Speaking in an exclusive interview with Get French Football News, 28-year-old Ghanaian international and RC Strasbourg attacker Majeed Waris reacted to the LFP’s decision to terminate the 2019/20 Ligue 1 season despite there being 10 sets of games unplayed, why the French top flight is so special to him, his bold fight against COVID-19 in Ghana and much more.
Firstly Majeed, great to have you back on Get French Football News. What’s life been like under lockdown for you in Strasbourg?
For me, living alone here it’s a little bit difficult. I wouldn’t say it’s very very difficult but it’s difficult because you don’t get to do the normal routine that you are used to doing like going to training. Even though I’m more of an indoor person, I don’t really go out that much, but I just feel like it’s getting too much, but on the other side you can see that it’s for our own good. So it’s probably better to just stay inside and just go by the rules. We are coping with it.
How have you been entertaining yourself? Are you continuing to train, are you still training with Strasbourg or are you doing sessions individually via the internet?
I’m still doing online training with the team, we have some training going on and then we have our personal programme that we have to follow as well and then just a little bit of extra you can do for yourself. Now that the league is cancelled we’re still training as well and I’ve just enrolled myself on some new courses online that I’m taking so I’m occupied a lot of the time right now so I’m good to go!
Sounds like you’re keeping busy! What are the online courses you’re taking by the way?
I’m taking a course which is based on a diploma in Leadership and Management, which is something I’m really interested in so I’m taking it very seriously.
Great, is that something you’re interested in beyond football? Maybe after you retire?
Yeah for sure, education is something I’m always very interested in, although I didn’t get time to finish with my college in the UK. It’s something I’m always looking at and looking into, trying to get some qualifications on the side. Looking at the leadership and management course this could probably be my job as well, maybe when I retire, and I can start to manage some of the things I have invested in too.
That also could be leadership or it could be taking control of something and trying to make sure everything has a good plan as well. It’s very interesting leaving school and then coming back and just keeping yourself busy. It’s going very well, I’m very happy with my progress.
Circling back to the training, how does that work? Do you have a Zoom link with Thierry Laurey and the other players on a screen?
Yeah exactly, we’ve got the Zoom app and they give everyone a programme and then we have a time that everyone has to come on line. We have our fitness trainer and he will make sure we’re all doing the proper things, even though we’re all self-isolated in our homes.
That’s probably quite difficult. Are you doing ball work in the house or in the garden too?
Yeah there’s always a little bit of ball work but not much. It’s not the same. With me, I feel like it’s a little bit difficult when you’re used to training with people, working with people, doing a lot of movement, and in this situation we’re just limited to certain things.
You can’t do that much but you can still achieve something, you don’t lose everything. Although right now the season is over for us, I think that’s ok, we have time to freshen up, we’ll have a few changes because of the virus, and we’ll continue to work really hard.
You mentioned the league being called off, what’s your reaction to that? Did you think that was the right way to go? Did you see any possible options there?
For me, looking at the amount of deaths, people losing their loved ones, people losing their families, you can always work when you have good health. I think it’s good to cancel the league but maybe it’s too early to have given the championship up. They can suspend it, then maybe when we have a solution then we can play the remaining games and then continue into the new season.
Because if you look at some of the big clubs, they play every three days. When there is progress in terms of the virus. then we can play the remaining games and then start a new season straight away because I think we would be fit to go.
Are you feeling fit? Do you feel like you could play soon?
To be honest, I don’t think anyone would be properly fit because what we are doing compared to playing games is completely different. This training is not the same as games, you have a lot of training and have a very good level of fitness but when you don’t have a proper game fitness you’re going to struggle in the game.
So I think everyone would need a few games for everyone to get back to game fitness.
Would you almost need another pre-season?
It wouldn’t be like a pre-season but at least you might have a week to make good preparations. For me I always believe you don’t need a month to have big preparations as long as you have a good training programme, you eat very well and you recover very well and your body will be ok to go and to play games.
You mentioned the consequences of the virus, we’ve spoken about your foundation before on Get French Football News and you’ve been doing some great work in Ghana – could you tell us about it?
Yeah, the foundation is a huge part of me. I always believe in giving back to my society, it doesn’t matter how small or big it is – sometimes it’s a matter of giving back but it’s the way you change and have a positive impact on people’s lives. It’s something growing up in the Right to Dream academy and first from my family that I learned – how they always used to give back to society. In the Right to Dream academy they’d always speak about giving back to society, giving back to Ghana, giving back to Africa, giving back not only in Africa – giving back to the world.
