contact with the guys at Chelsea?
Yeah, I see Callum the most out of them. So yeah I’m still in touch with Callum.
On your move overseas, considering your experiences in France, England and Belgium, what advice would you give those thinking about doing the same? Has it been beneficial for you?
It has been a beneficial move but obviously everyone has got their own path, not everyone can go and do a Jadon Sancho. So if they’re comfortable and feel like they’re ready or they think they can get the most out of it and believe in themselves then why not.
It gives you better opportunities and for young players it’s a different experience because it can make you more mature, you learn more things from different cultures and in the football world you can adapt to more things and they might have a different way of playing than in England. It’s just adapting and believing in yourself, everyone has their own path. So I think going abroad is a good way to show your talent.
From your perspective, having been part of the U17 World Cup winning side – there’s obviously a lot of talent, do you see a better path for those young players in English football? Is there a way that English football can help those players?
Yeah of course, English football can help a lot as well. I would say English football is more physical, so you gain power and strength and fusing that with your technique. As you said with the World Cup team there are so many good individuals in England, so I think with all that talent they can surely broadcast it abroad or back home in England as well.
One thing that stands out about your development was that you started as a striker, what brought about the switch the centre back?
I think, at the time, because I was left-footed I think there weren’t that many left-footed defenders in the academy at the time and I was quite tall when I was younger. So I was seen as being able to move to back. I was coached at it and ever since then I’ve been playing at centre-back, left sided centre-back or even sometimes at left-back.
Was there a specific coach that pushed you in the direction?
Not that I remember, but my technical ability wasn’t the best when I was younger because I was quite a raw, run and shoot kind of forward player so they thought “maybe let’s so him at the back and see how he can use his power to defend” so ever since then I’ve just turned into a defender.
Now that you are a defender, who are your influences?
The player I like the most is Sergio Ramos, I like the way he carries himself. I don’t know what it is, he’s just got the style and the ability. I also like John Terry, I like his determination and his hunger to win games and throw his body at the ball and things like that. I like that stuff.
Did you see much of John Terry when you were with Chelsea? Was he an influence on you as a younger player?
Yeah I saw John Terry a lot to be fair, he was one of the most – out of the first team – that would come over a lot as he was really involved with the academy so I trained with him a few times when he came back from injury. So I was with him a few times in training, he seemed like a good role model and a nice guy too.
Did he give you advice on defending?
Yeah he spoke to most of the defenders, obviously position wise when you’re defending and things like that. He was a really nice guy and he helped a lot, not just me a lot of the other defenders too.
Looking at France, is there anyone at Monaco or in Ligue 1 that has influenced you as a defender?
Yeah I would say Gilk and Jemerson. I think Gilk – even if he couldn’t speak the best English – he tried to help me a lot the same with Jemerson, who obviously doesn’t speak English at all, but he uses sign language.
They speak some French and your French is pretty good, does that help?
Their French is good but Jemerson’s is more Brazilian-French if that makes sense and Glik’s French is not too bad to be fair.
They were both brilliant when Monaco won the league in 2017, was that title win something that attracted you to the club and inspired you?
Yeah it’s good to train with players like that with all their strengths, just to learn from them and see what they do in training to help my game as well.
Looking back at your career so far, what would you say is the one thing that has helped you develop the most?
Maybe if I was into football a bit more when I was younger, I would have worked on my technical ability, I think I would have been a bit sharper if I was a bit technically better when I was younger.
Is that something you prioritise now in training? For example, Dirk Kuyt was one player who came to football late and said he always felt as if he had to make up for a supposed lack of technical ability – is that how you feel?
That’s how I feel as well, I feel the same way as that. There are things I know I should be a bit better at but obviously you always have to improve in some ways and there are always aspects you need to improve on.
You’ve played and trained with some great players at Chelsea and Monaco and with England. Who’s the most talented player you’ve played with so far?
