Football News had the pleasure of sitting down with Malian international defensive midfielder Yacouba Sylla who discussed his current situation at Montpellier, the crisis that Malian football finds itself in, his fond memories of Aston Villa and more.
Born: 29th November 1990 (26)
Current Club: Montpellier HSC (loan)
Previous Clubs: Clermont Foot, Aston Villa, Kayseri Erciyesspor (loan), Rennes
What do you make of Montpellier’s season so far?
We had a fairly tough start to the season. After the winter break, we adjusted things by climbing up the table and gathering a few points. We’ve had a few results go against us these last few weeks, but it’s not worrying given the other teams’ results. So, we can hope for an uneventful end to the season.
In terms of your individual performances, do you consider this season to be a successful one?
I wouldn’t say it is a bad one, it is not necessarily a good or bad season at all. I will say, though, that I arrived at Montpellier on loan in a situation where at Rennes last year I had played 25 matches in all competitions – at that stage there were no problems. There were then factors that made me want to go out on loan, and then I found myself at Montpellier, with a place in the starting 11 as soon as I arrived.
After that, against Monaco I injured my adductor which kept me out for 2 months, my performances took a hit. I recovered in time to go play the African Cup of Nations. So, with the injury and the Cup, I must have lost three and a half months. During the African Cup of Nations, we also changed coach, with Mr Gasset, so now sometimes I play, sometimes I don’t. I have to adapt and respond whenever the team needs me.
What about your teammates’ performances, in particular Steve Mounié and Ryad Boudebouz?
Steve Mounié isn not someone we knew about last year, when he went on loan to Nîmes. He is having a great season, because he is scoring goals – he has 13 now – and for his first season in Ligue 1, I find that exceptional, because if you look in the clubs above us, it is hard to find a young player like him. We know about Ryad Boudebouz – he is a talented player and a great guy to have in the group, and who is having maybe the best season of his career.
Are they at Premier League level?
I won’t express myself regarding that. Yes, they are talented players but that’s not what is important. Nevertheless, I wish them the very best in the rest of their career, be that at Montpellier or elsewhere, and that they are happy there. That is all I will say on that.
Do you want to stay at Montpellier next year?
I would say the situation is delicate, I’m on loan with an option to buy, and right now the cards are not in my hands. I’m at Montpellier on a loan, and we will analyse it at the end of the season, when we will have reached our objectives and the negotiations start. I will not say that it is uncertain, but I do not think now is the time. I want to concentrate on what is happening on the pitch and not start a controversy where there isn’t one.
Does Louis Nicollin [club owner] have as much of a strong character as he does in public?
I have a lot of respect for the president. I’ve met him several times, he is someone who loves his club – everyone knows that. After that, he is someone who respects others, there is not much else to say on it. In short, he has a passion for his club.
What are the differences between Frédéric Hantz [former manager] and Jean-Louis Gasset [new manager]?
I don’t like to compare coaches, because it’s Frédéric Hantz who signed me and gave me the opportunity to play in Ligue 1 once again. After that, things did not go so well towards the end. Mr Gasset is someone who is very respected in the game, who is very experienced in French football and deserves respect. In terms of what he has brought us, he has given us a freshness and all of his experience, and has made things very clear.
You have played in several leagues, in France and abroad – for you what are the main differences between Ligue 1, the Premier League, and the Turkish league?
I would say that the difference between the Premier League and Ligue 1, is that the Premier League is a game of intensity, of impact. More precisely, it is a league that is more open than Ligue 1, especially in terms of attacking play – there are really many different styles of play. Ligue 1 is a tactical league, with very good players.
You have players who have gone through Ligue 1 or 2 who have gone on to become major players in the Premier League and become stars. Today, the league has different characteristics, it is at a very good level, and is starting to bring in players of a high calibre, which is a good sign for the development of Ligue 1.
Your old club, Aston Villa, are sinking further and further since their catastrophic year last season. Why have they disintegrated so much?
Personally, I follow Villa every weekend, because I still have colleagues who play there. I would not say that it is a club that is sinking, because it was bought not long ago, and you still have the passion of their supporters there. We all know their supporters – it is magical at Villa Park that the fans are always there for the team, even in the Championship.
