This week Francis Coquelin did a relatively rare interview with with L’Equipe. We’ve put together a transcript of that interview for you here.
PLEASE NOTE: Other websites/blogs/media organisations are free to take snippets/sections, but if you could link back to this article, that would be greatly appreciated.
Here’s how it went down, starting with the conversation between the two presenters.
Interviewer in blue – Second journalist in green
On Wednesday night to face Paris Saint Germain in the Champions League, Francis Coquelin will definitely be in the starting eleven, as he has been for almost two seasons. But it took him some time, a long time, to get there. He’s been at Arsenal since 2008, he’s had a hard time, he seems a modest young man about whom we know very little. But rather than being modest, he does sort of try to keep himself to himself. Or in any case, he doesn’t seek the limelight.
Yes, and actually footballers often say they’re not interested in what is said or what is written about them. He’s very interested in football, I’ve had the chance to have a long conversation with him and he knows what’s going on, even in Ligue 1 or even Ligue2, he especially follows his former teammates. But an interview is something he generally, systematically, refuses to do.
And this time, let’s be clear, it’s his entourage who encouraged him to do this interview, to get him out of the shadows. But if it was just up to him, he would never do it. And it’s true that he’s a player in Arsenal’s starting eleven these days, and usually when French players are starting for Arsenal, we speak to them every weekend. He is a defensive midfielder, but that still doesn’t explain why so little is being said about him, when unless some disaster arises, he’ll be starting on Wednesday against Paris Saint Germain. And yet it’s true…
What does Coquelin do on the pitch these days?
Coquelin, at Arsenal at the moment, is clearly there to break up the play. There’s no question. It might be frustrating sometimes, and it might have been for him in the past, but today that’s what he’s there for and he completely accepts that. He’s a player who is up for a battle and that’s what he’s there to do.
Hello Francis Coquelin.
You’re 25 years old, you were a French international in more or less all the youth categories, you’ve been in the starting line-up at Arsenal for almost two years now, and yet if you walked down the Champs Elysees, you wouldn’t attract mad crowds. For us, you’re kind of the London unknown. But it does seem that you couldn’t really care less. I’ve been told that’s 100% true.
Yes, it’s true. I’m not someone who seeks media exposure. But then that’s just a part of my personality. Contrary to how I am on the pitch, it’s true that I’m a bit of a wild one on the pitch, but off the pitch, I’m someone who likes to keep their private life private. And there you go, I prefer to express myself on the field.
Do you really have to push yourself, I mean, did you really have to push yourself to agree to this?
Yes, well, push… Yes and no. It’s true that I do refuse quite a lot [of interviews], my agents push me a little from time to time to do one, but then as I said, it’s just part of my personality. But yes, I’m very happy you’re here today.
That’s nice of you. Are you able to explain why it is that so little is said about your performances for Arsenal? I’m talking about in France.
Yes, I don’t know. But then admittedly the position I play isn’t really the most glamorous. A lot of what I do is in the background. So no, no, I’m not surprised that my performances don’t get that much attention in France. But then I think that here, they do get recognition. Within the club, people do depend on me as well, so that suits me fine.
You’re a boy from Laval, but you left France when you were 17. Apart from a season on loan at Lorient, which is a club that doesn’t get a lot of media attention in France, that was in 2010, we’ve not seen much of you in France. Of course that plays a part. Have you never regretted leaving France so young?
No, I never regretted it. It’s true that it was a challenge, leaving as young as I did, I was 17, leaving the nest that young was, yes, it was a bit difficult at the beginning. But no, I don’t have any regrets.
17 is quite a traditional age, ultimately, for a footballer to leave home. And you quite readily said that it was a bit hard at the beginning. Was it really difficult?
I think, well, it was a move to another country and I think that was the most difficult part. A new language, not being understood on a daily basis, and I was lucky enough to be placed with a host family and they helped me get used to the country and to learn the language pretty quickly. So I passed my driving test within the first year, with the highway code in English, an English driving licence, so there you go, that gave me satisfaction. And it was a good experience. It’s true that there were some difficult times, but as I said, if I was back in 2008 and was told that Arsenal wanted to sign me, I would do it all again.
These days you’re pretty much incontrovertible at Arsenal, but until 2015, you were hardly playing at all. It was the end of 2014 that your future took a turn. You were on loan at Charlton and Arsène Wenger called you back after an injury, but it was really just to make up the numbers. Was there any anger at that time? Were you not disillusioned?
Yes, I was angry. I remember when I came back and I was on the bench for the first few games. So I didn’t understand. I said, “I was playing every game at Charlton, now I’m back here and I’m not playing.” And I remember he said to me, “You’ll see, your chance will come.’ And I’d go on for two minutes, three minutes, and I was thinking, “my chance will come.” And yes, against West Ham, the match I really wasn’t expecting to start, he put me in the starting line-up.
From then on Thierry Henry calls you the French Policeman. There’s no need to translate that. You’re there to, well, to kind of maintain law and order in the midfield.
It’s my position that requires it. It’s true that when I read that quote, it made me laugh because you know, the police officer, it’s true that my position does mean that I’m a player who tries to break up counter attacks, to really provide some support to the defence, so it’s true, his little nickname did make me laugh, but I used to be called Colombo, so this was…
It’s not as dynamic, Colombo.
