Crazy beautiful

Even now, several months after the goal that some have called “historical”, I still have no words to express how I felt at the 116th minute of the Europa League semi-final in Salzburg (on May 4, 2018, full-time score 2-1). What I can say is that it was both incredible and unforgettable. Probably the strongest emotion I’ve had after scoring a goal. I also felt immensely proud. Proud for my club at that time, and proud for me, for getting the chance to play another European final in my career. And finally, proud for my children.

Even now, several months after the goal that some have called “historical”, I still have no words to express how I felt at the 116th minute of the Europa League semi-final in Salzburg (on May 4, 2018, full-time score 2-1). What I can say is that it was both incredible and unforgettable. Probably the strongest emotion I’ve had after scoring a goal. I also felt immensely proud. Proud for my club at that time, and proud for me, for getting the chance to play another European final in my career. And finally, proud for my children.

Rolando’s cry for victory even in training.

Rolando’s cry for victory even in training.

01| It was very tough for me

This was not the best moment of my career, but it’s a moment that will stay for me forever. My favorite moment of my career is my first ever professional match. I had dreamt about it for so long, had made so many sacrifices to make it. I had suffered so much, rolling with the punches…
When I was a small kid, and my teacher would ask me what I would like to do when I grow up, I’d always answer: “I want to be a professional footballer”.

I was born in Cape Verde. Soon after, my mother went to Spain to work and send money to us. I stayed in Africa with my grandparents who raised me. My dad was there, but we did not have any connection, really. At my grandparents’, I was happy but it was not easy every day. So many of us were living there, including my uncles, who I treated like my own brothers. My grandparents had ten children! We had food on the table, but that was pretty much it.
In my mind, I just had one idea: become a football player. Nothing else. I was not bad at school. Plus, my grandmother used to tell me all the time: “Dream about football all you want, first you need to work hard in class. You cannot afford to miss a year, otherwise we will not afford your studies. If you are focused, you will see everything will be alright. Otherwise you will have to go and look for a job… “
It was really tough, but if I had to do it all over again, I’d do it again without a doubt.
A few years later, I saw my teacher crying… She told me: “I knew you would make it!… “
You have to know that Cape Verde is not a well-structured country for football. There are not many opportunities for kids to play football, and professional football is practically nonexistent there. To make it in football, one must go to Portugal. But how many young kids from Cape Verde fail… It’s like an impossible dream.
I listened to my grandmother: I worked hard at school, and luckily I found an opportunity to fulfill my dream.

01| It was very tough for me

This was not the best moment of my career, but it’s a moment that will stay for me forever. My favorite moment of my career is my first ever professional match. I had dreamt about it for so long, had made so many sacrifices to make it. I had suffered so much, rolling with the punches…
When I was a small kid, and my teacher would ask me what I would like to do when I grow up, I’d always answer: “I want to be a professional footballer”.

I was born in Cape Verde. Soon after, my mother went to Spain to work and send money to us. I stayed in Africa with my grandparents who raised me. My dad was there, but we did not have any connection, really. At my grandparents’, I was happy but it was not easy every day. So many of us were living there, including my uncles, who I treated like my own brothers. My grandparents had ten children! We had food on the table, but that was pretty much it.
In my mind, I just had one idea: become a football player. Nothing else. I was not bad at school. Plus, my grandmother used to tell me all the time: “Dream about football all you want, first you need to work hard in class. You cannot afford to miss a year, otherwise we will not afford your studies. If you are focused, you will see everything will be alright. Otherwise you will have to go and look for a job… “
It was really tough, but if I had to do it all over again, I’d do it again without a doubt.
A few years later, I saw my teacher crying… She told me: “I knew you would make it!… “
You have to know that Cape Verde is not a well-structured country for football. There are not many opportunities for kids to play football, and professional football is practically nonexistent there. To make it in football, one must go to Portugal. But how many young kids from Cape Verde fail… It’s like an impossible dream.
I listened to my grandmother: I worked hard at school, and luckily I found an opportunity to fulfill my dream.

Rolando’s joy, as he has just sent OM to the UEFA Europa League final, thanks to his famous goal against Red Bull Salzburg.

Rolando’s joy, as he has just sent OM to the UEFA Europa League final, thanks to his famous goal against Red Bull Salzburg.

02| If you do not say that, you will not play !

I signed my first professional contract, which was an important step. But it was not enough: what I really wanted above all, was to get on the football pitch, and finally be able to say “I am a professional footballer”!
I was coming from the U19-team. My coach told me one day:  “I’ll take you to go to the press conference this week”, without telling me anything else. I was a bit shocked since that was all new to me, but the coach told me: “Do not worry. The press just want to know if you think you’ll play or not. So you’ll just answer: ‘yes, I’ll play’. If you can say that, you’ll play. If not, you won’t play!

I followed my coach’s instructions in front of the reporters, who were surprised by my answer… And on August 27, 2004, I was starting my first game of the season, my very first official match as a professional footballer: Belenenses vs. Maritimo. We won 1-0. I scored the winner myself!
That’s why this moment is the most important in my life as a professional player, because after so many years of sacrifices, perseverance, courage, struggle… I made my one dream come true.
That goal in Salzburg, anyway, changed my career. Not just my career here at Olympique de Marseille, but my career as a professional player above all. I’m a defender: I’m not supposed to be creating chances on goal. If I’m honest it may happen 2, 3, or a maximum of 4 times in a match.

I was warming up in front of our supporters. It felt like I was playing already! We were 1-0 down. And then 2-0. I was saying to myself there’s no chance the coach will make me come on now…
And suddenly, he says: “Rolando, get ready! I know you’re not 100% fit, but I know you can play for 20, 25 minutes.”

I never imagined that my contribution would have been so massive. I came on just to help in defense, to keep it tight at the back…
And then… on that corner kicked by Dimitri Payet…

Since then, some people compare me to Basile Boli and his goal against AC Milan in Munich in 1993… but that’s not the same at all! Boli played the Champions League final, the top of the top in football.

When I arrived to Marseille, I was told about Basile Boli, and today I am honored to have entered in the history of such a big club like Olympique de Marseille.
That’s great. Especially for my children who, that evening of May 2018, felt so proud of their dad.