I think that they will easily stay up in the Championship, and since it is a transitional season they will have had the time to rebuild to be able to hope to re-join the Premier League, because it is one of the most decorated clubs in England with Manchester United, and one that had never been relegated.
I do not think they are sinking, it is a club in transition. After that, to go from the Premier League to the Championship is quite hard, because it is a relatively difficult league – I think it is the hardest second division in Europe. They play a lot of matches, and many players who are used to the Premier League have to adapt to a style of play that is completely different.
It is hard, just ask Wolves and all the clubs who have also gone down. The Championship is no fun, it is a very hard league. I have friends who play there every weekend, and it is difficult but full of passion. Teams who go down from the Premier League will not automatically go up after the season they play in the Championship.
Would you like to stay in France for the rest of your career or go back to England at some point?
I spent about three to four years abroad, and there is a different culture in every league. It might be a style of play abroad that fits my characteristics. It is a league everyone likes, and one day, why not?
So, do you prefer the life that comes with moving around or staying put in France?
That is an interesting question, because I love Clermont, where I started. I went to play in England, and then because of a lack of opportunity I left, I had not been patient when I was asked to be, so I went to the Turkish league where I spent a year. I think it is the season where I progressed the most, because I played a lot, and it is a very open and crazy league.
I’m 26 now, I’m not young but I’m not old either, so I’d say that my personal aim is to stabilise myself in an environment in which I can make my presence felt. I see myself as a good and honest person. For me the most important thing is to enjoy myself, because there are difficult things in life that a lot of people live through on a daily basis, and we are lucky enough to play this magnificent sport.
Because of this, I am not someone who overthinks it, I do not act spontaneously, I am here to live out my passion and above all I am passionate about football. I want to play every day in a place that makes me happy whilst staying true to my objectives and staying competitive. Be it in France or abroad, my goal is to have a stable situation and to enjoy myself on the pitch and with my team.
You’ve undoubtedly watched the Barcelona-PSG match, what effect do you think it will have on French football’s development?
I will not say much, because PSG are recruiting many talented players of a high standing that we all know of, so it was a disappointment for many people in France, because PSG is a well-liked team. After that though, for the other teams it does not mean that it will disturb the rest of French football, because in each club we live through our own problems each week and our own objectives for each weekend.
The clubs will keep going, whether PSG does well or not – they concentrate on their priority and that is Ligue 1. For me the positive of PSG going as far as possible in a competition like the Champions’ League is to get the league talked about abroad. It is still taken seriously – Lyon, even if I would rather not get ahead of myself, gave an incredible performance against Roma, one of the three best Italian teams.
Then there’s Monaco who really bothered Man City… I think that Ligue 1 is a very even league, and the fact that PSG has not won will not have an impact on the rest of the league, it is just, let’s say a disappointment. For me, we can already say that it is an advert for Ligue 1. It makes people watch Ligue 1. It’s a shame [for PSG], but there is always next time, I hope.
Your little brother has just signed a professional contract at Monaco, do you think he will benefit from that environment to progress?
We cannot bring ourselves to say that he will benefit from it or not. Every day he is told that the most important thing is to work hard to become good, that only work pays off, that words or any statistics do not mean anything. What remains to be done is to perform during matches. One day or another he will have his chance, it will be up to him to take it.
Mali was not able to progress past the group stages in this year’s AFCON. As captain, how do you explain this?
Mali remains a great footballing nation in terms of talent. When you see all of the players that come out of the country, there are more and more who play in Ligue 1 and who play abroad who are not well known. We could have hoped to do better than go out in the first round. Like I say, in football there is always an element of chance. We tried to create our own luck, and it did not go in our favour. There were teams who were more opportunistic and created that luck.
For me, today Mali is going through a crisis, at the level of the federation as well as the ministry. I would say that this harmed us within the first team and notably the youth teams, and as long as this problem is not solved, Malian football will stagnate.
Football in 2017 is going in a different direction and we have to reach that level to hope to do better than what we did – it was a reminder. [Speaking about a kit problem] I called out the problem of organisation, because the kit supplier was not at fault here.
They supply the equipment, and after that it is the national team that manages it, and we [the players], weren’t supposed to know what the supplier had made available for the national team. I go for the principle that it is an organisation problem within Malian football more than anything else.