• Sáb. Jul 13th, 2024

-> Noticias de futbol internacional

Aurelien Tchouameni’s untold talents: How the France Euro 2024 midfielder is different


There is a recurring theme when you talk to those who know Aurelien Tchouameni.

“He listened and did exactly what you asked. He understood everything first time — everything,” says Claude Dauvillier, ex-president of SJ D’Artigues, the small club where his career began.

“Sometimes you have a meeting with a young player and he says, ‘Yes, yes, yes’ and then you ask yourself, ‘Did he understand? Is he going to do it?’. With Aurelien, it was totally different,” adds Gus Poyet, who gave now Real Madrid and France midfielder Tchouameni his first-team debut with Bordeaux.

“He stood out because of how he listened to the older players,” says ex-Bordeaux team-mate Jimmy Briand. “He put into practice the advice we gave him.”

“He’s someone who’s always listening,” says Tchouameni’s father, Fernand. “Even when a physio talks to him, he listens. When his brothers or sisters talk to him, he listens.”

Each of these voices highlights Tchouameni’s willingness to learn, his curiosity and openness to new things. Like they say: he listens.

It is the reason he plays the piano, speaks several languages and recently set up a YouTube show called The Bridge, in which he interviews figures from the worlds of sport, culture and business. It is the reason Fernand thinks he would have worked in finance had he not been a footballer — and why the 24-year old has become a key player for club and country.

“Aurelien is curious about everything,” Fernand tells The Athletic. “If Aurelien puts his mind to the piano, he’ll learn it. He put his mind to foreign languages — today, he speaks three languages fluently. He’s starting to introduce himself to the world of finance to see how it works — he’s going to learn that.

“You’ll see him talking to a cleaning lady, asking her questions about cleaning. Whoever the person is in front of him, he’ll show interest in them.”


Tchouameni started out at his local club in the Bordeaux area — SJ (Societe de Jeunesse — French for Youth Society) D’Artigues.

He was born in Rouen in northern France before, when he was five, his family moved to the south-western town of Artigues-pres-Bordeaux for his father’s work as the director of a pharmaceutical factory.

Six years old when he joined Artigues, Tchouameni played in higher age groups because of his ability. He began life as a centre-forward, scoring 20 to 30 goals a season. The club’s former president Dauvillier remembers a boy who was “part of the crowd and a tiny bit on the shy side” but whose words were “never hot air — everything he said was always sensible”.

“Aurelien did everything,” Dauvillier says. “He played as a No 10, as a distributor, he made recoveries, he made the final pass. He was a good distributor, a good finisher, a good defender. It was complicated to position him on the pitch, because he was good everywhere.”

Fernand played an important role in keeping his son focused. He would take him to his matches each Saturday and then talk through his performances on the car ride home. It is a practice he has kept up to this day.

“Aurelien thinks I’m very hard on him,” says Fernand. “I debrief what I’ve seen, just like when he was five years old. Because if anyone’s seen him change, it’s me — I’ve seen him play for more than 19 years. I debrief what he’s done well, what he’s done less well, what he could do even better.”

Tchouameni soon drew the attention of the biggest club in the area — Bordeaux (or to use their full name, Girondins de Bordeaux). He helped Artigues beat a Bordeaux side in the final of a regional tournament called the Girondins Cup in 2007 — and two years later, his header knocked them out of the semi-finals of another competition at their own ground.

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Bordeaux signed Tchouameni in 2011, when he was 11 years old, although his father says he blocked an earlier move as he wanted his son to “enjoy himself”. He could not formally join their academy until he was 13, Fernand says. When he finally did, he scored 103 goals over the 2012-13 season.

Fernand was then transferred to Lyon for work, meaning Tchouameni lived alone at Bordeaux’s academy, only receiving a visit from his family every 15 days. He moved from the attack back to midfield, and helped a side that included the now-Barcelona defender and France senior team-mate Jules Kounde win France’s under-19 national championship in 2017.