02| If you do not say that, you will not play !

I signed my first professional contract, which was an important step. But it was not enough: what I really wanted above all, was to get on the football pitch, and finally be able to say “I am a professional footballer”!
I was coming from the U19-team. My coach told me one day:  “I’ll take you to go to the press conference this week”, without telling me anything else. I was a bit shocked since that was all new to me, but the coach told me: “Do not worry. The press just want to know if you think you’ll play or not. So you’ll just answer: ‘yes, I’ll play’. If you can say that, you’ll play. If not, you won’t play!

I followed my coach’s instructions in front of the reporters, who were surprised by my answer… And on August 27, 2004, I was starting my first game of the season, my very first official match as a professional footballer: Belenenses vs. Maritimo. We won 1-0. I scored the winner myself!
That’s why this moment is the most important in my life as a professional player, because after so many years of sacrifices, perseverance, courage, struggle… I made my one dream come true.
That goal in Salzburg, anyway, changed my career. Not just my career here at Olympique de Marseille, but my career as a professional player above all. I’m a defender: I’m not supposed to be creating chances on goal. If I’m honest it may happen 2, 3, or a maximum of 4 times in a match.

I was warming up in front of our supporters. It felt like I was playing already! We were 1-0 down. And then 2-0. I was saying to myself there’s no chance the coach will make me come on now…
And suddenly, he says: “Rolando, get ready! I know you’re not 100% fit, but I know you can play for 20, 25 minutes.”

I never imagined that my contribution would have been so massive. I came on just to help in defense, to keep it tight at the back…
And then… on that corner kicked by Dimitri Payet…

Since then, some people compare me to Basile Boli and his goal against AC Milan in Munich in 1993… but that’s not the same at all! Boli played the Champions League final, the top of the top in football.

When I arrived to Marseille, I was told about Basile Boli, and today I am honored to have entered in the history of such a big club like Olympique de Marseille.
That’s great. Especially for my children who, that evening of May 2018, felt so proud of their dad.

77th minute in the match OM vs. Amiens, last game of the 2017-18 season. The strong defender has to leave the pitch injured, having ruptured his Achilles tendon…

77th minute in the match OM vs. Amiens, last game of the 2017-18 season. The strong defender has to leave the pitch injured, having ruptured his Achilles tendon…

03| It only hit me when I tried to get up...

A few days later, I got injured (May 17, 2108, OM vs. Amiens, 38th minute).  Football can be so exhilarating one minute and so cruel the next. That’s the way it is. In my career, I may have missed two or three matches in a row, tops. I had never experienced being injured for such a long period of time.

I knew I was not perfectly fit. I knew it was the last game of the season but I promised my kids that we would go together on the football pitch, because we had missed the chance of doing that during my first few seasons at the club, since I was systematically suspended for the last match of the season!
And they had seen the other players of the team coming out with their kids, so I owed it to them, even though I was not at the top of my physical abilities.
Then the match started. I was feeling OK. No pain, no discomfort, no problem. I just had spent two months going through recurring issues, therefore I wasn’t pushing to hard either. I was just focusing on playing well.
Even when that happened (77th minute), I didn’t realize something was terribly wrong. I even said to the doc: “Can you check it up, please? ” He looked at me, surprised: “Are you sure you don’t any pain? And you want to stay on the pitch? Stand up for me please!”
I responded: “Yes, of course I’ll stay, I’m fine!”.
It only hit me when I tried to get up…

03| It only hit me when I tried to get up...

A few days later, I got injured (May 17, 2108, OM vs. Amiens, 38th minute).  Football can be so exhilarating one minute and so cruel the next. That’s the way it is. In my career, I may have missed two or three matches in a row, tops. I had never experienced being injured for such a long period of time.

I knew I was not perfectly fit. I knew it was the last game of the season but I promised my kids that we would go together on the football pitch, because we had missed the chance of doing that during my first few seasons at the club, since I was systematically suspended for the last match of the season!
And they had seen the other players of the team coming out with their kids, so I owed it to them, even though I was not at the top of my physical abilities.
Then the match started. I was feeling OK. No pain, no discomfort, no problem. I just had spent two months going through recurring issues, therefore I wasn’t pushing to hard either. I was just focusing on playing well.
Even when that happened (77th minute), I didn’t realize something was terribly wrong. I even said to the doc: “Can you check it up, please? ” He looked at me, surprised: “Are you sure you don’t any pain? And you want to stay on the pitch? Stand up for me please!”
I responded: “Yes, of course I’ll stay, I’m fine!”.
It only hit me when I tried to get up…

04| There was no time for me to stress about it

In the locker room, I could finally understand how serious my injury was. The doc explained that I had torn my tendon: 6 months out! For the first time in my career!

I had no idea what to do. What was worrying me was not so much my injury, but rather my attitude, my morale, my state of mind…
What was I going to do during that extremely long period on the sideline? But I can say today that everything went very well. I could actually spend some quality time with my children and my family.
My bosses were really great with me. My coach came to see me at the end of the match to reassure me he was fully behind me. The President and the Sports Director also were very kind. They did not even give me time to stress too much about it, as they immediately they told me: “Do not worry about your situation. We were talking about your contract, but it doesn’t matter now. You will go through surgery soon. Now, take care of yourself, take some rest. We will talk about the rest later.”

It was a strong sign from the club. I felt it as a form of reward for the hard work and the commitment that I had shown every day in training, during every match, helping my team and always doing my best for the club.

04| There was no time for me to stress about it

In the locker room, I could finally understand how serious my injury was. The doc explained that I had torn my tendon: 6 months out! For the first time in my career!

I had no idea what to do. What was worrying me was not so much my injury, but rather my attitude, my morale, my state of mind…
What was I going to do during that extremely long period on the sideline? But I can say today that everything went very well. I could actually spend some quality time with my children and my family.
My bosses were really great with me. My coach came to see me at the end of the match to reassure me he was fully behind me. The President and the Sports Director also were very kind. They did not even give me time to stress too much about it, as they immediately they told me: “Do not worry about your situation. We were talking about your contract, but it doesn’t matter now. You will go through surgery soon. Now, take care of yourself, take some rest. We will talk about the rest later.”

