Posted in Player Interview

Player Interview: Diawandou Diagne

This Thursday I finally met the ever present KAS Eupen player Diawandou Diagne. On a very wet lunch time in East Belgium, I managed to travel through Cologne and Aachen, down into the small town where amongst the residential areas stood a stadium that looked almost brand new. After a brief wait where every player not only exchanged pleasantries, they also introduced themselves before I even had the chance to say hello. With such manners from such a young squad, I could tell De Pandas coming through The Aspire Academy were being taught more than just football.

When I finally had the chance to sit with the defender/midfielder in a casual setting, the interview took place in a slightly noisy lunch room in the players lounge.

So Diawandou, how do you feel the season has gone?

Not bad. The season was good because our aim was to stay in the first division and we made it. Now we’re in the play offs. Our objective was to be first and play the final of the play offs, but that didn’t happen so our aim is to play and win and finish the season well. For me, the season was good.

After the last minute draw against Standard Liege I thought you may have been relegated. Did the team ever doubt themselves and think they’d go down?

We never gave up. Our aim was to stay in this division. That game was here and they equalised but the team never dropped their level because everybody was saying ‘we can do it’. We can be in the first division and we had to keep fighting. We need to deal with some mistakes we were creating because we were doing so many in the last minute, losing so many points in the last minute like Standard here and Lokeren here too. If we wanted to stay up we needed to stop doing this.

To be more discplined as a group?

We need to be more organised. At the start we did a lot of running for each other for the team, because that’s the most important thing.

Did you think age was a factor? With such a young squad, do you think that may have came into play?

That’s true, because we are the youngest team in Belgium. We have so many here with not much experience. Some day they come from the academy in Africa and then they’re playing in the first division. It is not easy for them because to deal with the climate, fans, teams, etc. It’s not easy because sometimes in the academy you play in tournaments, but here you’re playing for your family, your living and the club.

So do you see football more difficult now that it’s your job?

Yes because for me, professional football is not easy. It’s really difficult because 5 years ago you’re at the academy, living isn’t the same. Now you’re in your own house, eating here (at the club) and you have to deal with just yourself. In the academy everything was done for you. It’s not the same. 

On a personal note, how do you think you’ve performed this season?

For me it was good because last season I played a little bit because of my shoulder. After that I had an operation and missed a lot of the season, but this season was good for me. I’ve played almost every game and I feel this year was a good season for me.

You’ve only kept four clean sheets in the league all season. Would you feel you need to work more on the defensive side?

For me the first target is to defend well. We are a team where nearly every game we score at least 1 goal, but after we score we concede. For me the manager will need to deal with it for next season. To prepare to defend very well because our problem is to defend because we concede a lot. Defence for me is when everyone defends!

Because of your versatility, where is your preferred position?

I prefer to play in midfield. But if the manager says play in the centre (of defence) or left back or right back, I need to play to help the team because of injury and you need to help the coach.

Is there anyone you tried to base your game on as a child?

No…When you are a kid you just play. At Aspire they played me in many positions.

Did Aspire play you in all different positions to see where you fit and performed well?

They were doing that. For me, every position was not difficult.

You have left here and come back a couple of times. Do you feel at home in Belgium?

Yeah I feel at home here. I was here for 2 years, then went to Spain, and then come back and I knew Belgium. I feel comfortable here. I feel at home here and with this club and the supporters it’s really good. I feel great here.

I think I counted 17 African players at Eupen. Does that make you feel more comfortable at the club and does your experience of being here help them settle here too?

Every African player here, you have to make them feel at home. You need to make them feel better the first year because Belgium is really really good. You need to adapt to the weather and the league and to life in Europe.

Because you’ve said it’s really good here, do you think the Pro League is under appreciated?

The thing with Belgium is that it’s a league where other leagues look at the players. It’s not a top, top, top league. It’s still good but not the level of England or Germany or France. You see from this year Anderlecht and Genk go far in the Europa League.

Are there many differences between the Pro League and Spanish football?

Its not the same level as in Spain it’s so high. Almost all the teams want the ball, whereas here, sometimes here they wait for a corner or a free kick because they have so much height in the team. It’s different between here and Spain.

You say that because I love that in England you have Arsenal, Manchester City and Tottenham who play one style. Then you have West Brom, Stoke City and Crystal Palace who play another way. Do you like a mixed league like here in Belgium?

