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Exclusive | Antoine Gounet: The journeyman French goalkeeper & Olivier Giroud’s friend – from Brentford to Ligue 2

Speaking exclusively to Football News, 29-year-old French goalkeeper discussed the trials and tribulations of a player in his position who cannot tie down a first-choice spot in a squad for an extended period of time. Gounet joined Quevilly this summer in Ligue 2, and is currently playing reserve team football, waiting for his chance to prove he has what it takes in the French second division.

You’ve had a wide-ranging career so far, playing in a lot of different leagues, but how does it feel to be back playing in France?

Yes, I played abroad for a few years and now I’m back in France. It’s a good feeling, because firstly I wasn’t expecting to come back to France. With my career and the teams I played for I didn’t think I’d be able to come back to France so easily, because nobody knew me here. So it’s good to be back here with my friends and family and playing in a good league like Ligue 2.

I always had the gal of playing at a good level in France – I was with the first team at Tours FC for a few months, but I got injured. But it’s good to be back now and see how my level is for France, and hopefully I’ll reach my aim of playing in Ligue 1

How did you experience your 2 years in Brentford? What led to you signing there?

My time at Brentford holds great memories for me. The fact that I was playing in an English club was something amazing, and living in London as well. Brentford is a great club, with great players – I think all my ex-team-mates now are playing in the Premiership, the MLS, Serie A, I think I’m the only one playing in the French second division now! But I still follow their results and I’m still in contact with some people at the club, because it was one of the best experiences of my football career but also my life.

It was a funny story when I signed for Brentford! At the end of my time with Tours FC, my situation wasn’t as good as I had expected, because there I’d had the chance to integrate the first team when I was 19 but I got injured for a year. So it was difficult to make a stake to be professional there as my time was ending, so I thought about going to England – going to a training ground, asking for a trial. When I was talking about it with my friends, family and agent, they were all telling that it wouldn’t work, that it doesn’t work like that!

But I trust myself so I went to London, after a few days I got a trial at Brentford so I turned up to the training ground. I went in and asked the kit man – his name is Bob, he’s a great person – if I could have my chance, and he replied that he couldn’t say, he would have to talk to the manager who wasn’t there. So he asked me to come back the next day. I came back, they allowed me to train with them, I did well, and the next day I played in a friendly against Southampton, I did well again, and after 10 days they offered me a contract.

Was it hard to settle in? Any cultural differences that surprised you?

No, it wasn’t hard to settle in, because London is an amazing city if you’re someone who’s open minded. If you like to discover new things every day, it’s the best place to be. As for the football, everybody knows that there are differences between France and England. In England the game is more physical, and they expect more work for you in the gym and after training.

But that was a very good thing for me, I improved as a professional and as a man. I think that is the main difference between English football and French football. In England, when you are professional you really are professional. In France, you’re professional, but not really – for me, players in France are happy with what they have and don’t put the work in.

Are they lazier then?

Well, in England if you want to get your chance, you need to work hard, both on and outside the pitch. In France it’s a bit different – they train and then they leave, it’s not the same mentality. Here you arrive at 8.30, you go to the gym, go out on the pitch to train, you have your lunch, you go back to the gym and do your personal program.

Every day is like that, because you need to perform and your best level. It’s not just about the commitment, that’s just the expectation if you want to be a football player there. They expect hard work and for you to be at your best fitness wise.

What about the differences between styles of goalkeeping?

Yes of course, there’s a massive difference. In England, they expect goalkeepers to be like 6ft 4 or 5, they want tall guys because I think they feel safer like that. As the game is very intense, they think that if you’re not big enough, it will be harder for you. To be fair, I think that if you are only 6ft like me, you can still be a good goalkeeper in England.

The only thing is you have to be consistent, and for them, for a big guy it’s easier to be consistent. It’s a weird way of thinking, but you know, in England they used to have Peter Schmeichel, who was a great goalkeeper for Manchester United and was 2 metres tall, but he was very fast. They all want to get the new Peter Schmeichel there.

Were there any other contacts before you joined Quevilly?