Coaches at the club were very impressed by his studiousness. Patrick Battiston, the former France international and then Bordeaux’s academy director, remembers how Tchouameni would attend morning classes for his Baccalaureat (the French equivalent of a high school diploma or A-levels) by himself when he had afternoon training.

“We were very surprised by that,” Battiston says. “It was rare for the young players to go to lessons when they could have stayed in their bedroom and slept.”

Tchouameni achieved good marks in those exams, despite missing four of nine school months after playing for France at the 2017 Under-17 World Cup in India in the October of that year, before signing his first professional deal with Bordeaux the following summer. “He expressed himself so well (in the oral exam) the teacher asked, ‘Where did you find the time to learn all that?’,” Fernand says.


Tchouameni playing for Bordeaux in 2018 (Nicolas TucatAFP via Getty Images)

Tchouameni made his senior Bordeaux debut at 18, in a Europa League qualifying tie against Latvian side Ventspils in July 2018. The 33-year-old former Rennes, Lyon, Hannover and Guingamp striker, and five-cap France international, Briand became a reference point, with the youngster regularly asking him about his experiences in the national team and outside French club football.

“I tried to give him advice in the moments where things were going less well, in the moments where he could become annoyed — try to calm him down, simply teach him how to become a great professional,” says Briand. “But it was simple because, like Jules Kounde, he had that desire to learn and to use the experience of the older players.”

Tchouameni began working on the mental side of the game at Bordeaux and then at fellow Ligue 1 side Monaco, signing for the latter for around €17million (£14.4m/$18.2m at current exchange rates) in January 2020. In an interview in 2022, he said he kept a notebook in which he would jot down inspirational quotes from athletes and other figures, as well as logging his goals in each match.

“Whether with club or country, each match has its own specifics and I try to be as diligent as possible on that,” said Tchouameni, then 22. “I’m highly observant. (I write down) everything I hear, everything I see.”

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He made 95 appearances for Monaco across all competitions in his two and a half seasons there, becoming a leader under three different managers in Robert Moreno, Niko Kovac and Philippe Clement. Perhaps the only problem — as in his youth days at Artigues — was finding his best position.

“I had to convince him that his future lay in defensive midfield,” says Kovac, previously manager of Bayern Munich and Croatia’s national team. “We had a lot of intensive discussions. That was difficult for him, but thank God he did it.”

Tchouameni’s language skills began to shine through at Monaco. He speaks a confident, American-accented English on The Bridge — he learned by watching U.S.-made films — and impressed his father by conducting an interview with CNN in that language at 20. His mother, Josette, worked as a Spanish teacher, which might help explain him being fluent in that, too — although Fernand doesn’t think he spoke it with her at home.


Tchouameni celebrates scoring for Madrid against Mallorca in April (Rafa Babot/Getty Images)

Paris Saint-Germain and Premier League teams including Liverpool and Chelsea wanted Tchouameni before he moved to Madrid for more than €100million in the summer of 2022. Despite his dad being a lifelong Liverpool admirer, for once Tchouameni didn’t listen to him. “He didn’t even have to think about it,” Fernand says. “He told his agent, ‘You’re taking me to Madrid’.”

His progress in Spain over the past two seasons has not always been straightforward.

He started 33 of his 50 appearances in his debut year but played fewer minutes than fellow midfielders Eduardo Camavinga, Federico Valverde, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric. Although a senior Madrid source — who like others in this article will remain anonymous to protect relationships — says they never considered selling a player they affectionately call “Tchoua” and describe as a “phenomenon”.

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That first season was interrupted by the Qatar-hosted World Cup in the November and December, where Tchouameni was pivotal in helping France come within a penalty shootout of retaining their title. Kingsley Coman and Tchouameni were the two French players to miss their spot kicks in the final against Argentina; both are Black and both received racist abuse on their social media accounts afterwards. There was a grim repeat of that kind of behaviour in April, when a Real Mallorca fan was seen making a monkey gesture at Tchouameni as he celebrated his 48th-minute La Liga goal against them.