There have been a few. I could say Sanch (Jadon Sancho), Callum (Hudson-Odoi), when I trained with the first team at Chelsea (Eden) Hazard and Willian were a joke, and Pedro as well to be fair. There have been loads of players, I don’t think I could say them all because there have been so many.
You’ve mentioned Falcao previously too, what was it like to train with him?
Yeah he was a nice guy, a top guy. Obviously a good player as well. I think what I like about him was that he was so religious and he always checked on the team because he had that captain ability about him and he just kept the team together when it was getting difficult at times. And he was just such a nice guy off the pitch and a good guy to just be with. He helped a lot of the young players as well, just with him being around with a smile it helped out a lot.
Looking at your debut against Lyon, what do you remember of that game and how would you describe French football?
I think it just made me more hungry, going out and making my Ligue 1 debut – I just wanted more. It was a hard game obviously, losing 3-0 to Lyon but it was a good experience for me playing against players like (Memphis) Depay and (Moussa) Dembélé. The French league is a good league, obviously I haven’t played too many games there so I can’t talk too much on it but it felt good and I want to hopefully play more there.
Did it feel different playing against those players, or did you see them both as just another forward you needed to mark?
It felt different, but mainly because of the atmosphere – the fans were great. It was like I’m really where I want to be – playing against top players, playing against some of the best players in the world. It makes you more hungry, I just want to go again and again. It wasn’t the same for me, it was like ‘this is real’ this is what I worked for. It felt good.
It must have felt like quite the milestone as a young player to play in that game?
Yeah of course, against a top team like Lyon as well and obviously I thank the coach Jardim for trusting me in that game.
What was Leonardo Jardim like to work with?
He was a good coach, he was quite versatile as well and he tried to speak English with me which showed he was trying to adapt to me as well as I was trying to adapt to him. It showed that he cared, so he was a good coach for me.
Different to Thierry Henry?
Obviously with me and the language barrier, with Thierry Henry it was easier for me to adapt to him because he spoke English so obviously he was more clear and it was easier for me to understand things. But for me they were both good coaches.
Despite your French, do you see the language as a genuine barrier for you?
Yeah it can be a barrier but I do lessons with a French teacher so I’ve just got to adapt to it. I’m in a French speaking country so I’ve just got to adapt to it. I wouldn’t say it was a big barrier, it’s something you can work around with Jardim trying to speak English and people around that speak English, you can always get around that barrier.
You’ve spent this season on loan with Cercle Brugge, what was it like playing in Belgium?
It was good, obviously a different experience, but it was difficult as well given the position we were in, fighting relegation. So it was a hard time but it was a good experience for me, although I’m not used to losing as much as we did but obviously it was a lesson learned and we managed to stay up in the league and that’s what matters.
It was a good experience playing in the Belgian league, playing against Champions’ League teams and Europa League teams, so it was good for me to learn and every game I played whether it was win or lose it was always a good learning curve for me.
Did you feel like the standard was high compared to other leagues you’ve played in?
The standard was good. As I said there were some European teams in there so the level was good, and even the normal Belgium teams we played – they were always good, there was always a good battle, so I got the most out of it.
It’s quite an exciting league to watch, was it fun to play in?
Yeah, you don’t know what you’re going to get at times. Sometimes you can play against a passing team, sometimes you can play against a team that’s more direct so you don’t really know what you’re going to get.
Finally, on your future. What are your aims for next season? Push your way into the Monaco team or maybe another loan?
I’m just going to focus on Monaco and see how it goes from there but my main aim is to break back into the first team.
Do you set aims for your career as a whole? You’ve mentioned before that you see yourself back in the Premier League at some stage?
My career aim is hopefully in the next two to three years playing in one of the big leagues and playing for one of the big teams. So for now my goal is to get about 20 appearances this season, or the next season coming, and just push myself and keep playing for England. And maybe, because I don’t score much as a defender, maybe get some goals in as well.