I do like that. You have Manchester City and Tottenham who can play both and mix it up. For me, England has the best football in the world. You can’t compare it with anywhere else. Very tough, very strong. To be in England you have to work really hard.

How good is the Aspire Academy?

For me, Aspire is the best in the world because you learn more than just football. You go to school in the morning and the afternoon and work hard. They have great facilities to play football.

Because the club has a lot youngsters, do you feel the club could eventually achieve something now that you’ve stayed up and reached the Croky Cup semi final?

I think it’s possible. We got to the semi final of the cup and stayed up. We have the top scorer (at the time). It’s not easy coming from the second division. For me the manager will have to deal with a lot of what we’ve already said first.

You mentioned the top scorer, do you think Henry Onyekuru will be here next season?

No. I think he’ll go. Many clubs are looking at him and for me he has had a great season and deserves more.

Do you know where he may go?

No I don’t. Many clubs like him and only he will decide where to go. For me I wish him all the best for wherever he goes. He is a great player and a great person.

Do you think it’s a negative if he leaves Belgium? With Tielemans going and the better players leaving?

No. They have to go and progress. We have great players coming through in Africa and Qatar and they can come and make it.

Picking up only 2 yellows cards is impressive. What do you feel is your best attribute?

For me it’s tough not to get a yellow card in defensive midfield. But I need to keep working and improving for next season because now the clubs know more about us.

Who is the toughest player you have come up against this season?

Lukasz Teodorczyk

Why was he so tough?

Its not that his good technically, but he’s very strong and in the air too. And Hans Vanaken is very, very good. He impressed me also.

Do you feel you’ve warranted more starts for Senegal?

YEAH!

Did you feel Senegal were unlucky in the AFCON this season?

I feel we are the best team in Africa!

Lastly I decided to take the opportunity to ask about Saido Mane for my friend who is a massive Liverpool fan!

How good is Saido Mane?

We talk a lot. He is a top player, best player for Senegal.

I think he is quality and Liverpool are worse without him. What do you think?

For me, he is the best player in the Premier League this season!

As the interview came to an end, we simply shook hands as I was grateful that not only the player took time out his day for a chat, but the club arranged the chance for me to talk to him in the first place. A club that looked like they were here to stay in the Pro League, progression certainly looks on the cards for everybody involved at Eupen!

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Posted in Player Interview

Player Interview: Jordan Mustoe

With one Englishman down this season, I managed to catch up with the other remaining Brit plying their trade across in Belgium…But unfortunately not for too much longer.

After a short chat regarding where and when was best for the Scouser, Jordan Mustoe was more than happy to save me some time travelling, and money if I’m honest, and arranged a telephone interview Friday night.

The polite Westerlo left back was on his way to Manchester, via Amsterdam, and took some of his time out to talk a little bit about Belgium, Martinez and…Chinese?:

So Jordan, hows life been in Belgium the 2 years you’ve been over there?

Yeah been here 2 years and I’ve really enjoyed it. First couple of months were a little difficult, new experience for me, but after 3 or 4 months it became my home.

Have you tried learning the language?

NO. I had a go at the start but it was too difficult. I managed to pick a few of the words up but i found it too difficult. I’d rather just speak English really.

So how did the move to Westerlo actually come about?

My manager from Evo Management, he works with someone in London, and then he got in contact with an English guy who’s been living in Bruges for 25 years and he was close with the Westerlo manager, Dennis van Wijk, so I ended up going on a four day trial there.

Now that you’ve moved abroad, would you prefer to stay abroad?

Now that I’ve played abroad, I think it opens me up to more teams abroad. I might have a better chance of a good team coming out of the Belgian league. I’ve told my management that I’m open to offers anywhere in the world really.

Because your contract is up at the end of the season isn’t it?

Yeah it’s finished. We’re all looking for offers right now to see what we can do.

Are there any offers for you right now?

They’re trying to sort something out. I’m not sure if Westerlo will offer me something but to be honest, I don’t think going to the second division is a right move for me. But it is early doors isn’t it. I’m relaxed about it. No need to start panicking…Until July (with a slight laughter).

Why do you think English players tend to stay at home?

I was the same. I didn’t think I’d end up in Belgium or Europe anyway. I’m happy I came across and I think more players from England should. It’s a better standard than League 2/ League 1. If you do go abroad, it’s a different style of play which may suit certain players.

Would you say there’s been an improvement in Belgium, especially the way teams have performed in the Europa League?