Because there are a lot of people around us who are unfortunate not to be where we are, it’s not because we’re just talented, it’s just because God blessed us, so it’s important for us to have a positive impact on people. With the foundation, to be honest I’m very happy but I still wish I could do more but I’m pushing to always have a positive impact on people’s lives, especially in my city – which I think they need a lot.
Am I right in thinking the Waris Foundation donated hundreds of hand sanitisers and fostered a partnership with a local radio station to spread the right sort of information?
Yeah, what we’ve done is we’ve donated a lot of items to prevent the spread of the virus. And then we’ve also taken time to educate the people on how to protect themselves and we’ve also sponsored some radio stations to preach to the people. Because sometimes in Africa not everyone has the financial ability to buy a phone, not everyone has the financial ability to be able protect themselves against all these sorts of things. But what I do know is a lot of people do listen to these radio stations and they have a huge impact on people’s lives – especially old people.
They don’t know about phones, all they do is tune into the radio to see what is happening so we also tried to think about these kind of things, and we tired to sponsor programmes that can educate people not just about the virus but about life in general about how to live your life, how to have a positive life, how to protect yourself against certain things. These are some of the things that we’ve taken into consideration, so we can make a lot of donations and help a lot of people.
That local knowledge must be important, and how the information gets to people is crucial.
Yes, for me, I’ve grown up in the city and I’ve been to a lot of different places, I’ve been to the poorest places, I’ve been to the richest places – and I know some of things that are lacking. Unfortunately, I wish I could do more but I’m pushing to help as much as I can because there’s always pressure when you have the ability to help someone to see someone smile. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long period of time.
That’s really great to hear, keep it up. I just wanted to move on and talk about Strasbourg, you were at Porto but it took some time to find your way back to France – joining Strasbourg in January. What was the delay?
After my season in Nantes, I had a very good season there, then I went back to Porto and there were some issues that had nothing to do with me and I was hoping to fight for a position in Portugal and then because of the issues – I didn’t have a clear explanation about what I had done – they said I had to train with the B team without any clear explanation. So I said “Ok, I have a contract with them and I have to respect that.” but I tried to approach people to get a clear explanation and they didn’t give me one. So I said “Ok, no problem,” and I started training with the team.
But I had a lot of good options as well. I was supposed to sign with Alaves and there were a lot of issues around that as well and it didn’t happen. So I said “Ok, in football these kinds of things happen sometimes.” So I kept working very hard and didn’t say anything. I’m someone who likes to let my hard work speak louder than my words so I kept working very hard. During my time with the B team, a lot of my friends and my coaches were saying you’re too good to be here, you have to move on. Sometimes things change, so I had to just keep working really hard until this January came and I’m here now and it’s in the past now.
What explanation were you given?
I think it was an internal thing between them and my agent but I don’t know exactly what was happening – I’m not someone who wants to get involved with the agency work. With the agency work, there’s no honesty there and I didn’t want to be part of something like this. If I want to be around football I’d rather prefer to work with kids than be at the top even though there’s a lot of money involved – there’s no honesty and people are not straight with their decisions.
You mentioned Alaves, was Leganes an option too? And maybe Nantes?
Yeah, I actually went there, I did the medical and I was waiting to see what happened and it didn’t happen at the end. So these are some of the things I mean, I didn’t know exactly what was happening.
You found your way back to France eventually, was France always a priority for you?
Yeah to be honest, even before I came here, I had some good options and looking at most of the options I had I was thinking – even though I’ve been working really hard, I haven’t played a proper competition for six months – what is best for me.
So I spoke to a few people and I always wanted to come back to France, I think France is a good option for me because I know the league much better and this is the only place I can get my value up fast because I haven’t played for six months and if I have to go to any club then it’s going to be like “you haven’t played for six month, this that, this that” but for me it wasn’t a excuse. I wanted to come back to prove to people even though I haven’t played for six months I’m still the same person.
Looking at the league here, I’m very used to the league here and this is one of reasons I chose to come back to France without even looking at the financial aspect.
You’ve had a lot of experience around the league now, what is it like to play for Strasbourg? What’s the club like?
Coming here, I knew a little bit about the club and the stadium as well, I’ve played here before. It’s a very good club. It’s France, but, for me, you could say it’s ‘France-Germany’ because it’s just next to Germany and there are a lot of German people here as well and it’s a big city as well – you can go to a lot of places from here.
