It has been quite the season for AS Monaco’s Youssouf Fofana (24), the France international, who is the beating heart of Les Monégasques’ midfield.
The crowning moment was undoubtedly his selection in Didier Deschamps’ World Cup squad, which culminated in an appearance in the World Cup final against Argentina. Whilst the former Alsaciens’ performances may have dipped in the second half of the season, consistent with Monaco’s collective demise, Fofana believes that he has produced the “most complete” season of his career.
In a round-table interview, attended by Get French Football News prior to the defeat against Olympique Lyonnais (19/05/23), Fofana spoke about France’s elite academy system, his passage at Strasbourg, his World Cup experience, and his future, which if reports are to be believed, may lie away from the Principality club.
France is renowned for producing elite-level talent. To what do you attribute this success?
In France, we are one of the countries that has the most access to pitches and it’s the first sport that we have access to, and that we can play together freely. I think watching television pushes us more, to improve ourselves and with the different infrastructure that France has to offer, like Clairefontaine, AS Monaco, and other clubs, we can progress even more.
After spending time without a club as a teenager, you arrived at Strasbourg. How did they help your progression?
[Strasbourg] prepared me more mentally because Strasbourg’s training centre, compared to Clairefontaine and Monaco, in terms of quality, is a level below. It pushed me to go higher and further and I would say I improved more mentally than technically or tactically, but it’s hard to judge because I arrived at a mature age at Strasbourg, and I knew what I had to do. It’s a bit hard to compare.
How has Ligue 1 changed since you turned professional?
I think the league is evolving well. Since joining the professional world, I think year after year there has been big progress, notably with the arrival of big-name players in our league, as well as young players that have broken through early and have quickly understood the game. That creates a good blend of star players with experience and young players that want to give everything. That’s what makes Ligue 1 difficult: this mix of cultures where everyone has to play together.
A former Monégasque, Bernardo Silva, recently said that Ligue 1 was harder than the Premier League, yet French clubs have struggled in Europe in recent years. How do you reconcile these two elements?
I think they are two different things. The French league has a DNA as a physical, intense league, maybe not as much as where Bernardo (Silva) plays, but there is a physicality and an intensity in this league. On the other hand, there are the European competitions where perhaps we need to manage the games more to win matches. France lacks experience given that not many clubs have access to it every year. We lack experience at this level, and with experience, I think we can do big things in Europe. Little by little, we’re getting our bearings and why not next season or in two seasons, we’ll do what Italy did this season.
You had the experience of representing Les Bleus at the World Cup in Qatar. Specifically, how did you find the matches against England and Argentina?
For the match against England, for me personally, it was the hardest match we had to prepare. We were less calm than in other matches. England were the finalists in the previous Euros. We saw ourselves in them and felt like we were playing against ourselves. They had lots of quality across the pitch, particularly in attack. It was a close match. The circumstances changed the game; if Kane scored his penalty, the match could have changed.
Regarding the final, maybe we lacked a bit of experience. In the whole 120 minutes, we only messed up the first 15, which cost us dearly. If we played the first 15 like we did the rest of the match, we could have won. It was a great experience. It was a new group, and we learned to get to know each other and I hope in the future we’ll do much better.
How do you evaluate your season at Monaco, both individually and collectively?
A bit mixed. We won’t achieve what we set out to achieve, but stepping back from it, it was a good season. We have fought in Europe and Ligue 1 until the end. For me personally, it is the first time that I’ve had such a complete season. It’s been a great experience. In the coming seasons, I will manage certain periods better. The second half, is a bit like this weird season as a whole with the number of matches and the international breaks; you have to deal with it. You feel fatigued, and there are injuries, but overall, it is a positive season, even if the objective won’t be reached.
Will this be your last season at Monaco?
Monaco is a big club in France and in Europe it’s a bit of a springboard. Lots of clubs grab players from us. For a few years, it’s a club that has also developed in Europe, getting through the group stages in the Europa League, whilst changing policy with the promotion of young players. That’s already an accomplishment. There is more progress to make. We’re on the right path, so why not continue on it? But personally, if it’s the right time, and it’s the right opportunity, for me to go and see something else, I don’t know. Only time will tell. We’re on the right path, so why can’t we buy clubs from others?
Are there any players that you dream of playing with?
Not necessarily. I played with a great young player that has now left. I’d like to play with him again elsewhere. Apart from that, I don’t necessarily have players that I’d like to play with in particular. If I play with even bigger names, it means I’m on the right path and that I have performed well.