It was a strong sign from the club. I felt it as a form of reward for the hard work and the commitment that I had shown every day in training, during every match, helping my team and always doing my best for the club.

Rolando can see the end of his nightmare after 6 months spent without playing football. OM’s version of “The Rock” is on his way back.

Rolando can see the end of his nightmare after 6 months spent without playing football. OM’s version of “The Rock” is on his way back.

05| You are not on the pitch, but you are still part of the team...

I spent the beginning of the season all by myself. I worked very hard to come back as quickly as possible. I could follow what was going on in the group too. I was never very far away. For example, we have two WhatsApp groups: one for workouts with Rani Berbachi [OM’s Sports Coordinator] to share day-to-day practical information such as “meeting at so-and-so o’clock, training session later, etc.”.   And a separate group between players only, we exchange private messages!

Sometimes, some teammates would tease me… That was a good way to still feel part of the group. You are not on the pitch, but you are still part of the team…

I was taking it easy, even though I couldn’t really share how my teammates were feeling. I was more like a fan back then! I worked by myself, separate from the group. That was very difficult. Probably the most difficult. I would arrive two hours before everyone else, and would finish training well after everybody had left the training center.

I was looking at my friends training, playing football, scoring goals, etc.  As for me, I was only going through exercises to recover and build up to come back. It was hell!… Every day was just about: running, running, and again running.
I could see the light at the end of the tunnel… But day after day, sometimes it was going away, some other times it was getting nearer….

There was no way I could have gone through anything different, since the goal was to recover all my sensations for my body to recover its potential, and to be able to function normally, like before the injury. I knew it was the only way to come back to the football grounds. To have fun again. To do my job as a professional footballer: defend well and perform at the highest level.
I remember when the medical staff gave me the “all clear” and said: “You’re good, now you can go train normally with the others”.

For a spit second, I saw in my head all those days when, after the surgery, I wasn’t even able to walk, to drive, to go and pick up my kids at school. Wearing a huge boot over my leg.

I did miss playing football. I missed my job. My job, as I say all the time, is to defend well.
I make mistakes, like everyone else, I’m not perfect, both on the pitch and in real life, but that’s how one learns and progresses.

That’s what I tell the young players. I do not consider myself a model because I still make mistakes. I often repeated that to “Little” Boubacar Kamara, who was only 15 when he joined the professional group.
Today, he’s not a kid any more. I saw all the progress he has made, and that makes me proud. He listens to everything you say to him. He has many qualities but he must continue to work hard to make it. I know that, in a few years, when I will be a retired footballer, I will come to see him play in a big stadium for a very big club!

05| You are not on the pitch, but you are still part of the team...

I spent the beginning of the season all by myself. I worked very hard to come back as quickly as possible. I could follow what was going on in the group too. I was never very far away. For example, we have two WhatsApp groups: one for workouts with Rani Berbachi [OM’s Sports Coordinator] to share day-to-day practical information such as “meeting at so-and-so o’clock, training session later, etc.”.   And a separate group between players only, we exchange private messages!

Sometimes, some teammates would tease me… That was a good way to still feel part of the group. You are not on the pitch, but you are still part of the team…

I was taking it easy, even though I couldn’t really share how my teammates were feeling. I was more like a fan back then! I worked by myself, separate from the group. That was very difficult. Probably the most difficult. I would arrive two hours before everyone else, and would finish training well after everybody had left the training center.

I was looking at my friends training, playing football, scoring goals, etc.  As for me, I was only going through exercises to recover and build up to come back. It was hell!… Every day was just about: running, running, and again running.
I could see the light at the end of the tunnel… But day after day, sometimes it was going away, some other times it was getting nearer….

There was no way I could have gone through anything different, since the goal was to recover all my sensations for my body to recover its potential, and to be able to function normally, like before the injury. I knew it was the only way to come back to the football grounds. To have fun again. To do my job as a professional footballer: defend well and perform at the highest level.
I remember when the medical staff gave me the “all clear” and said: “You’re good, now you can go train normally with the others”.

For a spit second, I saw in my head all those days when, after the surgery, I wasn’t even able to walk, to drive, to go and pick up my kids at school. Wearing a huge boot over my leg.

I did miss playing football. I missed my job. My job, as I say all the time, is to defend well.
I make mistakes, like everyone else, I’m not perfect, both on the pitch and in real life, but that’s how one learns and progresses.

That’s what I tell the young players. I do not consider myself a model because I still make mistakes. I often repeated that to “Little” Boubacar Kamara, who was only 15 when he joined the professional group.
Today, he’s not a kid any more. I saw all the progress he has made, and that makes me proud. He listens to everything you say to him. He has many qualities but he must continue to work hard to make it. I know that, in a few years, when I will be a retired footballer, I will come to see him play in a big stadium for a very big club!

ROLANDO

ROLANDO

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"I continue learning every day"

I CONTINUE

LEARNING 

EVERY DAY

I CONTINUE LEARNING EVERY DAY

When I first entered the pro team’s locker room about three years ago, I didn’t know where to seat; there were a lot of senior players at the club, I was embarrassed. Steve Mandanda, Romao, Lass (Diarra), Nicolas Nkoulou… I was a little lost.I was in the middle of the room, waiting. Finally it Rolando told me to sit at his place. So I did. And every time I was called to train with them, I picked the same spot.
I stayed rather with the younger players like Max (Lopez) ou Seyni (Alphousseyni Sané), but as they had assigned lockers yet either, they also found it hard to find their place.
Today, I sit at the entrance of the locker room. On my left: Max. And on his left: captain Dimitri Payet . I could choose where to sit this time, so I sat next to Max because we are very close. We played together in youth (U19), we’ve known each other for a while.
From now on I am more at ease, I took my marks. I’m kidding with everyone, everyone is joking with me, I feel very good. It is paradoxical because, if in the locker room I am the equal of the others, on the ground, I am still the “young one”. But that’s perfectly normal.

