‘I used to call my father to tell him that I wanted to stop playing football’

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“Football at times can be a bit of a lonely life” states football star Jude Bellingham. We talk to another star about an aspect of football that is not often mentioned: loneliness.

Building a career in this sport might sometimes be associated with passion, money, or even fame, but it can also include sacrifices such as being away from your family, who cannot always follow you to every country you have to play in.

“Football at times can be a bit of a lonely life,” according to Jude Bellingham in his latest video for the sportswear brand Adidas.

Yhoan Andzouana represents a great example of how lonely and nomadic the life of a footballer can be. The French and Congolese midfielder – currently playing for the Slovak club Dunajská Streda and the Congo’s national team – left his family home at the age of 12 to join the renowned French national football centre commonly known as Clairefontaine, just a few hours away from the Parisian suburb where he grew up.

“I was happy because I was leaving to pursue my dream. I was going to a school where some of the greatest champions have been. Thierry Henry and Anelka went there! But I also had mixed feelings because I was leaving my friends and the school where I grew up. Also, my mum didn’t want me to leave. She was almost crying; she was thinking, ‘Where is my son going? He is so young.’ My father, on the other hand, wanted me to leave because I grew up in Sarcelles, and staying there is not really what you want the most for your child,” Andzouana explains when he remembers this key moment in his career.

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Yhoan with his team-mates in the locker room [Instagram: Yhoan Andzouana]

Once at Clairefontaine, the young athlete quickly found a parental figure in the people surrounding him: “The coach I had at Clairefontaine kind of played that role. He kept an eye on us, looked at our grades, summoned us whenever there were problems, and moralised us. The role of a father, you know. Also, I wasn’t alone. I left with three friends of mine who I’d been playing with at my club in Sarcelles since I was a kid. We were a group of four friends who went away together, so I wasn’t too disoriented.”

Today, more than fourteen years later, Andzouana keeps crossing the world for his football player career. Clubs like AS Monaco (Monaco), Girona FC (Spain), and KSV Roeselare (Belgium) are familiar to this 26-year-old athlete who has never lived in the same country for more than four years since his childhood in France. 

But, moving from one country to another was not always easy: “Spain was the first foreign country I’d been to. There was a language barrier but also a difference in mentality. You know, the mentality in Spain is not the same as the mentality in France.

“Also, I left when I was 20, so I was again leaving at a young age, and this time, I was on my own. I found myself alone in a country where I didn’t speak the language. It was tough. I remember, in the first six months, I used to call my father and say, ‘I want to stop playing football’.”

But thinking about his family and his close friends helped Yhoan to get through those moments of despair. “I didn’t want to disappoint people. By ‘people,’ I mean my family, everyone who’s been there since I was a kid.”

“Only footballers can really understand what it is like to be a footballer, especially when you’re in another country,” Andzouana reacts after hearing Bellingham’s words in the Adidas campaign we talked about at the beginning of this article.

“I’ll quote another sentence from Alphonso Davies: ‘Being a football player is great because we have a fantastic lifestyle, but we are society’s biggest losers.’ Firstly, because we miss our entire childhood and adolescence. I mean, the things you experience when you’re at school or university, like going out with friends, for example, we don’t have that. We are in an academy; we have to get home at a certain time. We can’t do everything like a typical young person.”

Featured image courtesy of Yhoan Andzouana

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