I’d say a little bit yeah to be honest. You get more recognised when you do have these teams in the Champions League and Europa League performing better. I’m not sure if I recognise that myself because I’m in Belgium and I play in the Belgian league cause when I was back in England, I wasn’t paying attention to any Belgian teams.

You had a good run in the side and then didn’t feature at all. How frustrating was that for you?

Yeah it was frustrating. I had a run of 14 games. I started off out of the team and then the manager changed, put me in for these 14 games, lost a few on a run, changed the defence and then won and drew the next 2 games, which was my luck. That was a bit unfortunate for me but that’s swings and roundabouts in football. Like when I first got in the team, we went on a good run. But it is frustrating. I’m used to playing games from January til the end of the season and then I’d get a contract and wherever I go next, hopefully these lack of games won’t affect me too much in the future.

You’ve had 4 managers in you short spell at the club. Has that affected you off the pitch as well as on? That’s the equivalent of having a manager every 6 months after all.

It affects me when I’m not playing, but with each manager I had spells as their No.1 full back, even recently, in December I had a conversation with the manager saying I want you to play the next game, you’re the strongest full back I have at the club and literally, that was against Standard Liege, I gave away a hand ball, they score a penalty. Afterwards, next game, he changed it. Sometimes it’s a bit of luck you need.

Unfortunately, even though Westerlo are down, who else do you think may go? Silvère Ganvoula M’Boussy has already gone, who do you think may follow?

There’s a lot of of players out of contract so I think a lot will move on. I don’t know if anyone has anything lined up. I think only 5,6 or 7 players are contracted for next season. We’ll have to wait and see.

Speaking of managers previously, did you ever see Roberto Martinez taking over Belgium the way they currently are whilst you were playing under him at Wigan?

His management and tactics, he is very good so it didn’t surprise me but I think he did very well getting the job off of the back of not doing so well at Everton. He had a good go there (at Everton) for a while, but I think in the end, Everton can be a bit of a difficult team to manage, the fans can be hard at Goodison. He deserves a good job.

You were sent out on loan a fair bit at Wigan. How much did that help you with your progression?

I wish I did it earlier. I think I went out at 21, I should’ve done it at 19. But I was doing well in the first team. I should’ve been pushing to go out on loan earlier but in the end it worked out well.

When you were at Liverpool as a kid, was there anyone you tried to base your game on at the club?

To be honest…No. Even now I don’t watch anyone really. It’s just the way I’ve always been. Always been a bit laid back. Never really watched a lot of football when I was younger. I just really enjoyed playing.

So does that mean you didn’t watch Djimi Traore?

No, i never really watched a lot of Djimi (as he slightly chuckled)

Coming towards the end, I thought I’d ask some random questions, just to see how the player was off the pitch, apart from the first…

What were your favourite boots you ever had?

The old Adidas Predators when I was 10,11,12.

What’s your favourite dinner?

Favourite dinner…CHINESE.

Nice

I might have one tonight if I’m home early enough!

What do you usually have?

Sweet & sour chicken, to be honest, I usually get a banquet and we all share.

So what cartoons did you watch as a child?

The Simpsons. I never watched much telly but never missed The Simpsons.

And where is your favourite holiday destination?

Vegas or Dubai. Different holidays. Both top level. Vegas was a good one!

And on that note I thanked him, wished him good luck with next season, wherever he may turn up, wished him a good Chinese and safe travels. Such a polite player who seemed focussed but maybe a bit down trodden, not only regarding his clubs relegation, but maybe as well, the fact he never got given the chance to help do anything about it on the pitch. I also want to thank the press officer at KVC Westerlo for being so helpful arranging this.

I’ll sign off by saying that I hope Westerlo are able to bounce back from this next season and build for the future!

Courtesy of Getty Images
Posted in Player Interview

Player Interview: Gary Martin

In England there are plenty of Belgians turning out in the Premier League. Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne to name a few, but when the shoes on the other foot, only 2 Englishman come to mind and I caught up with one of them on Tuesday. 

I travelled thirty minutes south-west from Antwerp to Lokeren and through a fantastic host of a press officer, we were taken to the Daknamstadion to meet Gary Martin. An interview-come-chat took place and…Well…This is what we said in what sounded like his North West England/Scandinavian accent.
So Gary, hows life so far in Belgium?

Not too bad, more like England than any other country I’ve played in so far. It was a bit tough in the beginning but my girlfriend is coming over in 2 weeks.

So you’ve found it easier to settle compared to everywhere else?

