Speaking exclusively to Football News, Sunderland central defender Lamine Koné discusses his whirlwind 2016 so far ahead of a crucial North East derby against Newcastle.
How are you feeling today Lamine, at the heart of a Premier League relegation battle?
Hello. I feel very good. We were 19th when I arrived here so I am happy that we have climbed out of the relegation zone. But now it is the home stretch. Now every game is a final! The cards are in our hands: now it is up to us to deliver.
What makes you believe that Sunderland will be in the Premier League next season?
The team is calm and we performed well in February. We deserved more in our most recent games and it is now up to us to rectify that in order to stay in the Premier League.
Have you dreamt about the Premier League for a long time?
This is the league that always inspired me so I often dreamt about it, but I did not want to skip steps either. I had the chance to sign for Sunderland and I can finally play in the league that I consider to be the best in the world.
Did you not see joining Sunderland in January as a risk?
It was a risk yes, but it was and it still is a fantastic challenge to accept. And I do not regret joining Sunderland for a single second.
What did Sam Allardyce do to convince you to join the club?
He came to see me against PSG with Lorient and he told me that he needed me in his team for his mission to save the club from relegation.
I immediately felt his belief in me and his desire for me to join Sunderland so I was quickly convinced by the manager.
You could say that the situation with your transfer in January, where it was touch and go for several weeks, could have given Loïc Féry and Alex Hayes cause to be angry with Sunderland’s actions. Have you always had a good relationship with these two individuals during your career at Lorient?
My relationships have always been respectful and I have never had any problems with either Mr Féry or Mr Hayes.
For those football fans who do not know you so well yet, how would you describe your characteristics as a footballer?
I am a physical defender who is good in the air. Despite that, I am still a quick player and quite technical for this position and it is with these characteristics that I am able to make a difference on the pitch.
You have had the opportunity to sign for an English club before your move to Sunderland this year. So why did you make the move across the Channel now and not before?
There were other opportunities for me before I signed for Sunderland but it was never the right time nor was it the right project for me.
Did the arrival of Wahbi Khazri at a similar time to you help you with your integration at Sunderland?
We mutually helped each other when we arrived at the club. The presence of other players in the squad who also speak French certainly helped us.
But we had to speak to the other players too which is normal when you arrive at a new club, even if there was a language barrier.
Was the best moment in your Sunderland career so far your goal against Manchester United?
Yes, definitely even if they did not officially give me the credit!
Talk to us a bit about that moment again.
Wahbi [Khazri] kicked off the game superbly with his goal at the beginning. To play at home and to grab the winning goal against a great club like Manchester United when you have not won a match for one month was absolutely extraordinary.
Which manager at Lorient taught you the most?
I learned from two managers that I had at Lorient but it was with Christian Gourcuff that I learnt the most and most importantly progressed the most.
Is there a player or another club that frightens you that you are set to come up against before the campaign is over?
Not one. Not a club. Not a player.
And to finish…
Who inspires you the most?
William Gallas and Thiago Silva.
What do you do when you are not playing football?
I look after my son, I pick him up from school and I spend time with my wife and my son at home or in town for some shopping.
What is your football dream?
To win titles and to have a great end of my career with my club and with my national team.
If you were not a footballer, what do you think you would be doing instead?
I would have liked to work to help young, disadvantaged kids.