In Monaco, “there were ten Mbappés”

Former star striker of Evian Thonon Gaillard, from 2010 to 2013, Yannick Sagbo has played in Qatar since 2015. The Ivorian international, trained at AS Monaco, feels ready, at 32, to return to France to play in Ligue 1 or Ligue 2. Yannick, at 32, you are free from any contract …
Yannick Sagbo: Yes. I’ve been in Qatar for 6 years and it’s going really well. After the end of the season last March, I signed again at Umm Salal in September (he arrived at this club in 2015 and played 107 matches in all competitions, for 56 goals). It was a 14-day contract, the time to play 3 matches, but the club already had its 5 non-EU players for the season. So I am free, I can apply for another club in Qatar, but I miss France! In fact, it is the high level that I miss and if I have the opportunity to play again at such a level, with the pressure from the supporters, I must take advantage now or never, at 32 years old.

Are the stadiums usually empty in the Qatar Championship?
Here, everything comes together to play good football, but only 2 or 3 clubs have a base of supporters. For the rest of the teams, there are fewer people, we don’t have this popular pressure, it’s the leaders who ask a lot of us.

In France, at what level can you still evolve?
I am in great shape, I scored last season (6 goals in 12 matches before the end of competitions). I maintain myself very well. I try to train more, because, in a club, here, we only train in the evening, there is no double session. I am physically ready. Jérémie Aliadière (who also played at Umm Salal in 2014-2016, editor’s note) told me that he had trouble when he returned to Lorient. I have been warned. But, if Zlatan, at almost 40, can bring so much to Milan, a 32-year-old player like me can still play at a high level. In any case, I leave my agent (he is represented by Only Pro, an artist agency, which deals in particular with Soprano) find me a great challenge.

So you can play in a Ligue 1 club …
I would like to evolve in a Ligue 1 club which must tear itself apart for its survival, but above all live in a great group and contribute my building block to a strong collective, as I was able to know with Evian. Of course, I also know the style of Ligue 2, I know you have to tear yourself away from every action. We were champion with Evian (in 2011). And I also played in English D2 (in Wolverhampton), where we mainly work on the physical and mental with matches every 4 days.

After your training at AS Monaco, it is therefore in Évian Thonon Gaillard that you revealed yourself professionally. It was 10 years ago. What memories do you keep of it?
These are my best years as a footballer. I knew 2 or 3 players who had come through Monaco, I was able to adapt quickly, I melted into the mold and the coach (Bernard Casoni) was a real leader, he encouraged me a lot, I him owe a lot.

You went from Marseille and Monaco to Haute-Savoie …
A hell of a change, yes! I remember, I took the plane, a Nice-Geneva, and it was Pascal Dupraz (then sports director) who came to get me. We were in Switzerland, I saw luxury stores, Louis Vuitton, Rolex, and I told myself that the Côte d’Azur was not going to change me too much. But, quickly, we start to move away from the city, we take national roads, foxes cross the road, I ask Pascal Dupraz: “is it still far?” He didn’t say anything (laughs). We drove a bit more and we arrived at Thonon. Fortunately, the group was super welcoming. Brice Dja Djédjé and Eric Tié Bi (also Ivorian U21) were delighted to see me, Aldo Angoula took me under his wing. It was a great adventure.

At ASM, you were trained with Frédéric Nimani, Serge Gakpé, Djamel Bakar, Yohan Mollo, Nicolas Nkoulou, Cédric Mongongu… Some have never confirmed their potential.
There were Mbappé by ten in the center. Djamel bakar, for example, was a real phenomenon. Unfortunately, we did not have the opportunity to play much in Ligue 1 with theAS Monaco, the leaders no longer trusted the many young people, and some had difficulty in starting their careers. The club could have built on these generations of young talents and remained a great European, but no. We must let the best young people express themselves, like Camavinga. It’s still football, there is no need to protect a young player by leaving him on the bench. On the contrary, we must let him learn quickly.

Do you keep in touch with teammates from the AS Monaco training center?
We didn’t all keep in touch. My friend, it’s Distel Zola (who now plays in El Paso, Texas, in American D2). We just reviewed photos of our CFA title!