Definitely easier. When I arrived in Iceland I didn’t have a driving license. A lot more people speak English here and I’m more grown up. Iceland was tougher too due to 24hrs of darkness in the winter and 24hrs of light in the summer.

Has the gaffer made you learn any languages so far?

No, but I’m going to do it. I’m waiting for my girlfriend to come over so that we can learn together. Can be a difficult language but I’ll definitely try.

Does that mean you’re here for the long run?

I haven’t found the level of play too hard. I understand that contracts are shorter here than in England. If you play really well, they have to sell you. If you underperform, you run the risk of getting nothing.

For me the Belgian league is on a par with the English Championship and ideally I’d like to stay in Belgium for as long as I can if I don’t go higher.

With 3 teams in the Europa League, what do you think of the standard?

People don’t realise how good this league is. Look at the national team, I’ve come here in my best years at my peak.

I think I counted 15 nationalities in the changing room. Is it easy to communicate?

We all speak English. Perfect for me. They all have their own ways of living. For example, the goalkeeper told the defender in French to leave the ball and I didn’t know and the coach said that’s why you need to learn the language and that plays a big part.

Would you prefer more playing time and do you think the language problem has hindered your starts?

I’ve worked with the coach before so I trust him. I’m working more towards next season. For now, it’s about coming, learning and adjusting. Look, I haven’t had a pre season as the Icelandic league ended in November so I’m just adapting and looking towards next season.

Are you relishing the competition?

Yes. None of the striker’s are like me. I prefer to run in behind. Personally, I’d rather play as a 2 but I’d never tell the coach what to do. He just received a new deal and has said his looking towards next season.

How is your relationship with Rùnar Kristinsson?

Very good. In Iceland his at the top of the tree. If he thinks you’re good then you’re good. I have the upmost respect for him so I’ll only give him 100%.

You’ve basically played abroad your entire career. Would you hope to play back in England one day?
It depends. Personally, I like it here, but if the opportunity ever came up and was right for everyone (me and the club), I’d love to play in Holland 1 day. I’ve lost my English mentality. I’d go to the Championship or a high League 1 side but I’d rather stay abroad.

So in your opinion, why do the top English players stay in England?

I know why. They’re narrow minded. I wasn’t born into a lot of wealth, so when I could play abroad I jumped at it. I know players who are from England and now play in the Europa League in Scandinavia rather than League 2.

What if there was to be a North Atlantic league?

If Anderlecht left it would make the league weaker, but I’d be happy to see the back of them (as he jokingly laughs) all you do is run against them teams. The thing I like is that Belgian clubs know their place. When you see Charleroi, Mechelen and Oostende above Gent and Genk who are performing in the Europa League, it’s no joke.

He then spoke briefly about the changing room saying he missed the banter in England. Iceland and Norway is better for that, but it will never compare to England.

Since you’ve arrived you have had some very tough fixtures.

You’re right. People who know their football know it’s tough in the Pro League, especially away. In Iceland and Norway there was no difference between home and away. 

You mean the crowd?

No, just in quality. But I think we’ve faired well against the top clubs and naive against the lesser sides. I think we believe we’ll overpower the teams below us but the gap isn’t really that big. We’re defensively solid against the top teams and we go away from that against the lower clubs.

So what’s Lokeren’s aim in the Playoffs? 

You never know with playoffs. When you’ve got Gent, Genk and Standard Liege they need Europe. It maybe gives us the chance to play players who haven’t played much, looking towards next season. It’s difficult but not impossible (for Europa League) you never know.

Who did you try and emulate as a child?

Ole Gunnar Solksjaer.

You a United fan?

I was. I also liked Van Nistelrooy, Mark Viduka when I was at Middlesbrough, but as soon as I saw Fernando Torres, I had to try and play like him.

At the end, on behalf of @PlayingAFH, I asked one question about his coach from Ujpest.

How much influence did Willie McStay have on you in Hungary?

Yeah…Willie McStay and Joe McBride. Willie called me when we played Celtic in a Champions League qualifier and wished me good luck. I’ll never forget that. He had a massive influence on me. Top man. He tried to get me to Scotland when my contract at Boro ended.

After a handshake, Gary looked relieved to get back to training, stood up and left. A comfortable chat and was polite and open throughout. I wished him luck.

After a brief look around and a good football chat, I was driven back to the station by the press officer and I was on my way. 

A humble and welcoming football club, I wish Lokeren the best for this season and beyond.