Speaking in an exclusive interview with Get Spanish Football News, 29-year-old French central defender Mathieu Peybernes, currently contracted at Guti’s UD Almería but on loan at Spanish second division side CD Lugo, discussed life in Spain, and the different football styles and philosophies he has encountered to date.
N.B. This interview was conducted on April 24th.
How are things going in Lugo?
Well like for everyone else things have been a little complicated. We’ve been in quarantine for a number of weeks now so we’re trying to stay at home and to go out as little as possible. I have two kids so sometimes it can be a little difficult to keep them occupied but for the most part things are going well.
I have to keep in good shape even if it’s just training at home and not the regular physical training. But we don’t have too much of a choice and it’s for the well-being of everyone.
As a professional footballer in Spain – I’m not sure if you’ve been following the situation in England – but in England, for example, there has been a lot of pressure on the footballers to reduce their salaries. Is it similar in Spain?
Yeah, we agreed to alter our contracts. The club pays us 30% of our salary but this enables a fair bit of the other employees of the club and their salaries to be saved and kept in place. So, for us, “The Footballers,” we can at least make an effort to receive a little less money so that those that work for the club that make less, that are in a more difficult position, can benefit from these changes.
We were the ones who asked for this change because we know that for the club it’s difficult too. In Spain, because of all this, there’s also a lot of pressure from La Liga to restart the season.
Did you always want to play in the centre of defence?
Well like everyone, not really, no. I wanted to be more of an attacker but from 13 I realised that I like playing in defence, I like the duels, I like physicality, I like winning the ball back. I really get a lot of pleasure from defending. Like an attacker enjoys scoring goals, I enjoy winning a duel.
And back in the 2000s when you were growing as a central defender there were quite a few choices if you wanted to watch the art of defence. Did you follow a specific player back then?
Like a lot of French people there isn’t a specific defender that sticks with me, but for example there’s Carles Puyol whose mentality I admired. He was a player who was maybe a little less technically gifted than his teammates but his grinta, his energy, his leadership, and his charisma were impressive.
There was also Laurent Blanc and Marcel Desailly. For me it was a pleasure to watch them play because I think that the role of central defender requires a partner that you communicate with very well. If you have two defenders with enormous quality but who don’t get along well together, it just doesn’t work. You have to find a balance. So, I’ve always been a fan of the Laurent Blanc-Marcel Desailly pairing.
Living in France, between Corsica and Brittany, you’ve lived in some regions that are very proud, very unique. Do you enjoy living in this sort of culture?
Yeah, I really do. When it comes to the quality of life things weren’t really comparable. There’s of course a lot of tourists on vacation at Bastia but the way of living is nice. You kind of feel like you’re always on vacation (laughs) with all the sun and the kindness of all the people there.
Another thing that’s really important for a player is the happiness of his family. If his family isn’t living well then it can affect the player, a little like what happened in Turkey. Everything needs to be together so that a footballer can succeed. But it’s true, I’ve lived in some beautiful regions in France.
Right. And you mentioned Turkey, where you were loaned the summer after (Göztepe). What did you think of the culture surrounding football over there?
In Turkey, they’re truly fanatics. You can tell that they live for football. You can’t walk in town because so many people stop you! They’re respectful of course but they really love football. Some of them maybe do not have a lot of money to go eat because they prefer to buy a seat for all the matches. They live, sleep, eat the game. They’re very loyal to their club and their team.
So then in a move to Eupen in Belgium came about, where you meet up with Claude Makélélé who was also your manager in Bastia. How did all this moving around affect you?
It was difficult. For my partner and my kids, it wasn’t easy. It definitely was a lot of moving and I had never changed clubs this much. I had gone from spending nine years at Sochaux to changing clubs twice in six months. It was a little bizarre for me professionally, too.
And what was it like to play under Claude Makélélé at Eupen?
Well, I had the chance to play against him when he was winding down his career in Paris. Then just a few years later he was my manager at Bastia! He called me when he heard things weren’t going all that well in Turkey and I responded immediately because it’s Makélélé, a legend. It was always a pleasure to be coached by him because of the experience he had accumulated during his career and all the trophies he had won. It was an honour for me to be coached by Claude Makélélé.
Then more recently you moved to Spain first with a loan to Sporting Gijón. How’s it going in Galicia now with Lugo (who currently sit 20th)?
Things are going well. On a personal level, the season has been interesting. I’ve had the honour of being voted player of the month three times by the supporters which has been rewarding. On a more collective level, it’s been a bit more mixed. There are times where we go on a good run of form and times when we go on poorer runs. I would like the results to be better especially with our good team. But it’s true that at least personally the season has been decent so far and things are going fairly well.
And at this point you’ve adapted well to the style of play in Spain?
It’s definitely a different style from what I experienced in France and in Turkey. We focus more on the ball, things are a bit more tactical, and maybe a bit faster too.
As you said you enjoy the style of play in Spain – spending more time on the ball as a defender – do you want to stay there so you can keep playing like this?
It depends. There are a lot of clubs abroad that have this style of play too. When you see Guardiola at Manchester City or Leeds with Bielsa these are clubs that want a style that focuses on possession and playing with the ball. There are many clubs in other leagues that like this sort of football too. It would be nice to continue to play with teams that emphasise this style of play.
You’re loaned by Almería who are currently third in the Spanish second division. Of course, we’ll see how things playout for the rest of the season but if the club is promoted do you think you’ll be playing in Almería next season?
Well things became a little complicated with one of the new owners of the club. I had signed before the new owner came in. He “moved on” all the players who had been brought in under the previous management, so a lot depends on what he wants to do.
I’m in contact with my agent and with the club to try to figure out how things are going and where I’ll be playing in the future. Obviously, I hope that the club is promoted because they’ve earned it given the context of the season. But I’m not too sure what’ll happen in the immediate future given the situation.
And for what’s to come, do you hope to play in France again someday?
Honestly, for the moment, no. I’m not longing to return to France. Throughout my career I’ve been able to discover different countries, different cultures, and I think it’s beneficial for a footballer to see what it’s like in other parts of the world. Different ways of working, different ways of life. But, if there’s a good opportunity in France I would of course rethink but at least for now I don’t have a goal to return to France.
Got it. So, is the goal instead to stay in Spain or maybe, as you mentioned, go to England? Does playing in England interest you with all the teams that are playing more possession-based football?
Of course. The French have always had a notable connection with England. Playing there for many French footballers, like for me, is a dream. Along with La Liga, the Premier League is one of the best competitions in the world and as a competitive professional, you always want to test yourself in the best competitions. If the opportunity to go play in England presents itself then I would be interested.
I imagine with all the changes and loans you and your family have experienced over the last few years that you’d like to settle somewhere more than you have recently.
Exactly. What I’ll be looking for more than before is stability. A club with a project, with some stability, where I can play for at least three or four years would be great.
With all the changes, too, I bet that your kids can maybe speak some additional languages and have learned some things they wouldn’t have otherwise.
Yes, all these cultural differences have definitely been enriching for the kids. Now my oldest son can speak Spanish perfectly and he understands English really well too. For him, even if sometimes it can be difficult, I think that his future has benefitted from all this. My second son is still very young, but he understands and speaks Spanish, so for them this has allowed them to experience different cultures and this can give them ideas for the future as well!