Thuram… It’s not an insignificant name when you’re a footballer. When did you realize the magnitude of your father’s career?I don’t know if I really realized that today. He’s my father, we talk a lot about football, but not necessarily that much about his career. He is above all the person who scolds me when I haven’t done my homework at school, the one who reminds me to go brush my teeth before going to sleep… I see him as my father, not as a world champion or Euro winner.
Are you going to make us believe that it was not thanks to him that you fell into football?Honestly, I had a childhood as if my father was not a professional footballer. I’ve done fencing, basketball… Yes, I’ve always liked football, but when I was little, I thought you could do football plus another job. Footballer and engineer, footballer and astronaut. (Laughs.) It made me dream of going to the moon, to space. I was just a curious, dreamy kid.
And suddenly, when did you really want to become a professional footballer?It was when I arrived at INF Clairefontaine, or maybe after a year there, that I said to myself that I only wanted to play football. But I repeat: my career choice, ultimately, is really my desire, not the reflex to follow in my father’s footsteps. Even today, I am interested in other sports, I watch the NBA, or rather summaries in the morning, I also watch American football, even if I do not understand well, I like what they give off . The celebrations of touchdownit’s funny.
What was the reaction of your parents when you announced that you wanted to be a footballer? Bah, to tell the truth, for them, it was the school in priority. Studies should come before football! Even my brother Marcus (four years his senior, editor’s note) told me: “First school, the baccalaureate, and then…” I couldn’t stop studying before the baccalaureate. When I entered the training center in Monaco, my father said to me: “I don’t want to hear about you at school. » Basically, that meant I had to perform in school, do my homework, not be late, or disrespect anyone. And for football, his speech was: “Have fun.»
You grew up in Italy, because your father played for Juve. Then you followed him to Barcelona, where you took your first steps in football. Do you have any memories? Honestly, I have some memories, flashes, but nothing more. I was really small. My first real football memories are from Neuilly, then AC Boulogne-Billancourt and Clairefontaine. In Neuilly, we didn’t often win, but we had a good laugh. I was doing the big tournaments with the ACBB, I knew that I was going to play there one day to be at a higher level. All this time of training, it was only happiness, I made new friends at each tournament or change of club. It was a blessed time, where you play soccer just to play soccer. It was awesome.
Between Chephren Thuram of that time and that of now, what are the main differences? I have become more mature in life, both on and off the pitch. It is thanks to my experiences, I have already experienced a change of club, new partners. It helps to grow faster. The 2020-2021 season was the first season where I was really able to have playing time in Ligue 1, where I understood that if I worked well, I was going to play at this level. It made me think about my job. In addition to Nice, I live alone, I have my apartment. And I have the license too, which means that I come back from training on my own without waiting for a teammate or being able to stay longer to do more work. I’m just more independent, in Monaco I did some shopping, but it was not comparable to now where I have to manage myself. In Monaco, I had the cafeteria, I rested, I ate what I was given. Now I have to be careful what I buy, what I eat. At the training center, I was set on school, I was told when to get up or go to bed, there was even someone to check that we were in bed. Now I have to manage my sleep on my own, which is important for a professional athlete.
Was this shift difficult? No, you have to know what you want in life. Today, my typical day is to get up around 7:50 am, I have breakfast at the club, I train, I also have lunch at the club, and then I go home for a nap. It’s after that I take the time to do what I love, watch manga, series or call my brother Marcus. I have lots of things to do. In general, I try not to go to bed too late, around 11 p.m.
Did you imagine the life of a pro footballer like that when you were younger? Yes. It was not with my father, but rather with my brother that I became aware of all this. I saw him evolve, start in the profession… When I went to his house, I saw everything he did outside of matches and training. I dreamed of being like him.
Your first professional match was directly the Champions League, on November 28, 2019 against Atlético de Madrid… For this first match, I did not say to myself: “That’s it, I’m a footballer”, but it was the first time that I had played in such a big stadium, in a competition that not everyone has the chance to play… The coach, Thierry Henry, told me not to be under pressure, to have as much fun with my friends as possible. There was Han-Noah Massengo and Benoît Badiashile, we had done our training together and we hung out together all the time. Above all, I said to myself: “It’s incredible, we are 17, we are all three on the pitch against Griezmann”, and I played as if I was in U17 or U19. In reality, for a first pro match, you shouldn’t ask yourself too many questions, but do what you know how to do, simple gestures to gain confidence.
You left Monaco to sign professional in Nice. For what ? I had the feeling that the Nice project suited me better, and therefore that I was going to progress there more quickly. Monaco trained me very well, I still talk to Mr Barilaro when I need advice, I have great confidence in him. This choice is not against Monaco, but rather for me. I chose what I thought would benefit me the most. They explained to me that I would have playing time if I worked well, that I had been observed a lot…
Arriving in a professional group means going from a locker room with guys your age to a locker room with players from other generations… It started in Monaco, even if I didn’t share the locker room with the pros, I trained with them. I understood that there were certain strong personalities, leaders, and I tried to emulate them. Living in the locker room of the pros in Nice, I paid even more attention to these things. Leaders lead the way. In Monaco, I was marked by Radamel Falcao. He is very humble and kind. The first time he spoke to me was to ask me my first name, I was surprised, because not all professionals necessarily have the time to take an interest in young people. In Nice, of course, it’s Dante. I only knew him through TV or the Playstation, but when I saw the intensity he put into training… He played and won the Champions League, made the World Cup, so everything he does, I tell myself that at my age, I have to do the same. He gave me a lot of advice on my position, the orientation of the game, and he even encouraged me a lot to gain confidence.
In these experienced players that you have already been able to rub shoulders with, which one impressed you the most in this invisible work? Probably Falcao and Dante. The way they eat during greenouts is something. The first time I saw someone eating gluten-free pasta was Falcao. Dante, when he eats a quiche, he only eats the vegetables, he leaves out the pastry… These are details that not everyone sees, me, that appeals to me.
How would you define your role on the pitch today? I have to know how to balance the team, when you attack, be aware that at some point you will have to defend. I also have a duty to make my teammates play. In this role, I really like Paul Pogba, but there are others. One of the best midfielders I’ve seen is Yaya Touré, and I really like Thiago Alcântara. These three players are my role models. When I watch a match, I observe a lot how the players in my position move, how they receive the ball, how they defend… When a big team plays and I don’t have a match, I watch. I don’t miss any Borussia Mönchengladbach matches too, but that’s for another reason!
Jean-Clair, clean and precise
Interview carried out in Nice in 2021 and published in issue 68 of SO FOOT CLUB.