It isn’t easy breaking into AS Monaco’s midfield, but that is the task that Eliot Matazo (21) faces. The Belgium U21 international has played alongside the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Aurélien Tchouaméni, Youssouf Fofana and Mohamed Camara, and whilst this elite set of influences will be an undoubted positive for Matazo’s career, it has meant that his chances have been limited since making his debut against Strasbourg back in 2020.
However, amidst rumours of Fofana’s departure this summer, Matazo will want to put his name in the hat to be his successor. He has started three of the last six Ligue 1 games and looks set to be given further chances between now and the end of the season. Get French Football News’ Luke Entwistle, sat down with Matazo, who spoke about his continued commitment to the Monégasque project, his season so far, and his midfield influences.
Have you felt a turning point in your career with three starts in your last six Ligue 1 matches?
Not necessarily a turning point, but it’s a fact that since the return from the World Cup, I’ve had a bit more gametime. I’m playing quite regularly and I’m putting in a string of pretty good performances. Since the World Cup, I’m in the best phase of the season. A turning point in my career? I’m not sure. I’m still young, and there are lots of matches still to go to know whether there has really been a turning point in my career, or not.
Your performance against Olympique de Marseille in January certainly felt like a turning point…
In the season, I needed a reference match. I think I can lean on that match against Marseille in my matches against all future opponents. For sure, the match against Marseille gave me a boost.
Was there a bit of disappointment with your lack of gametime in the first part of the season? How did you manage that?
For sure. I’m a competitor and I always want to help the team. When you don’t have the gametime to do that, it’s a bit disappointing. But I’m well aware that I’m still young and I’m in a competitive team with two or three very good players in my position. So I need to grin and bear it, continue to work hard and be ready when the coach calls on me.
What was your first reaction when Mohamed Camara arrived, given that he would rival you for a place in the midfield?
I had a good impression of him, and I’d seen him play in the Champions League and at a team like Monaco, you need competitive players in every position. That’s how it is with all of the other positions, and that’s how it is with Camara, who came to strengthen the team, which he has done. So I see it as a positive. It brings competition, and for me, as a young player, seeing such a player in my position only inspires me to take things from his game and reproduce that on the pitch. That allows us to challenge each other to give the best of ourselves every time we’re on the pitch.
You’ve already played alongside Camara, Aurélien Tchouaméni and Youssouf Fofana – these are good influences. Could that make you a more versatile player going forward?
Since playing with the pros, I’ve been playing with Aurélien, Youssouf, Mohamed, and with Fabregas as well. There are different characteristics in all these players and for sure, watching them every day in training and at the matches, I can only learn. Those will be things that I’ll take with me going forward.
Was it inspiring to see Aurélien move to Real Madrid?
Seeing a defensive midfielder have such a rapid rise can only be inspiring for me. I’m also inspired by the fact that I played alongside him. It shows anything is possible, but it only happens through hard work. Aurélien is a hard worker and what happened to him was the outcome of all of that work.
Is it your time to shine given the potential of Youssouf Fofana’s departure in the summer?
Yeah, maybe. I don’t know what Fofana’s future holds. As a Monaco player, I want him to stay as that would be good for the team. There are lots of games remaining in the second half of this season, so it’s up to me to show certain things. In any case, I am ready to show these things and we’ll see what the future holds.
Do you think it is harder for a defensive midfielder to break through given there is no room for mistakes?
It is different to break through [as a midfielder rather than an attacker]. It’s really about concentration and experience and that’s something that is learnt. To be consistent, we’re speaking about maturity to be able to recognise certain situations. It’s true that it’s different, and it’s something that is learnt. There are lots of midfielders with lots of experience that start from the bench, but when they come on, they make an impact and that is something that I have to be able to do as well. It is rare to have as much experience as I have as a defensive midfielder at my age. I am lucky to have such baggage at a club like AS Monaco so I make the most of it.
Where do you think you need to improve?
I’m a defensive midfielder so ball recovery is my maximum priority. I have technical baggage that allows me to go forward so what I’m trying to do more in matches is to go forward and be more visible on the pitch.
Out of the players that you’ve played with, which player would you say you’re closest to stylistically?
That’s for other people to say. I have my own style. It’s all about personal opinion because I was told I had a style similar to Aurélien, others say Youssouf and some people reference other players as well. Youssouf and I have some similar characteristics. We’re both strong in terms of ball recovery, but we’re not good at just that. We have a technical ability which also makes us capable of bringing things offensively, taking the ball, moving up the field, providing assists and shooting. It is a skill we have and that, in particular, I need to use more.
Have you felt your role at the club, despite the fact you’re still young?
Yes. In my debut season, I had quite a bit of playing time and it has since increased. I’m a young player with quite a lot of baggage already. It is something that I feel within the group and something that I embrace.
What is it like having, in Philippe Clement, a compatriot as your manager at club level? What is your relationship with him like?
It’s positive because the dialogue is much easier. We understand each other very quickly. We come from the same environment and he has similar ways of thinking to me, so that helps.
And at international level, you have become an experienced player for the Belgium U21s. Are you looking to make that step up to the senior team now?
I feel good in that environment. Each time that I go on duty with the U21s, I take on a bit more responsibility, and I feel that from the coach as well. We have a good generation, a good group that gels well, and I love going there. I feel good there and I’m happy to be there.
I think that these things come naturally. If you’re doing well with your club, if you put in good performances, you’ll get the call. When the moment comes, I will be ready because I know that I will have done the work to get there, with the U21s and also with Monaco. Domenico Tedesco has just arrived, and I know he has an eye on me. I got a provisional call-up, so that shows I’m there or thereabouts. It’s up to me to ensure that I give the best of myself so that he can look at me even more.
Do you now feel that you are in the best condition to give the best of yourself?
As always. I work hard throughout the season, and I’m always at the disposal of the team. As soon as the coach calls on me, he knows I’ll be at 100% to help the team.
And like last season, you are hunting after that second place…
We have nine finals left, nine matches to win. It’s as simple as that and we’ll review it at the end of the season. I think that [the experience of chasing the European places last season] helps. But Lens are also having an incredible season. They’re more consistent this season, and that can’t be forgotten, so I think they are also better armed to finish the season well. We’re the hunters so it’s up to us to chase the teams in front of us.
Moving forward, do you still have confidence in the Monaco project being the right one for you?
Of course, if I didn’t I wouldn’t still be here. If I didn’t have confidence in the club, I wouldn’t be here. Last year, I extended my contract until 2026 so I trust in the project, and I’m completely invested in it.