In an exclusive sit-down with Get French Football News, Dunkerque forward Stevo Chillemi, talks about his return to France, growing up in Nice and why he believes he is one of the top young players in the world.
The 18-year-old is lighting up the U19’s in France and is now on the verge of breaking into the first team. However, the French forward’s journey has not been without obstacles. As a talented youth player, Covid-19 came at the worst time. Not only were academies put on hold, but so was scouting. That did not stop Chillemi from chasing his dream. Here is his story:
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Nice, France. I came from a little team in Nice – Cavigal. I played with this team from 6-years-old until 12. I left to go to another team with my friend, but my career started last year when I joined S.P.A.L (U18) in Italy.
We hear a lot about football in Paris. What is the football culture like in Nice?
The mentality in my experience was not very good. A lot of coaches there will look at you and say ‘he’s tall he’s not technical, or he’s tall so he’s slow.’
Really? In the U.S. all they want is huge players. If you are a small technical player they don’t want you.
If you know football, you know that I am tall but I am fast and technical. In Nice they think they know everything about football. I really liked my experience in Italy.
There are so many different types of strikers. How would you describe yourself as a forward?
Complete. I think I am complete. I have great physical attributes, but that’s not only “my” football. I love dribbling, or passing to my teammates to breach the defence. Running and pressing. I think complete is a good way to describe me. A modern striker like Haaland. I think I’m this type of striker.
Who are the players you watch for inspiration?
Zlatan, Holland and Benzema. I like to look at strikers that I see myself. Players like Neymar and Messi I just try to take the best things I can from them.
I can see those comparisons. What was the thing that helped you most from your time in Italy?
Tactical progression. Also, In Italy when you are on the team you are a professional. I had to behave like a professional. I learned the professional aspects of a football player in Italy.
How did you find yourself with Dunkerque
My career started last year in Italy. My first year we won the U18 championship, but the U19 finished in last, so it was a great level to play. So, I decided to go to France to play with Dunkerque’s U19 to play at the Highest level. To play PSG and Lille.
It’s been a long journey because I didn’t sign professionally until 17. That’s very late. It’s because when I started to really want to play professionally at the age of 14 we were hit with Covid. That was a long wait to start my career.
Do you think without Covid things would have been different?
No one knows, but with Covid we didn’t play. No games, training, anything. It was hard for me, but as soon as Covid passed I signed. Who knows, maybe Covid was good for me as a mental test.
In 9 matches you have 5 goals. Is that correct? That is a really impressive start. Can you tell me about your good form?
It is special because I had a lot of issues with my documents. The first 6 games I did not play. I did not play for a month, so my first game was very tough. Then I scored my first goal. For a striker it is very special when you score your first goal. I scored 4 more in the five games. (5 goals in a 5 match stretch).
I’m in very good shape. Next week I’m going to train with the first team. I also came here because the plan was to put me in the first team. They told me that they really believe in me. The plan is to put me with the first team and hopefully sell me to the biggest clubs in the world [he says jokingly].
That’s awesome. To be your age and to make such mature decisions and think so far ahead is impressive. Is there someone who helps you with your decisions and planning?
My family, my parents, and coach. I grew up in a good family. The second I told my mom that I wanted to be a professional footballer she said ‘ok, let’s go’. Also, I’m very lucky to have footballers in my family. It makes it easy to achieve, it’s an advantage over a lot of guys.
It’s true a lot of good players have a good family behind them.
I do everything to become a good football player. I work hard and I never give up. I give everything to do it, so If I don’t make it, that’s fine I tried. There might be a player with more gifts, or more powerful, but in my mind I am the best.
What are your goals in football?
I have a lot of goals. Going to the first team, but in the future of course I want to go to the World Cup and win the Ballon D’Or, be the best player in the world…
Which National team?
France. I have dual nationalities, Italian too – but for me, France. I work for it and I believe in it.
What do you like to do for fun?
I play video games, FIFA. I like being outside and seeing my friends, but do you know Kobe Bryant?
Yes, of course.
When he died I learned a lot about him. I like to learn about all the greats. I am a huge fan of his. So, I try to do three trainings a day (Like Kobe), so I do not have much time. I am not the type of guy who likes to go to parties. I’m a homebody. I think first of football and after other things.
It’s interesting that you listen to him. I do the same for my sons who also play football for inspiration.
Honestly, I would not be the same guy If I did not have Kobe. I have one training a day with my team, but I train alone 2 times alone. I see this from Kobe Bryant.
When I was a kid my mother’s lasagne, but now.. Well still lasagne (we laugh). I am a big eater.. Italian food is my favorite.. I don’t eat junk food. Sometimes my friends eat things like McDonald’s. I have not eaten fast food in two years.
Favorite football boot?
Mercurials! Since I was little it has always been Mercurial. I have never tried Adidas. I don’t know why but I always feel like I play better with Mercurial.
Best defenders you have faced?
I think the better defenders are in Italy. I do not know if it’s just me progressing, or if the defenders are just not as strong, but I remember the defenders in Lazio who were very physical. They would always push and put their hands on me to defend. I would say Lazio.
What do you want people to know about you?
I am the hardest worker. One day my coach said that people must remember you as a hard worker. I try to be an example for everybody, be a leader to my teammates. I want to be a leader and an example. Mental toughness. You can criticize me on my game, but I am mentally strong.
Stevo may have had a setback with Covid, but I have to agree that the road he has been on has made him mentally stronger. You have to remind yourself that you are speaking to someone who is barely 18-years-old. With his family support, work ethic and obvious talent I am not sure how he will be anything other than successful.
At the U19 level he is clearly a standout and ready to see what he can do with the senior team. The Dunkerque forward really checks all of the boxes. He is technical, has a good touch, can finish with both feet, has great speed and stands 1,90 plus meters tall. It is safe to say Dunkerque has top prospects at the center forward position.
GFFN | Tony DesRois