After two seasons in Ligue 1 with Evian Thonon Gaillard, and a Coupe de France final lost against Bordeaux, in 2013, you were recruited by Hull City. What memories do you have of your experience in the Premier League?
The experience in Hull City has been crazy. I was well received, the infrastructure was perfect for playing football, it was simple. Besides, the Premier League is wonderful, the teams are fantastic, the supporters are huge, the stadiums are great. From my first match, we face Chelsea and I find myself in the tunnel with John Terry and Frank Lampard! On TV, you see them super beefy, but in fact, no (laughs). I was marked by Terry, I was not impressed (laughs). But I didn’t let go enough. At 26, no one told me to take full advantage. I scored my first goal against Everton, we beat Steven Gerrard’s Liverpool at home, it was an incredible moment. We met Manchester City of Yaya Touré, David Silva, Samir Nasri, Vincent Kompany. In the middle, they walked us around!

Which Premier League stars have marked your spirits?
I am proud to have met all the players I mentioned. The level was crazy, not just against the big guys. My brother (Guy Demel, who played for Arsenal) warned me: “when you face Stoke City, it will be the worst game of your life”. I had a good laugh, but when the time came, it really wasn’t fun on the pitch! It was extremely strong. There was also good humor. Between former Ligue 1 players, we showed each other a lot of respect, we liked to discuss at the end of matches.

“Ben Arfa came to my house every day to take revenge at Monopoly”

You lose your place in Hull City during your 2nd season (2014-2015). What led you to sign in Qatar?
I was soon at the end of the contract (he had signed for 2 years) and, with Ben Arfa, we wondered what we were going to do. We told ourselves that the best thing was to come back to France to enjoy football! We even dreamed of relaunching in the same club, one on the right, the other on the left (laughs). He signed in Nice, I waited, I couldn’t find a buyer for financial reasons and I was offered Umm Salal. I did not know, I was not too hot, but the transfer window was closing soon in Qatar and I said to myself: “why not go on an adventure?” No one knew, but I did my research on the internet, it looked reliable.

Do you still have contacts with Hatem Ben Arfa?
No. I had (Valère) Germain on the phone one day, I asked him to say hello to Hatem, but he has not contacted me since. Too bad, that’s how the life of a footballer is! In Hull, we were together every day, he came to sleep at the house, he came to my house every day to get his revenge at Monopoly. We played Monopoly for hours with Mohamed Diamé! Hull City is in the North, there wasn’t much to do, even downtown, where I lived. The big city was Leeds.

“When you are a defender, you have to finish with 10 goals at the end of the season, otherwise he will fire you”

What football have you discovered in Qatar?
The level is average. There are certainly very good teams, like Al Sadd, Xavi’s team, with players who can play a big role in Europe, like (Baghdad) Bounedjah, who has been a hit for a long time. It’s more difficult for small clubs. I was evolving in an intermediate club, able to titillate the big teams, with good local players. But, beware, it is not at all easy for foreigners here. The leaders are very demanding. When you’re a forward, you’re supposed to score in every game. When you are a defender you have to finish with 10 goals at the end of the season, otherwise he will fire you. Me, it boosted me, I scored a lot of goals. I had 5 wonderful years, but for some it can be tiring to play with such pressure.

Qatar invested in football a few years ago and the selection already won the Asian Cup last year …
I was a little surprised, but it’s really good! There were foreigners in the selection of Qatar, but it did not please everyone and the leaders invested in developing the young players. This quickly bore fruit thanks to the expertise provided by the French, the Spanish and the Dutch. Qatar had a great run at the Asian Cup despite the political context with Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. They then defended well during the Copa América, they were not bad against Argentina (0-2). They are a team that will defend themselves well at the 2022 World Cup.

Exactly, will Qatar be ready to host its World Cup?
It’s still under construction. Next to my home, for example, a new town has been built, it’s wonderful. They are going to be well prepared, by making fan zones to welcome supporters, since alcohol is prohibited except in large hotels. Qataris can still spend on things that are not of much use, they are still learning. Even in terms of recruitment. They gave Mandzukic millions but he didn’t adjust and is already gone.

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