When I first entered the pro team’s locker room about three years ago, I didn’t know where to seat; there were a lot of senior players at the club, I was embarrassed. Steve Mandanda, Romao, Lass (Diarra), Nicolas Nkoulou… I was a little lost.I was in the middle of the room, waiting. Finally it Rolando told me to sit at his place. So I did. And every time I was called to train with them, I picked the same spot.
I stayed rather with the younger players like Max (Lopez) ou Seyni (Alphousseyni Sané), but as they had assigned lockers yet either, they also found it hard to find their place.
Today, I sit at the entrance of the locker room. On my left: Max. And on his left: captain Dimitri Payet . I could choose where to sit this time, so I sat next to Max because we are very close. We played together in youth (U19), we’ve known each other for a while.
From now on I am more at ease, I took my marks. I’m kidding with everyone, everyone is joking with me, I feel very good. It is paradoxical because, if in the locker room I am the equal of the others, on the ground, I am still the “young one”. But that’s perfectly normal.

LOCKERS ROOM RULES THAT ARE ESSENTIAL

For example, when we train passing the ball in training, the young people go in the middle defend. It is the same when it is necessary to move the goals for a game or to pick up and put away the equipment.

For me, it’s natural, we’re not going to ask Rolando who is at the end of his career, Morgan or Steve, to go get the balls. They too, at the beginning of their career, have been there, as will be the case for young people who will arrive next at a pro’ level. It is like that with the physio: the older players have priority on the best appointment times, whereas the younger ones, are just so lucky if there is time for a massage. The day before matches for example, young players like me go after the older ones. These cloakroom rules are essential. It’s special for me today, I play with guys who have huge careers, who have played very high level games.

Players like Adil (Rami), Kevin (Strootman), Flo (Thauvin), Dim (Payet), Rolando, Valère (Germain). I learn every day.
This allows me to gain confidence in my football, to play more liberated. They force me to communicate, to talk to them, even to shout at them! At the Orange Vélodrome, it’s hard to be heard with all this noise, but I try to do it.

It is true that off the pitch I’m not very talkative but in a match, I have no choice. It’s in the interest of the team. I remember just a few weeks ago, at the Orange Velodrome, I shouted at Lucas (Ocampos) during the match against Caen (2-0) because he was not putting enough pressure on his marked player and it was putting us at risk. I yelled at him: “Lucas? Get to him faster!”

For example, when we train passing the ball in training, the young people go in the middle defend. It is the same when it is necessary to move the goals for a game or to pick up and put away the equipment.

For me, it’s natural, we’re not going to ask Rolando who is at the end of his career, Morgan or Steve, to go get the balls. They too, at the beginning of their career, have been there, as will be the case for young people who will arrive next at a pro’ level. It is like that with the physio: the older players have priority on the best appointment times, whereas the younger ones, are just so lucky if there is time for a massage. The day before matches for example, young players like me go after the older ones. These cloakroom rules are essential.

It’s special for me today, I play with guys who have huge careers, who have played very high level games. Players like Adil [Rami], Kevin [Strootman], Flo [Thauvin], Dim [Payet], Rolando, Valère [Germain]. I learn every day. This allows me to gain confidence in my football, to play more liberated. They force me to communicate, to talk to them, even to shout at them! At the Orange Vélodrome, it’s hard to be heard with all this noise, but I try to do it.

It is true that off the pitch I’m not very talkative but in a match, I have no choice. It’s in the interest of the team. I remember just a few weeks ago, at the Orange Velodrome, I shouted at Lucas (Ocampos) during the match against Caen (2-0) because he was not putting enough pressure on his marked player and it was putting us at risk. I yelled at him: “Lucas? Get to him faster!”

WE ARE LIKE THAT IN THE GROUP. NO B.S. WE CAN SAY EVERYTHING, LOOKING AT EACH OTHER IN THE EYES!

WE ARE LIKE THAT IN THE GROUP. NO B.S. WE CAN SAY EVERYTHING, LOOKING AT EACH OTHER IN THE EYES!

I also remember shouting at Valère (Germain) even if it was not really his fault. It was in Lyon, we were nine players since Clinton (Njie) got injured. I was tired that they were making us run so much. And again, I yelled at him to come to his opponent, but unfortunately he couldn’t hear me.We are like that in the group. We can say everything. Just straight talk. We all listen to each other. Sometimes we even apologize.

I’m improving every day and getting more mature, because it is so demanding. On the pitch during a match, of course, but for just about everything. When I’m not going to exercise, I’m told off, when I don’t go to have a cold bath, they remind me. When I make a bad pass, they shout at me …

Interacting with such players every day makes be better. Coming from the Academy to the pro’ team is such a journey, it’s much less forgiving. I’m reminded daily that I have to pay attention to every aspect of my career: my lifestyle, my diet, my recovery, my preparation… This is how I’m building myself, little by little. They tell me “watch this, watch that…

I realize that these are all the necessary commitments that will allow me to have a great career. It’s not just about the game of football, it’s about so much more.
Among the senior players, Dimitri Payet makes a lot of fun about me. We appreciate a lot each other, but inside the stadium on game day, the fun is over. No more time for jokes. That’s how he is. 

I also remember shouting at Valère (Germain) even if it was not really his fault. It was in Lyon, we were nine players since Clinton (Njie) got injured. I was tired that they were making us run so much. And again, I yelled at him to come to his opponent, but unfortunately he couldn’t hear me.We are like that in the group. We can say everything. Just straight talk. We all listen to each other. Sometimes we even apologize.

I’m improving every day and getting more mature, because it is so demanding. On the pitch during a match, of course, but for just about everything. When I’m not going to exercise, I’m told off, when I don’t go to have a cold bath, they remind me. When I make a bad pass, they shout at me …

Interacting with such players every day makes be better. Coming from the Academy to the pro’ team is such a journey, it’s much less forgiving. I’m reminded daily that I have to pay attention to every aspect of my career: my lifestyle, my diet, my recovery, my preparation… This is how I’m building myself, little by little. They tell me “watch this, watch that…

I realize that these are all the necessary commitments that will allow me to have a great career. It’s not just about the game of football, it’s about so much more.
Among the senior players, Dimitri Payet makes a lot of fun about me. We appreciate a lot each other, but inside the stadium on game day, the fun is over. No more time for jokes. That’s how he is. 

