In the latest Football News exclusive interview, Lyon youth academy product and Clermont Foot attacker Harry Novillo talks OL, his fallout with Remi Garde, his rather unsavoury experiences on loan in Belgium and much more.
Born: 11th February 1992
Current Club: Clermont Foot
Former Clubs: Olympique Lyonnais, Le Havre (loan), Gazelec Ajaccio (loan), Mons
To kick off, let’s look back before looking forward. Talk to us about your time at Lyon. What have you taken from it?
Lots of good things. I think that I could I have been given a bit more opportunity to express myself. But that was the coach’s decision, our paths have separated, we will see what happens in the future.
Do you regret the fact that you never managed to get a place in the first team at Lyon, like lots of other youngsters have managed and are currently managing to do?
Yes a little bit, it is true. They gave chances to people who had less qualities than me after I left. But today I have to tell myself that these things are done, and that it is up to me to work to get into a team at the same level (as Lyon).
The club is often considered as the best producer of football youngsters in France. What do you have to say to that?
That, that is true. In terms of the level of producing young talent there are a lot of qualities at the training centre. In terms of the level of the training sessions, the general manner of things, the structure, yes, there is everything in place for a good youth academy. They have everything they need to produce very good players at this club. For me, it is truly the best French youth academy at the moment.
Jean Michel Aulas’ strategy is to focus on the young Lyon talents in order to respect Financial Fair Play. Do you prefer this long-term vision in comparison with PSG’s who principally sign recognised players?
Before PSG was bought by the Qataris, they were flirting with relegation. For them, undeniably, it is a bonus, but I would say that it is a bit too easy. When I see a club like Lyon and what they are able to do with their young players that come straight from the club’s reserves, I can be nothing but be happy because at PSG a young player is never given opportunities like that. In comparison with Lyon, where 90% of the team comes straight out of the youth academy. Jean Michel Aulas can be nothing but pleased by the performances of these young players and must surely continue with this strategy. Personally, I am absolutely in agreement with this way of doing things.
Why did you eventually leave Lyon and do you think that one day you might be able to return to the club?
For me it would be great (to return) because my family is in the region but I don’t think that Lyon would take me back. I quit the club simply because of my bad relationship with Remi Garde. It wasn’t about my level of football, but between him and I, we did not have a connection. We preferred to say goodbye calmly, quietly and without any big incident.
Why did you have such a bad relationship with Remi Garde?
In the past, when I was younger, when I was ahead of others and having had the football facilities, I gave myself the right to do certain things, like at school… As he was then the Sporting Director… But, I was young. I did some stupid things, and when he took the reins of the first team, I was there as well. The past caught up with us, even though this person could have put that behind us and forgotten about it, he didn’t put it to one side. He couldn’t place his confidence in me even though he told me himself that I was one of the most talented youngsters in first team.
During your time at Lyon, you were sent out on multiple loan spells. First at Le Havre, then at Gazelec and then finally you joined Mons. What did you learn from these experiences?
Maturity. Le Havre was my first loan spell, and it is there where I really got to play my first full professional matches. It was there where I got a taste of professional football for the first time. Unfortunately, it ended badly. At Ajaccio, it was a very nice experience. I found a familial football club there, one that was full of life and generosity. I was also able to express myself there, but it ended badly because I injured my shoulder and I was forced to return to Lyon. At Mons, I did not play due to certain people who had problems with those who had slightly darker skin than others…
Personally, I know that I have the qualities to progress at all three of those clubs. At Le Havre, maybe I did not have the right attitude. But at Mons…
I think that the Belgian way of life was not for me. Already the Flemish and the Walloons don’t like each other so it won’t be the French who they particularly like either! That is what counted against me when I went over there. They did not not want to play me for reasons that they themselves seemed to ignore. It wasted a season for me and now I am at Clermont, where, for the moment, everything is going well. I will try to continue like that.
Why did you decide to join Clermont?
A lot of great players passed through here, like Benatia, Brahimi or Alessandrini. It is a springboard club for young players who have the qualities that match their ambitions. Above all, it is a club that had good discussions with me and that knew how to seduce me by telling me the things that I wanted to here. For the moment, everything is coming together, so I can say that it is a club that stays true to its word, its values. I am truly very happy to be at Clermont right now. We will work to be higher (up the table), God willing.
We understand that it was Sporting Director Olivier Chavanon who convinced you to join Clermont. What were the arguments he put forward to you?
Mr Chavanon had been following me for a long time, when I was even younger. He tried to sign me the first time but at the time my decision was already made. He never stopped keeping track of me. There was a new opportunity this summer, as Mons seemed to be doing whatever the hell they wanted, so he contacted me.
I was quickly informed that he was looking for a player of my profile, he knew me and told me that with the qualities I had, as long as I remained on the straight and narrow, that I would play. He told me that there was something I could do here, that I should not give up and that the talent in my legs would serve Clermont well and maybe another club afterward if my performances were good. That convinced me, I immediately set off for Clermont. I did not hesitate.
What are your personal aims for this season?
I would first like to finish the season with the club being commended for remaining in Ligue 2, or for fighting for promotion or for performing well in one of the cups. From a personal point of view, I would like to finish the season with a smile on my face, with my statistics showing that I might be able to think of something else, to see bigger things, and to open the doors to other places. I have ambition, I will try to give as much as possible at Clermont, then maybe we can make a fair exchange if possible.
In which areas do you and the team need to progress?
I need to improve my efficacy each game. I think that I am player who can make decisive contributions in each game. Also some small positioning issues. That is what I need to correct in order to have a greater influence on the game.
The team needs to free up its game because if we do this, I think we can have one of the best squads in Ligue 2. We need every player, including me, to let their hair down, in order to play football and to stop restraining ourselves. Maybe then we will be able to refine this attacking force (Clermont had the 3rd best attack at the start of the season) that we had at the beginning if this season and maybe then we can get more points. I think that it is a mentality, that is due to a lack of liberty that is weighing down on us and that stresses us out a bit in this first period of the season. We must find that liberty again that we had at the beginning of season, that we have been losing little by little ever since. We are not currently able to reproduce what we do on the training pitch during matches. At the moment, we have nothing to lose.
How do you see your future panning out at the end of the season?
It is too early to speak about it, we are not there yet. For the moment I am here, I will work for the squad and for me secondly. I want to give everything for Clermont.
You have played for France U17s and U19s. Why haven’t you further progressed on the international youth circuit like the others have?
Because of the clubs I chose to join. In Belgium, I had all the qualities to play, I could have played and I should have played, I should have been in the starting team but instead I found myself in the reserves without knowing why. I think with that, the French national team coaches did not want to select me. After that, it is not my primary aim. At the moment I am working towards a level- that as you said- the others are currently at. I am coming up behind them slowly, but as one says, if we start slowly, we always arrive in a big way.