Tchouameni posted on X after the shootout defeat: “I took responsibility, it didn’t work and I’m the first one to be sorry,” and added that France’s future was “bright, especially if we can count on you (the fans)”. His father says the aftermath was “a little complicated”.

“I told him, ‘Listen, my son. You must go through this moment. Continue your work and don’t stop. Keep your head high and it will come back again’,” he says.

“He went on holiday for 15 days. Three weeks later, he came back and he set off again. But those aren’t easy moments for anyone.”

Tchouameni is one of several France players to have spoken out during this summer’s European Championship in Germany against the rise of the far-right National Rally (RN) party back home. He said he hated “extremes in everyday life” and urged “everyone to go out and vote” before the first round of elections on June 30, where the RN won 33.1 per cent of the vote. The final round takes place on Sunday, July 7 — two days after France’s Euros quarter-final against Portugal.

Coach Didier Deschamps’ team have ground their way through the tournament so far, beating Austria 1-0 in the group opener and drawing their second and third games against the Netherlands (0-0) and Poland (1-1) before a hard-fought 1-0 win against Belgium in the round of 16. They are yet to score from open play, and two of their three goals have been own goals, the other a penalty.

Tchouameni has grown in influence after recovering from the foot injury that kept him out of the Champions League final won by Madrid at the start of last month. He missed the Austria game but has started all three since then. Against Belgium, he completed 90 passes, 33 final-third passes and completed six long balls — only the opposition’s Jan Vertonghen (96) bettered the first figure while the latter two were the most of anyone on the pitch.

During that 2022 World Cup, Tchouameni took advantage of the squad’s downtime to learn the piano while team-mates were playing cards. When he turned 23 a month after the tournament, he asked his dad for a piano of his own. He got his wish and continues to play it regularly, recently performing a duet with compatriot and close friend Camavinga in an advert for beer company Mahou, one of Real Madrid’s sponsors.

In the first episode of The Bridge in February, Tchouameni told Georgian concert pianist Khatia Buniatishvili that playing the instrument has helped him concentrate in matches.

“They’re moments of relaxation for him before or after a match,” says Fernand. “His mental coach tells him to play to forget things.”

That first show also featured ex-Arsenal and France striker Thierry Henry, former UFC champion Francis Ngannou and British entrepreneur Steven Bartlett, who hosts podcast The Diary Of A CEO. Fernand says his son spent an hour speaking to Bartlett after they recorded the episode. “If he hadn’t gone into football, I think he probably would have had a career in finance.”

For now, Tchouameni is looking to establish himself as an undisputed starter for Madrid.

He played the 12th-most minutes of any player in their squad last season (2,816) as Madrid won a Spanish league-Champions League double — it would have been more, but for that foot injury — and was called upon to fill in at centre-back after injuries suffered by first-choice defenders. Coaching staff sources say he might continue to play there if Madrid don’t sign a centre-back, such as Lille’s Leny Yoro, this summer.

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“We have the case of (long-time midfielder Javier) Mascherano at Barcelona, who also knew how to adapt very well to become a centre-back,” says Moreno, one of his head coaches at Monaco and a former Spain national-team boss. “If Tchouameni wants to, he can become one of Real Madrid’s best central defenders.”

He has not forgotten his first club on this rise to the top of the game — Tchouameni has donated kit to Artigues via his foundation and his sponsor Nike, and paid them a visit before the World Cup. He has agreed to contribute to the club refurbishing their stands and dressing rooms for their centenary this year and Dauvillier, club president when he joined, has asked the council to rename the club’s sports complex the Stade Aurelien Tchouameni after Artigues’ most famous export.

Having turned 24 in January, Tchouameni has already achieved so much yet has most of his career ahead of him.

But are his multiple ventures outside the game a way of preparing for life after football?

“You can tell he has initiative,” says Poyet, the former Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Uruguay midfielder. “When he leaves football, he’s going to have a clear idea of what he’s going to do. Not like the majority of us who finish and say, ‘Now what?’.”

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(Top photo: Matt McNulty – UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)




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