WATCH THIS, WATCH THAT…

WATCH THIS, WATCH THAT…

It’s similar with Adil (Rami). Always the first to joke around, but during the match, he can’t me more serious. We mustn’t concede a goal. Suffer first, play well after. They are all, in their own way, expecting a lot from me. But from everyone else in the group too.

I joined the pro’ group about three years ago, during the summer camp in 2015. As it’s tradition with the team, I had to go through an induction test: suddenly, I heard cutlery on the glasses, I got up and chose to sing a song by (French artist from Marseille) Jul, I think. The other players didn’t make too much fun of me, because Rémy Cabella likes the singer. 

Then I got to play several times in official matches. The first time against Bordeaux (on October 29, 2016), but I was starting on the bench, as it’s often the case with new, young players. This allowed me to learn, to gain experience, to be part of the group during the last hours before a match, up until the manager gave me my chance to play in an official match. It was in December 2016, I had just turned 17 [on November 23rd], in a League Cup away match to Sochaux. We were at the hotel. I was hoping I would be at least on the bench, since Hiroki , Tomas [Hubocan], Rolando, Doria were there already… And finally, Rudi Garcia told me I would start on the right wing. I was happy but I was very nervous. No particular pressure, no stress. Simply a form of fear of the professional world, the environment, the cameras, the atmosphere… so many feelings that faded away in a matter of minutes as I started to play. I knew I had the abilities to follow the instructions from the coach, but since it was my very first time, I couldn’t compare it with anything else I’d done before.

However, as I was playing on the right, the manager was close and was speaking to me constantly to reassure me, to help me gain confidence. I could feel he was with me at all the time. On my left, Rolando was also guiding me. So much experience shining through him. I keep some great memories from this match even though we ultimately lost. Regardless, that night I realized that I really wanted to make it at OM. I could not wait for the next match.

It’s similar with Adil (Rami). Always the first to joke around, but during the match, he can’t me more serious. We mustn’t concede a goal. Suffer first, play well after. They are all, in their own way, expecting a lot from me. But from everyone else in the group too.

I joined the pro’ group about three years ago, during the summer camp in 2015. As it’s tradition with the team, I had to go through an induction test: suddenly, I heard cutlery on the glasses, I got up and chose to sing a song by (French artist from Marseille) Jul, I think. The other players didn’t make too much fun of me, because Rémy Cabella likes the singer. 

Then I got to play several times in official matches. The first time against Bordeaux (on October 29, 2016), but I was starting on the bench, as it’s often the case with new, young players. This allowed me to learn, to gain experience, to be part of the group during the last hours before a match, up until the manager gave me my chance to play in an official match. It was in December 2016, I had just turned 17 [on November 23rd], in a League Cup away match to Sochaux. We were at the hotel. I was hoping I would be at least on the bench, since Hiroki , Tomas [Hubocan], Rolando, Doria were there already… And finally, Rudi Garcia told me I would start on the right wing. I was happy but I was very nervous. No particular pressure, no stress. Simply a form of fear of the professional world, the environment, the cameras, the atmosphere… so many feelings that faded away in a matter of minutes as I started to play. I knew I had the abilities to follow the instructions from the coach, but since it was my very first time, I couldn’t compare it with anything else I’d done before.

However, as I was playing on the right, the manager was close and was speaking to me constantly to reassure me, to help me gain confidence. I could feel he was with me at all the time. On my left, Rolando was also guiding me. So much experience shining through him. I keep some great memories from this match even though we ultimately lost. Regardless, that night I realized that I really wanted to make it at OM. I could not wait for the next match.

WHEN FACING THE BEST, I CAN ONLY GET BETTER…

WHEN FACING THE BEST, I CAN ONLY GET BETTER…

I have excellent relations with our manager Rudi Garcia. He doesn’t single out any player in particular, for him the group prevails. He treats me like a player equal of the others, no more no less. I listen carefully and I put into practice every advice he can give me. We talk from time to time and I always learn something useful. This is also the case with all the management staff, even if I work a bit more with ‘Jobi’ [Stéphane Jobard] who has arrived this season to OM. As he used to play central defender, I do a lot of sessions with him. We work on how I move on the pitch, my position. Sometimes he comes to me, some other times I will come to him for advise.

I may admire them when I see them on TV, but if I have to face them, they’re just like any other player: whether I’m against Falcao, Fekir , MBappé , or Neymar… I will defend the same way. They are just opponents. For me, they may be playing in National 2 or coming straight off the World Cup, I must do the same job, and focus the same way.
It’s not because I’m facing Mbappé, Neymar or any other player of that caliber, that I’ll freeze… It’s actually even better to face this kind of top players, because it is certainly against the best forwards that I will be able to improve.

I have excellent relations with our manager Rudi Garcia. He doesn’t single out any player in particular, for him the group prevails. He treats me like a player equal of the others, no more no less. I listen carefully and I put into practice every advice he can give me. We talk from time to time and I always learn something useful. This is also the case with all the management staff, even if I work a bit more with ‘Jobi’ (Stéphane Jobard) who has arrived this season to OM. As he used to play central defender, I do a lot of sessions with him. We work on how I move on the pitch, my position. Sometimes he comes to me, some other times I will come to him for advise.

I may admire them when I see them on TV, but if I have to face them, they’re just like any other player: whether I’m against Falcao, Fekir , MBappé , or Neymar… I will defend the same way. They are just opponents. For me, they may be playing in National 2 or coming straight off the World Cup, I must do the same job, and focus the same way.
It’s not because I’m facing Mbappé, Neymar or any other player of that caliber, that I’ll freeze… It’s actually even better to face this kind of top players, because it is certainly against the best forwards that I will be able to improve.

3rd

youngest olympien to play 15 matches in Ligue 1

90%

successful pass rate this season

17

youngest olympien to start in Europe

I remember, for example, when Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos was face-to-face with Barcelona’s Ronaldinho: he often looked powerless, but that does not mean that he has not become one of the best, if not the best defender in the world.