It did make me laugh, though.
Are you hard on the pitch? If you had to describe yourself to people who don’t know much about you, are you nasty?
I don’t know if I’m nasty, but I’m someone who never gives up. Maybe it’s because of the journey I’ve had as well. There’s a lot of desire in what I do, but then yes, maybe it’s not always pretty for people looking in from the outside, but I try to be as effective as possible. And that’s what is asked of anybody in that position, a lot of efficacy.
Very little has been written about you in France, but a few things have and now’s the time to find out if they’re true. Is it true that as a teenager, you dreamed of being a sports journalist?
Yes, it is true. If I hadn’t had football, I think that’s what I would have gone for. I had started my Première littéraire [similar to in UK AS-levels around languages, arts, history/geography] back then, but my training sessions at the club I was at, Laval, didn’t fit with the timetable, so I switched subjects and did something else. But yes, I really liked the idea of being a sports journalist.
And then you gave up your studies because you moved away at age 17?
Yes, I stopped just before my final year. I was about to do my final year.
Do you sometimes regret that? Or is that just the way it is?
Yes, I do have some regrets, but I’ve always told my family that when I finish my career, I’ll take up my studies again.
To do what?
Good question. But anyway, to get my baccalaureate [basically A-levels] would be a good start. I know lots of people who finished later in life, so I think that I will definitely try to pass. I definitely will pass. And after that, well, from that point on, well, it depends on what goals I set myself and also on my career change. Maybe I’ll need a degree or a master’s. It’s not something that frightens me, studying.
Were you a good student?
Yes, not bad.
Is it true that at age 13, you were definitely already talented, but you had a bit of a problem with your weight?
True. Yes, it’s true. When I must have been about 10, I had the misfortune to go to Réunion with my family and I gained loads of weight. And admittedly I had a lot of trouble losing it afterwards.
How long were you there? For the holidays?
Two months, yes, and you have no idea what two months can do to a child.
Was it food?
Yes, food. When I go back there, it’s really dangerous!
Arsène Wenger once said, “Francis always knew how to be self-critical, how not to give up, and we’re all happy when, in life, people don’t give up are rewarded.” That’s not a bad compliment.
It’s true that I never gave up, even when I was in Germany and having a really bad time. During the second half of the season, I pretty much didn’t play. And I remember talking to my wife and she supported me, but I was saying, “When I get back to Arsenal, I’m going to play. You’ll see, I’ll play.”
Did she believe you or not?
She did have her doubts, but no, she did believe me once I showed her that it was really what I wanted and that I could do it. She believed in me.
Was there a point when you thought you were one of the only ones who thought it was possible?
Yes, clearly. Clearly. That summer, it was the summer of 2014, I could see that my future with Arsenal was hanging by a thread.
Where did the desire to succeed come from?
I think it was the fact of having been in Germany. It made me … something else clicked for me psychologically. I thought I was strong, but in Germany I realised that I could dig a lot deeper. I had a very complicated relationship with the coach and in my eyes, his opinion of me was completely wrong. So obviously when you see yourself in one way and the person next to you paints a completely opposite picture, and negatively so as well, admittedly it really affected me deeply. And I wanted to prove that I was stronger than what he said or what he thought.
What was it about, personality?
Yes, I think it was… I think he had the wrong impression of me.
Did he think you weren’t a good guy, basically?
Maybe, yes. Whereas I think you could ask anybody at Freiburg and I don’t think any of them would say anything negative about me.
Before I leave you in peace, let’s talk a bit about your future. You’re under contract until June 2019 with Arsenal. They never say anything about the dates, but, well, that’s what it is in theory. Do you dream of spending your whole career here? Or are you dreaming even higher, even bigger?
Even higher, even bigger? That doesn’t leave me with very many clubs. I think I’m already at a very, very big club. And I’m a person who is loyal to my club, I came here very young, I owe them a lot. So from the moment things are done well, my inclination is to stay at Arsenal for as long as possible. But then there has to be that desire on both sides. But spending the rest of my career at Arsenal would make me very proud.
As an Arsenal youth player, does it bother you that now it can be said that Arsenal have become a club of losers?
Yes. But then… Yes, yes, it annoys me because I think that there was a policy of rebuilding here, and now we have a team of men, whereas before our team was made up of young, talented players. And I think that’s what is going to make the difference at crunch time.
Is winning the Champions League this year possible?
Winning the Champions League? Yes, it’s possible. And it’s a target.
And Les bleus?
That famous question. Les bleus.
If I didn’t push, honestly, I’d have to give up.
Yes, you have to ask.
Is it there in the back of your mind?
I don’t get too riled up about France’s national team, to be honest, because it’s France, it’s a huge country, there are massive players, and when I look at the players who don’t start for France in the midfield, the level is so high.
Is that genuine or are you being politically correct?
No, no, honestly. I’m being truthful because, well, and I’m happy as well that, well, you also have to look at the results that France are getting. I mean, if things were going wrong for France, maybe the selector might want to look deeper.
Is it a dream despite that?
Yes, of course. But then I’m 25 years old. I do hope one day I’ll wear the jersey, even if it’s only once. We’ll see. There’s time.
Thank you very much.
Thanks to Emma Grenville-Wood for the translation – the original interview in French can be found here.