Even if you are a defender, you have already scored a lot since you had scored 11 goals between the summer of 2017 and February 2019 in Belgium. Is there an explanation behind this efficiency?
It’s not an aspect that I work on in particular, but when I was younger, when I played on the half-court, I played as a striker. Same when playing with friends. It’s always nice to score but it’s not my primary goal on the pitch. What I want is to defend my goal, for the team to be solid, compact, and to finish the match with a clean sheet. If we win but concede a goal, I don’t like it. My mission is not accomplished. I’m even more determined to keep my clean sheet than a keeper, I’m a psycho on that (laughter).
You were 24 when you discovered Ligue 1 Uber Eats in January 2020, after a particular career…
I have an atypical trajectory since I did not go to a training center. I did all my youth years at AS Cannes, with the exception of one season when I went to a local club, before returning to Cannes. I only did one year with the U19 Nationals. I was still an amateur just over 4 years ago and 5 years ago I was playing in the equivalent of the 8th division, even if it was at AS Cannes, a structured club. And in the summer of 2016, I moved from the 8th division to Ligue 2 by signing for Niort. Behind, it was chained.
At the end of the 2013/2014 season, when you started playing with the CFA of AS Cannes, the club was demoted administratively. Did you imagine yourself becoming a professional at that time?
Not especially. It was complicated in the head at the time of the administrative demotion. I joined the CFA (the current N2) from AS Cannes at 18 and it was almost like playing in Ligue 2 elsewhere. I rubbed shoulders with very high level players like Mickaël Cerielo, who played in Ligue 2, or Malek Chergui. There were good people, players of excellent level for the CFA and the National, supposed to bring the club up. With the demotion to DHR, I asked myself a lot of questions. My hopes were a little dashed but I continued to train on my side with my older brother and my sports coach Christian Maccario. I stayed at the club with the idea of showing myself and having a chance at the highest level. It ended up paying since I’m playing in Ligue 1 today!
Are you still with some of your teammates from back then?
Of course, I played with Vincent Koziello and Enzo Crivelli, who were born in 1995 like me, and I am in contact with them almost every day, especially via social networks. In my time, there was also Thomas Touré (ex-Bordeaux and Sochaux) and Jérôme Prior. Alexandre Mendy, a very good friend of mine, also went through AS Cannes. We used to play together when we were about twelve years old. And among the former players, when I was very young, Zinedine Zidane came to coach us during training. His assistant at Real Madrid, David Bettoni, coached the U19s when I was in the U17s. I also met Bruno Bellone and Bernard Lambourde, who went through Chelsea, as well as Johan Micoud, who had taken over the presidency of the club. There were a lot of beautiful people at AS Cannes…
“Javier Pastore really impressed me”
You then joined the Chamois Niortais before the 2016/2017 season…
I was supposed to play in the reserve team at the start but after two weeks of preparation, the injuries accumulated in the first team and the coach gave me an emergency phone call. I had to come and help out for a few days and then go back to reserve. And finally, coach Denis Renaud decided to keep me with him for the whole season.
With Niort, you notably crossed paths with PSG in the Coupe de France…
My whole family was in the stands at René-Gaillard, it’s a great memory. But the pitch was really war… It was raining hard, there was a lot of wind… Even Paris couldn’t manage to put its game in place because the pitch was catastrophic. We took advantage of it but they still beat us 2-0 by making the difference in the last 10 minutes. It’s a shame because we held on well but when they stepped on the accelerator… They scored from a set piece and from an exploit by Pastore. He really impressed me. As soon as he entered, we saw that he was technically superior.
You have been a Tunisian international since the beginning of 2017. In the selection, you rub shoulders with many players who play in France or have passed through France. Who are you closest to?
Wahbi Khazri! He’s my good friend from the selection. We are together all the time. At each gathering, we are glued, we do not let go. We are also in the bedroom together. He is a very good friend, someone who gives very good advice. I also appreciate Saîf-Eddine Khaoui and Ellyès Skhiri. The four of us form a small band (laughter). I did not know them before arriving in selection but we immediately hooked.
With the Tunisian team, you have already played in the World Cup in 2018, you reached the semi-finals of CAN 2019… What is your best memory in selection?
This is my goal at the World Cup against Belgium (5-2 defeat), it will remain engraved for life. It’s a whole that I will remember forever. I score a goal in the World Cup and 5 minutes later, I have to leave because I hurt my knee… I was playing in Belgium as well, so when I returned to Ghent, I saw that people were happy for me . But I don’t know if they would have had the same reaction if we had won (laughter).