He is a model. He is a calm defender, with a great technique, with a good goal-scoring flair. He’s the boss on the pitch. I know I still have a lot to learn, but he inspires me to improve and reach his level. He is aggressive, brave and knows how to impose himself. Like how Ramos puts pressure on his opponents, I try to show the forwards that I will be coming strong in duels, from the very first to the very last second of the match. I’m not as big and tall as Adil (Rami) or Rolando, but like Ramos, I make my rivals understand that, with my own attributes and abilities, that I will keep on fighting against them.

I remember, for example, when Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos was face-to-face with Barcelona’s Ronaldinho: he often looked powerless, but that does not mean that he has not become one of the best, if not the best defender in the world.

He is a model. He is a calm defender, with a great technique, with a good goal-scoring flair. He’s the boss on the pitch. I know I still have a lot to learn, but he inspires me to improve and reach his level. He is aggressive, brave and knows how to impose himself. Like how Ramos puts pressure on his opponents, I try to show the forwards that I will be coming strong in duels, from the very first to the very last second of the match. I’m not as big and tall as Adil (Rami) or Rolando, but like Ramos, I make my rivals understand that, with my own attributes and abilities, that I will keep on fighting against them.

Sometimes I see myself in Rolando…

 

Sometimes I see myself in Rolando…

 

I feel good as a central defender. I’ve played this position since I was a kid. I prefer to have the game in front of me, to stop attacks, fake passes, kick long balls, get the ball back…

When I play with Luiz (Gustavo) for example, I play on the right, which allows me to start from the back on my foot right. If I play with Adil (Rami), on the other hand, I find myself in a leadership role: I will play the first ball to start from the back, and will come forward to put pressure on our opponents in midfield. With Rolando, it’s similar to when I play with Luiz.

I like to clear the ball, eliminate two or three opponents on a good pass. Of course I prefer to control the ball rather that kick it in touch. I also love anticipating, reading the game. For that, being a central defender makes it easier.

In terms of style, I feel very close to Rolando. He’s got great abilities and can play with both feet. He is not very fast but he moves really well, and he knows best how to anticipate and read the game.
At times, in training, I see myself in him. I watch him when he comes to intercept the ball. He is very good technically and is great with his head in offensive and defensive phases. At OM, he’s the player who inspires me the most. He gives me a lot of advice.
Il me donne beaucoup de conseils.

I have always had the number 4. I took advantage of Karim (Rekik)’s departure to get it back. It is a symbol for me because I’ve always had this number in the development squads. If it couldn’t have been number 4, I would have picked number 23, which is my birthday.

I feel good as a central defender. I’ve played this position since I was a kid. I prefer to have the game in front of me, to stop attacks, fake passes, kick long balls, get the ball back…

When I play with Luiz (Gustavo) for example, I play on the right, which allows me to start from the back on my foot right. If I play with Adil (Rami), on the other hand, I find myself in a leadership role: I will play the first ball to start from the back, and will come forward to put pressure on our opponents in midfield. With Rolando, it’s similar to when I play with Luiz.

I like to clear the ball, eliminate two or three opponents on a good pass. Of course I prefer to control the ball rather that kick it in touch. I also love anticipating, reading the game. For that, being a central defender makes it easier.

In terms of style, I feel very close to Rolando. He’s got great abilities and can play with both feet. He is not very fast but he moves really well, and he knows best how to anticipate and read the game.
At times, in training, I see myself in him. I watch him when he comes to intercept the ball. He is very good technically and is great with his head in offensive and defensive phases. At OM, he’s the player who inspires me the most. He gives me a lot of advice.
Il me donne beaucoup de conseils.

I have always had the number 4. I took advantage of Karim (Rekik)’s departure to get it back. It is a symbol for me because I’ve always had this number in the development squads. If it couldn’t have been number 4, I would have picked number 23, which is my birthday.

Boubacar KAMARA

Boubacar KAMARA

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« OM only OM »

"OM only OM"


"OM only OM"


Many children dream of Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Manchester United… well, I’ve always dreamed of OM.

I was born in Marseille and like everybody here, I’ve got the club in my blood. It’s a unique feeling, a special connection – all the more so solid as my father Bruno played for OM during his career, in one of the most prestigious eras in the history of the club [1989–1991], maybe even the most beautiful one to date.

I spent the first years of my childhood in Marseille, my Dad would sometimes take me to the trainings at the Vélodrome stadium, on the days after the matches. Back then, you could meet Carlos Mozer, Chris Waddle, Jean-Pierre Papin!… I was just walking around amongst of all these stars! And even though I did not really spend so much time in Marseille back then, only three or four years I think, I’ve always felt “Marseillais”.

OM is my great passion, for what this club represents as much as for the fantastic players who have developed here every season. And I was just like any other young fan: my bedroom was decked out in blue and white, posters were everywhere on the walls, and I went to football training wearing my OM jersey, even when I was playing at the Orleans football club or at school.

“When we were playing football during recess, I pretended I was an OM player! “

Every birthday, every Christmas, I used to ask for the OM jersey as a gift, so I could go to football practise with my new outfit. I was so proud! And so were my parents!

Truth be told, OM was my favourite topic to discuss at home, because the club had made such an incredible impression on my Dad. He spent the best years of his professional career in Marseille, winning several trophies and creating unforgettable memories.

Missing a match on TV was simply out of the question! It was so good when we won a match, because the next day I could go to school so proud and so happy. On the other hand, with some of my classmates supporting other teams, you can imagine the nightmare it was for me the day after a defeat. Luckily for me, it didn’t happen too often!

I remember the 1998/1999 season clearly, with Christophe Dugarry, Maurice Florian, Laurent Blanc, Fabrizio Ravanelli…
OM won its way through to the UEFA Cup final in 1999. Unfortunately, we lost against Parma (3-0). I was just seven or eight years old back then.

The first good memories that I have of OM go back to the early 2000’s. I particularly remember Didier Drogba’s achievements. I was such a fan that I had his poster on the wall in my bedroom in Orleans.