The club is a good club, as you can see, they have a very strong team and they’re doing very well in the league so it’s a very good club for me. This is one of things I looked at, and how I can have a positive impact on the team. And when comparing them to the others I chose here.
It turned out to be a good decision, winning the February Player of the Month – what’s it like playing for Thierry Laurey? What sort of instructions has he given you – how does he see you in the team?
I think he knows a lot about me because he’s seen me play a lot of times, before I came here he told me what they need, what they’re lacking, and what they wanted me to do for the team. So I had a clear picture of what I was coming to do.
We spoke about a lot of different positions as well and I can see this helped me a lot because, even though I started at number nine with Valenciennes, right now I’m more used to the front row, all across the front row and in other positions. So anywhere he wants me to play he knows I’m going to do exactly what he wants me to do.
Was that key to Laurey’s thinking in bringing you in? That you were a versatile player who could do a job in any of those sorts of positions?
Yeah, I think this is one of the reasons why he wanted me here, because to be honest they really pushed. It wasn’t easy making a decision, because I had some good offers outside Europe as well which I was also considering. As I said I wasn’t really thinking about the financial aspect, I was thinking about how I can have an impact on the team that can get my value up again. Then looking at this, and then they really push, so I said “Ok, maybe it’s time for me to come here.”
Can you shed any light on those other offers? Are you allowed to talk about that?
I think it’s best that I don’t talk about that now because it’s a private thing and I’m still interested in them because they told me a lot of things… most were in the Gulf States.
A final thought on Thierry Laurey, he has a reputation as a more versatile coach than others – is that something that comes through, compared to other coaches?
Yeah, he changes things a lot. He’s someone who’s more like: “Ok, let’s defend. There’s no defence without attack. So let’s stay back and be more compact.” If you look at our team and our style of play, normally a team will only score if we make our own personal mistake. It’s difficult for a team to outplay us and score.
In the Strasbourg squad, is there anyone you’ve become particularly close with on or off the pitch of work especially well with?
Yeah I think most of the players knew me before I came here and I knew a few last year as well. I’m friends with a lot of them and with the attackers as well, we’re starting to get very good communication among us which was helping the team. Because right now I’m playing as a winger and maybe sometimes behind the striker and we’re starting to have very good communication among us with Adri (Adrian Thomasson), with Ludovic (Ajorque), with Kevin (Zohi) with all the midfielders, we’re starting to have a very good conversation.
Which I think is very good because sometimes when you go to a team it takes time for them to get used to and to understand the kind of person you are. I came here and things were changing very fast and we started to understand our style of play and it’s helping us because we’re scoring goals. I think this is going to help the striker as well, Ludovic, to score more goals and the attacking midfielders because right now for us our aim is just to provide for them and help with the defence.
Did your familiarity with the players and the league make the settling in process easier?
I wouldn’t say it’s easy. It took quite a lot of hard work and commitment even before I came here. I was training two times every day because I was training with Porto’s second team and in the evening I had my second personal training and I was doing a lot of work. I don’t know how the big name players like Messi and Ronaldo do it, because when people (opponents) get to know you that’s when it gets very difficult because before you play they always try and plan against you before you even come out.
Sometimes even when you’re walking [on the pitch] you have someone walking with you. I was playing with some of the guys and I said “come on, just let me walk a little bit,” because the guy was following me everywhere. He said: “this is what the coach told me, I have to follow you.” So it’s difficult when they get to know you, because they know that you are a threat. So they will try to find a way to stop you. But you have to keep on working, sometimes one mistake will change things.
Do you take that as a compliment, that teams mark you out as a threat? Annoying maybe?
Exactly, it’s annoying but then also in a positive way at least you know you’re doing something very positive so you should be proud of yourself. Even me as an attacker, for example – if I’m playing right wing – I don’t like the left-back to be attacking all the time because I have to chase him down. But the thing is, if I have to chase him down, then he will also have to have two times the fitness of me because he will have to chase me down.
So most of the teams I’ve played with, they stay back. It’s less work for me defensively because I like it when they attack because I know there is a position where I can always be where I can take advantage of them, but when they don’t attack and they just keep it very tight, it’s a little bit difficult unless there’s counter attack or something like that.
Is that something you feed off? A battle with your opposite number?
Yeah, for me, even though, right now, I don’t really dribble a lot, I used to like to go one on one and then I can do something positive. If I get the ball quicker then I don’t look back I just try to take advantage and get at the defenders behind me and just attack. That’s the way you can make a difference. When we start to move the ball around, that’s easier for defenders to just move back, but when you start reducing their numbers that’s when you have a positive impact on the game.