To be fair, I thought that the only market where I could find a team would be Holland, but in my mind, I wanted to come back to France. So I was talking to my agent, telling him I wanted to go back, and he was telling me that it would be difficult to find a 2nd division team because there were so many goalkeepers on the market right now.

But during the Fete de la Musique (World Music Day – a yearly celebration held at the Palais Royal) I got a phone call from my agent at 7 in the evening who told me that I had to go to Rouen because Quevilly wanted me to go the next day for the start of pre-season.

I was in Tours at that point and all of my football stuff was at my parents’ house in Bourges, so I called my dad, told him I had training with Quevilly the next day, and he said that he would drive my stuff to me and take me there. So I stayed in Rouen overnight to train the next day. After a week they came back and said that they wanted to sign me.

The thing is, I always knew I had the ability to be able to play in Ligue 2, and maybe even in the first division, I don’t know, but for me it’s something normal to be here.

What can Quevilly expect to take away from this season?

First of all, I hope we can stay in this league, because it’s a team that’s new at this level, we’ve just been promoted and there are 16 new players in the team. The beginning of the season was hard for us, but right now, our game has improved a lot, so I think we will start to win more games.

Especially now that we’re back in our own stadium – our stadium wasn’t ready so we were playing in Le Mans, which is 200km away, so it was like playing away every week. I personally hope to start more games, I started the season well but got injured and I was out for 6 weeks. I’m getting back to my best level so I will be ready to play. Everybody here is with me, so I will work hard to get my chance and I think I will get it.

You seem to use football as a means of travelling, do you think more people should venture out of their home leagues?

Of course. When you are young, it’s always nice to travel and with football you can go to many different places, learn new languages, it’s a big thing for someone. You develop yourself, you go out of your comfort zone. I think as a player, it’s good to see how it works outside – for example, when I went to England I improved a lot as an athlete. When I went to Holland, they were all playing Cruyff-style, short passes and all. So for me it’s a good thing because every time, I improved my game and l always learnt new things. It’s a good thing in terms of football but also for your personal life, to be open minded and discover new things.

How was your experience playing in Dutch football?

It was something original! I signed at Maghreb 90, because one of my friends played there, Richard Barroilhet, who also used to play for Fulham, some good clubs in Holland, and now he’s playing in the first league in Chile, which is funny! He’s travelled a lot. But he told me to come and I didn’t have anything else at that moment, so I went and played, and I did well.

At the end of my first season I got an offer from NEC Nijmegen in the first division, but we didn’t find an agreement, I was expecting more from them and on the sporting side they weren’t clear. I was talking to other teams at the time, so I didn’t take it.

I took the risk of saying no, so after that I was a free agent for four months. One of my ex-team mates introduced me to Crystal Palace, so for 3 months last season I trained with them. Which was a great experience, I met a lot of amazing people there.

Does it surprise you how they’re doing this season?

Yes, it’s a bit weird because they have some great players and some internationals. But in football even if you have good players, sometimes it doesn’t work, and I’m a bit worried for them now this season.

After my time at Palace, I signed in the Jupiler league for Achilles 29. I was signed to be number one, but when I arrived the KNVB didn’t accept the transfer, so I couldn’t play even if I signed the contract. So, I was only allowed to play in March, which for me was a bit ****ed up. I waited and waited, and only played a few games, but we stayed in the league. That was the end of my time in Holland.

Talk us through how a trial goes, how and when do you find out you’ve been signed on?

When you arrive in a new changing room, what you need to do first is integrate yourself. You need to talk to the other guys, analyse a bit how everybody behaves. After that, you don’t have to put pressure on yourself, you just have to try your best and enjoy yourself. If the staff sees that you’re enjoying being there, if you do well and they see that you’re well integrated in the team, you will have a greater chance of being signed. The most important part of the trial is the friendly match – if you play well in that game you are likelier to stay on.

At Tours you were a team mate of Olivier Giroud and Laurent Koscielny, do you still keep in contact with them?

With Giroud, yes, because we had a good relationship, we were friends. In London I went to about 50 Arsenal games, because he was always giving me tickets! But we still keep in contact, even if it was easier in London, where we could see each other and go out for dinner, but we still text each other to catch up.

 

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