From Orléans to Göteborg…


That season, I had the chance to travel a bit, especially in Europe, with my Dad. It was extraordinary! I went to Newcastle for the semi-final on 22nd April 2004, where OM drew 0-0. I also went to Göteborg for the final on 19th May 2004, where we lost against Valencia (2-0). The match was probably lost in the first half when Italian referee Pierluigi Collina gave a red card to Fabien Barthez…

« Collina killed us!  »

I remember that in the grandstand, with the former players of the club invited for the final, we were so disappointed with the turn of events that we had joined in on the OM fans’ chants: “And Collina, and Collina, and Collina is a… And Collina is a…

At that moment, I was living my passion fully. I was so happy to be there, to be in the stadium for the 4th final in the history of the club, even though, like all the OM fans who had came all the way to Sweden, I would have preferred that the outcome of the game to have been different.

Growing up, I also developed confidence on the football pitch. After US Orléans, I spent one year at the Football Academy of Châteauroux. Six months later, I joined AS Monaco, which was famous for nurturing young players. Not too long after that though, I heard that OM was interested in recruiting me. My own club wanted me! Could you believe it!?

During the spring that same year, I played against Chateauroux in the U14 National Cup. My dad was there, just like many parents of players… and then I saw José Anigo!

José Anigo, the OM Sporting Director at the time, was there in the stadium. He told my dad that he liked my profile and found my style interesting and he wished I could join Olympique de Marseille! He talked about all that with my dad, who responded that, unfortunately, I had just signed with AS Monaco. My dad, a quiet man who has never gotten involved in transfers, told him that, out of respect for AS Monaco, it was not up to him to make a move first. Unfortunately for me.

When I learned that, I was so disappointed, because I could have worn my club’s jersey right there! Even though I knew how good the AS Monaco Academy was, it felt like a real shame.

I can admit today that if this opportunity had presented itself sooner, I would have probably picked my club with my heart, and would have gone to Marseille.

28

Years

48

Games

16

Goals

From son to dad


Finally, I waited a few years before I could realize my childhood dream. But I also know it was the right time to come here to Marseille after the season, so I did.

I also know if I had not played at that club, I would have missed something in my career. Especially since today, I arrive every morning for training, I am both moved and proud to see that I am taking the same path as my father. Thirty years later, I have the same life as he had, I wear the same shirt he used to wear, with the same satisfaction. I train on the same football grounds and I play in the same stadium. All those things make our bond even stronger, even more concrete. Ironically, this may cause him a little more stress when he watches OM matches today than when it was him playing thirty years ago.
My father was lucky enough to play in one of the greatest teams in the history of the club, to win many trophies, to experience such thrilling events. He talks about it from time to time, especially when I start asking him questions about that time.

«  Say hi to your Dad! »

Sometimes, some people on the streets of Marseille come up to me and say: “I took the same photo with your father years ago! Congratulations, very well done. You make us very happy!” or “Please say hi to your dad, he was such an incredible player back then!”.
I was probably just as lucky as the Ayew brothers (André and Jordan) with their dad Abedi Pelé: lucky that he and my father were part of such a successful team that won everything.

For the fans, having seen the Germain name and Ayew again brings back great memories from the club, and that makes people extremely proud. That also carries a lot of expectations too! But I knew everything would be alright, even when I play a few matches without scoring a goal.

Ganay, trophy, Vieux-Port !


When I was at the AS Monaco Academy, before becoming a professional football player, there were a few of us who supported OM.

We’d meet regularly to watch matches together or to even make the trip to Marseille for the Champions League on Tuesdays or Wednesdays. We left directly after training – our coach back then was fine with it. We used to get seats at the Vélodrome stadium, behind the goals, on the Ganay or on the Jean-Bouin end, depending on the match.

« Heinze, Niang, Lucho… What a dream team! »

We were at the stadium that 5th May 2010 when we became French champions, winning 3-1 against Rennes.
I remember it clearly because we had bought our tickets for the match more than two weeks before, and we were really hoping OM would not be crowned champion before that match.
It was five or six of us friends, on the Ganay end. It started to rain during the second half, but OM managed to win it, thanks to the goals of Gabriel Heinze, Mamadou Niang, and Lucho Gonzalez.

It was magic! OM had not been French Champions since 1992, it was absolutely crazy! Of course, the same team had already won the French League Cup only a few weeks before (“Coupe de la Ligue”; 3-1 against Bordeaux), but still: what an incredible night that was!

We all went to the “Vieux-Port” to celebrate our victory…

Valère Germain

© photo credit : Helios Image | Private collection

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"Athletic to me ..."

I very rarely take the stage.

You have probably noticed, I very rarely take the stage. But the draw, the Knockout Stage of the UEFA Europa League, sees us face Athletic. So when I was offered to write this post, I accepted. Because, beyond the titles won and beyond the years spent in this club, there have been single meetings and events that have forged me into the player I have become and the man I am still.

In each club where you play, there is a common element: Passion. The passion you have for your club. The passion that surrounds your club. The passion that your club conveys. As in Marseille, and when you live in Bilbao, from Monday morning you start talking about the next match. At Athletic, there are still a lot of unique cultures. The best known is that all players who wear the colors of the Club must be Basque. I was born on October 23, 1961, in a small village in the province of Gipuzkoa, in the Basque Country. Since then, my heart club has always been Athletic. I was already a goalkeeper. The Basque Country has always been a breeding ground for great goalkeepers. This position – also unique – seems to be in the DNA of this region.

“José Angel Iribar was a historic keeper for Athletic. He has been a source of inspiration for me. I was a fan. To the point of wanting to become a professional goalkeeper myself.”

“José Angel Iribar was a historic keeper for Athletic. He has been a source of inspiration for me. I was a fan. To the point of wanting to become a professional goalkeeper myself.”

My beginnings.

At 18, while playing for Deportivo Alavès, FC Barcelona wanted to recruit me. Athletic too. My choice was simple. One of the reasons, but not the least, that pushed me to join the club was: José Angel Iribar. He was a historic keeper for Athletic. He has been a source of inspiration for me. I was a fan. To the point of wanting to become a professional goalkeeper myself.