You start to unbalance them.
Yeah exactly. Because when you move the ball around, unless you’ve got quality like Barcelona – their midfielders can just play one pass behind the defenders and change everything, but when you play the French teams here, mostly they’re very compact and the only way you can break them is when you go past them and they start to shake a bit in terms of their covering so I always like to run at players.
Just to round off our chat, I’d like to have a quick look at your past and then your future – starting with a few quick-fire questions. Firstly, who’s the best player you’ve played with and why?
This is a difficult one… For me, I would say – naturally talented – Yacine Brahimi at Porto. So naturally talented, it’s unbelievable what he can do with the ball. I think I’d go with him.
Who’s the best coach you’ve had in your career?
This is difficult, I think all my coaches have had a positive impact. The thing is, because I’ve not been stable in one place, because I’ve moved around a lot of positions, all of them have coached and guided me in each position. So, it’s difficult to choose one because they’ve all had a positive impact on every position that I’ve played, even back home in the Right to Dream academy, the coach showed me a lot on movement and I watched a lot of videos: “Watch this player, he has fantastic movement, with your height.”
So, I took this and went to college where I had a different coach and he taught me a lot, and then when I went to Hacken in Sweden the coach told me to never drop in. With your speed, always stay on the back line, never drop back to take the ball – always make your movement around and behind the defenders. So looking at the movement they taught me at the academy up to signing my first professional contract, and looking at the progression of the coaches with each move I’ve made, this actually had a positive impact in my career. So, it’s very difficult to choose just one coach.
Is that something that you’re grateful for? That you’ve had a lot of different influences?
Yes, this is something I’m very grateful for and that I’m very happy about as well because I’ve learnt a lot of different things from different people, different cultures, different countries as well and then at the end I’ll probably be able to speak about my experiences and also help people.
Something you can pass on.
Definitely. For example, if I have a friend in Sweden or a younger brother of a friend then I know how to advise him in the Swedish league, if you have someone who is playing in France then I know what to tell him about the French league – the mentality of the people, the culture. It’s the same with the other countries as well.
Just finally on your past: What’s the most memorable match you’ve played in?
I think it was a national team game, Ghana against Egypt in the qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. We beat Egypt 6-1 – that took us to the World Cup. A few Ghanaians were worried we were going to lose the game because Egypt had a very good team. We were playing in Ghana, it was great weather, nice pitch and the stadium was unbelievable. It was crazy. We ended up beating them 6-1, I scored and then I think I set up two goals – the country went crazy.
Is Ghana something that means a lot to you? You were really unlucky to miss out on the AFCON squad last summer, is playing for Ghana again a real priority of yours?
For me, I think it’s always good to play for your nation if you have the opportunity because you can always count yourself lucky if your whole country is calling on you to play for them. You are lucky. I feel like I’ve played quite a lot of games, at the beginning I used to be very happy any time there was a national team game coming up but I’ve grown up to understand that there’re a lot of politics around the national team when it comes to selecting players for the tournaments.
That made me realise a lot of things and lose a bit of interest because the selection is not based on your merit, it’s only based on politics. I feel like this is not very good because it’s affecting the nation as well.
Having that influence must be very frustrating.
I would say yes. Because, for me, where I come from, I always believe in hard work. For example, I missed the last tournament after a great season in Nantes, they dropped me for someone who doesn’t even play in Ligue 2. So there are a lot of issues around it but this is Ghana, you can’t say a lot of things about it. I just moved on and fortunately I’ve achieved a lot club wise so this is not really affecting me.
Just finally Majeed on your future, are you hoping to stay at Strasbourg longer term? And you’re 28 now, are there any targets you’ve set yourself for the rest of your career?
For me, I always say this: football is about commitment and happiness. I play games and I am happy. Right now, I’m here, I’m playing games and I’m very happy. I’ve got two more contract years left here and then, I don’t know, maybe after one year I’ll be looking to move again – you never know what is going to come next. All that I can say is that I just have to work very hard to continue how I’ve started here so that next year will be even better than these few months that I’ve stayed here and you never know what will happen in the future.
But I’m always happy to take on a new challenge in a different place and learn about the culture, maybe somewhere in the Gulf states, somewhere close to Mecca or something like that. I’ve always wanted to take a new challenge and see what happens. Right now, I’m here, I’m happy here and I’m doing well. I’m just going to work very hard so that next year will be even better than my first few months here.