Ever wondered what it’s like for a young player to train in one of the world’s best academies? In an interview with Get French Football News’ Liam Wraith, recent Lyon trialist and Republic of Ireland U17 international Billy Vance spoke about his experience at The Groupama Training Centre, the intense nature of coaching from Gueïda Fofana and his staff, and some potential stars for the future at Lyon.
Firstly, our readers will be wondering more about you as a player and what made OL so interested, how would you describe yourself as a player?
I predominantly feature on the left, a left-sided winger. I like to drift in, play in the spaces of a ten and make things happen. I feel comfortable across the front three. However, I favour the left flank. My strongest element is in one on one situations, and my ability to beat players has seen me described as a tricky winger in the past.
What’s your story to date? Where have you played and developed to bring you where you are today, being asked to train with OL?
I started off as a schoolboy playing for St. Joseph’s in Dublin, a big schoolboys’ club in Ireland. St. Joseph’s holds a link with Bray Wanderers and that saw me start my League of Ireland experience at the U15s level. From there, I spent two seasons with Bray before I made the switch to Bohemians.
Bohemians was my first taste of making the step up towards the senior level and it was a great experience to spend time with the first team, despite it being difficult at first for a 16-year-old. I feel this is the right thing for a younger player, rather than being thrown straight in at the age of 18. I was massively grateful for that.
A.F.C University College of Dublin then came in for me which was a great opportunity for me as I was in need of a fresh start. I loved my 6 months there and was majorly involved with the first team. Towards summertime, I was approached by St. Patrick’s Athletic, my current club, who are a big club in Ireland – and it was a no-brainer, really, after initial conversations. We won the U19s league last season and I have been involved with the first team which has been great. That’s when OL expressed their interest.
When did you first hear of Lyon’s interest and how did the club approach you to invite you for trials at the Groupama Training Centre?
First contact was established with my agent, who informed me of the interest. He was contacted by Lyon’s Academy Director, Jean-François Vulliez. When I first heard about it I was buzzing to have interest from such a big club, but I had to put it to the back of my mind as there was nothing concrete. A few months later, he called my agent and said, we’d like you to come over and train with us on a trial basis. That was a huge moment, when he told me there was concrete interest.
It was a dream come true for me to receive interest from such a big club. When I knew it was happening, I had to ramp up everything – my individual training and fitness. The offer came at a complicated time as the season was over. However, I managed two weeks of training with the first team at St. Pat’s before going over to Lyon and training for a week with the reserves.
When you first arrived at Lyon and got onto the training pitch, how did it feel to be training with one of the world’s best academies and stepping in the footsteps of the likes of Benzema and Lacazette?
It was a dream come true really, I had to pinch myself when walking in. Getting up in the morning, going for breakfast before training and seeing players that you grew up watching on TV just sitting there – like Lacazette, as well as World Cup winners, Tagliafico and Boateng, was crazy. The lads there are obviously used to it, but for me to be casually sitting there and for them to be walking by was crazy.
Did you have any interactions with any of the first-team players?
Yeah, we all ate in the same area. The women’s team, the reserves, which I was with, and the men’s first team. Also, on one of the days we played a training game, 11 v 11, against the first team so we all ate at the same time and on the way out I bumped into a few of the players. Lacazette, Aouar and Boateng, just to name a few. The language barrier was obviously an issue, but it was still great to meet them.
How did you find your overall experience training in an environment which has been renowned for producing consistent talent and with some of the best academy coaches in Europe?
It was a great experience. It’s a different culture, compared to Ireland. It was great to see the way they do it in France, the training methods are different and it’s all in the details. It seems simple when you’re training, but there is so much that goes into it. The coaches are constantly watching and pointing things out that you wouldn’t even think of. It was a great opportunity to learn and I learnt so much in just one week, it was unbelievable.
What was the biggest difference between training with OL and the training you experienced during your development in the Irish game?
I believe football is a simple game and I don’t think it should be too different, but the main difference was the quality of the players. I couldn’t believe stepping out on the pitch with them. Everything was self-explanatory and nailed down. All the basics are done perfectly. The individuals are on another level. Aouar, for example – some of the things he did during the game, in just 45 minutes, were unbelievable. The level of quality I can hopefully add to my own game and the experience is something that will stay with me throughout my whole career.
How did you find being coached by OL’s reserve coach Gueida Fofana, someone responsible for many top talents progressing to the first team?
Gueïda was a very strong character and you could see he knew exactly what it took to play at the top level. He knew exactly the way a first-team dressing room and training session worked. He’s not too long out of the professional game and he brings that with him. He’s very intense in his coaching style. I think you need that though as there’s no use in being soft with the U23s as he has to prepare players for the first-team environment. It wasn’t easy when you didn’t do something the way he wanted, but you need that to learn.
The simplicity of his training was a big difference from what I’ve experienced in the past. The repetition of things, you learnt growing up. There was nothing complicated in the training sessions and the basics were nailed down every training session. At home, some of the sessions can be complicated and when putting that into a game scenario it can be difficult. However, when the passing is crisp and thought out as it was in Lyon, it’s a well-oiled machine.
Was there anyone who particularly impressed you during your time training with OL’s reserves who we should look out for in the future?
Two of the lads I trained with were on the bench for OL’s game against Ajaccio. El Arouch, he was with us during the week and then spent a day with the first team. He’s an exceptional player. Not the biggest, not the fastest but technically he was unbelievable, you couldn’t take the ball off him. The other player was a winger, Djibrail Dib. Again, he’s not the biggest, not the tallest but technically he’s so skilful and stood out a lot as in the game we played against the first team, he played with them and didn’t look out of place.
How vital was the experience for your development and is there anything from your time at OL that you want to integrate into your own game?
The main thing in football for me is confidence, and the confidence of knowing I was able to go over to Lyon and hold my own is great. I thought I did well and the feedback was positive, that is something that I will take with me into the new season, wherever I end up.
Lyon is a huge club, with a great academy and great players, and being around that environment full-time was great, there is lots to take from that. Long term, it’s an environment I can see myself thriving in. The language barrier is of course an issue but one that can be addressed. I think the experience has taught me that I can improve my off-the-ball work and learn where to be and who to follow. With the coaching at Lyon, that would be achievable.
Any news on a return to OL?
No news as of yet, but the feedback was positive and the club said they would be in touch with my agent. A week is a short amount of time, I think the opportunity to showcase myself as a player and person in a full game would be valuable.
GFFN | Liam Wraith