When I arrived at Athletic, I seized the chance I had to work alongside such a player and meet such a personality. We have established close ties and we have always kept in touch. He celebrated his 75th birthday last week. We spoke on the phone. Iribar was the coach of the first team goalkeepers and youth sections. It was a momentous and unforgettable meeting for me. He was the keystone, the thread of my career, in many ways. I remember his workouts. I also remember sharing meals with him. For two hours we ate together and talked a lot. About football in general, the goalkeeping position in particular. We were a group of 4-5 ‘keepers. These meals were always filled with exciting anecdotes from each other. He told us about his experiences. We were still far from the media hype that football currently experiencies. He told us his way of seeing life in general. How could one live well as a player while being fulfilled from a personal point of view? It was very rewarding. For the footballer and goalkeeper I was. For the man I was becoming.

We do not work on excuses. We work on the problems.

From these exchanges I remember several things: the most important is to make all the things you say you want to do into a reality. This is our “Basque” side. In the Basque Country, we are quite pragmatic. If we decide to do something, we give ourselves the means to achieve it and we go for it. There is no great speech. There are no beautiful words. You have to be in action. It does not matter if we make mistakes. You have to be an actor. You have to try, try and take risks. Only action counts. We do not work on excuses. We work on the problems. It is a course of action that Iribar instilled in me. We grow up when we recognize the problems. That’s what I’m trying to do, even today.

My first appearance at the pros

My first appearance at the pros was pretty unexpected. It was during my military service. I did not train until the afternoon. I did not see the First Team. There was a strange situation at the time with a strike of the championship players. I was called on a Thursday night to take part in a meeting where I was told that I was going to be playing on Saturday. We were facing Atletico Madrid. The match was televised. At the time, this added additional pressure. We lost 2-0. At the end of the season 1980-81, the coach of the reserves was promoted the first team. It was Javier Clemente. He decided to take several players from the reserves with him. For the goalkeepers, it was Iribar who made that decision. He bet on me but also on Andoni Cedrun, the son of Carmello Cedrun, also a professional and also a goalkeeper. I was the incumbent and I kept that status.

A club where you have to play with heart.

When I arrived at Athletic, I knew my qualities. I was already developing through national team youth selections. But alongside Iribar, I evolved. I learned what high standards and professionalism meant. He also told me about the importance of football in the special city of Bilbao. Athletic is a historic club. The only one, along with FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, that has never played in the second division. It’s a club where you have to play with heart. Whoever your opponent, you have to play to win. It’s also a cultural issue. In Bilbao, an industrial stronghold, we are dealing with very hard workers. No one is surprised to see people coming into work at 7 a.m. This investment and taste for work, you find it especially when you wear these colors. That’s why the frenzy for this club is so special. We support the 
First Team as much as the other club teams. It is not uncommon to see youth games or women’s matches played in front of 25,000 fans. We value everyone, we are interested and we salute the work of all the club’s teams.

When I got my contract, I asked myself a lot of questions. How do I grow and flourish while following a legend like Iribar? He was the goalkeeper for more than 19 years! How do I succeed to such a phenomenon? A goalkeeper that held the record for matches played with the national team. It was not easy for me. Especially since I had not done my youth development in Bilbao. How do I find my place in this club that favors players from its own academy? Iribar helped me find my place. I then worked. Still and always. And then the first trophies have arrived…

A unique moment I will never forget.

A unique moment I will never forget.

My first title.

Of all the titles won with Athletic, the first has a special meaning for me. Everything was played for on the last day of the season. Real Madrid FC faced Valencia CF and we faced Las Palmas. Real was renowned for never losing late in the game. They lost, however, in the final seconds of play, while we rolled to a score of 5-1. I then remember a note from Piru Gainza, Javier Clemente’s right hand man: “Guys, you do not realize what you’ve done yet, but tomorrow you’ll see!” And indeed, we saw! Upon our return to the city, a huge crowd was waiting for us at the airport. In the streets of Bilbao, there were millions of fans, some traveled from far away. Young people, old people, families. The whole community. It was a unique moment that will remain etched in my memory forever. Especially since it was also on this occasion that I could see that the club was component of social cohesion.

In the 1980s, the political climate was appalling in Spain and the Basque Country. Attacks multiplied. Yet when the Atlhetic was playing, there were only supporters united and gathered around the same badge. This fervor was similar the following season during the double Cup / Championship triumphs. It continued in time, even when the club lost. In 2012, when Marcelo Bielsa was leading the team, Athletic finished sixth in the Liga, lost in the UEFA Cup final and in the final of the Spanish Cup. The fans were keen to congratulate the group after the nice run. There is recognition and unwavering support from the public, in the good, but also and especially in the bad times.

Guys, you still do not realize what you've achieved, but tomorrow you'll see!

The relationship I had with Athletic was not always so beautiful. There were painful moments. When I was sporting director but also when I was a player. I dreamed of doing the same course as my mentor. Why not stay at the club for 10, 15 or even 19 years like Iribar? I did not realize that football was perhaps evolving and that it was full of surprises …

My transfer to Barcelona.

In 1986, my situation was both simple and complicated. I did not have an agent. My contract expired at the end of the 1986 season. In my head, I had no doubt: My adventure with the club was going to continue naturally. However, FC Barcelona wanted to sign me. The Catalan leaders came to see me and told me of their desire. I then told them to speak directly with my Athletic leaders. They were very surprised considering that I was free contractually: “Andoni, why should we start discussions for your transfer when you are at the end of the contract?” But for me, it was inconceivable to do otherwise. So Barcelona made the first steps. I was calm and certain that they would get a firm “No”. But here it was not the case: “We need money Andoni, you have to go to Barcelona”. And the transfer was made. To transfer a free player from any contract is pretty rare, right? I do not think football has seen many similar cases.

Why should we discuss your transfer when you're out of contract?

So I went to Barcelona where I had new adventures and met new people. Barça is another way to play football. Another culture. Another passion. But that, I’ll tell you later. Why not, we may meet them in the UEFA Champions League …

Andoni Zubizarreta

© Archive photos : Athletic Club Museum Archive

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