Applause and overall score – 7/10 – from the fitness trainer at the conclusion of the “bodybuilding” workout. That’s a tradition at FC Sochaux-Montbéliard’s training center. “From now on you must know these 18 workshops by heart. Start again tomorrow, after that it will be too late for Saturday’s game… Come on, you can get out! 7/10, it’s still average”, said Jean-Philippe Blanc, gently mocking the twenty football apprentices in front of him.
It’s Tuesday November 8th, almost 6pm at the Château du Bannot, Inseloncourt (Doubs). Night falls on the former Peugeot family estate, but the day is not over for the sixty youngsters aged 15 to 20 who are being trained on-site by the Ligue 2 club.
Feeling of exertion and severity
In a joyful frenzy, some return to the dressing room while others finish their stretches. Everyone aspires to be a professional player one day. The way there is long. “Talent cannot be improvised, immediately explains the director of the training center, Jean-Sébastien Mérieux. The integration of a training center is only a first step. You have to work very hard to get there. »
The players were therefore recruited all over France for their potential, but also for their sense of teamwork and effort and for their rigor. “Our principle at FC Sochaux has always been to train men before we train players,” he insists.
Nothing is left to chance. Intense training, iron discipline, healthy lifestyle… Even messages of the type plastered on the wall of the weight room “Train, act like a pro”, are there to remind you. Whammal, 17, is aware of this. The young man, an under 19 player, ends the session with some flexibility.
Laptops instead of posters
He comes from a popular district of Vierzon (Cher). He can’t remember the first time he touched a ball. “Maybe when I was 3 years old” he believes. His parents tried to introduce him to other sports such as swimming or judo. Vain. “When I’m on the pitch, I forget everything. A bad grade, a problem with someone… It frees me.” he said. Even if he doesn’t want to skip the stages, it has always been his dream to become a professional footballer: “Step by step, I only have one year left with the club to get the most out of myself”he explains.
Twenty years of career makes Jean-Sébastien Mérieux say that while the passion among young players is still as strong, it has changed a bit. Cell phones have replaced posters of soccer stars in bedrooms, and evenings together in the playroom are fewer. “Social networks influence their passion, he notices. They no longer admire players just for their attitude and athletic performance, but for everything that goes with it. The image, the online community, etc. »
Some admit they prefer to read match reviews online rather than watch them in full. However, the adventures of the French team during the World Cup in Qatar are closely followed by the football apprentices. The question even provokes mostly surprised looks. “Of course, madam! », reacts spontaneously Noa, 16, from Saintry-sur-Seine (Essonne).
“Ah, you mean the dead among the workers and the highly air-conditioned stadiums? It won’t stop me from looking at the trophy, but it’s actually stuck in my head.” adds the teenager who left the family nest at 13 to join the Stade de Reims and then FC Sochaux. He has always watched football with his father and three older brothers and is grateful for it now “in a structure that provides all the tools to reach the highest level”.
There is no question of neglecting your studies
A few hours earlier, in the classroom, the atmosphere is just as busy. Victor, 16 years old, and Moussa, 17 years old, freshmen of the commercial vocational baccalaureate, work on the properties of a product sheet. There can be no talk of neglecting your studies here. Young people have to juggle their education and their education.
The centre, in the midst of a rural setting, has its own high school. “Schedules are arranged, various trays offered and students placed in small groups of fewer than 10 students”, explains Professor Celine Bassignot. The exam pass rate is at or near 100% each year.
The rules are strict: “A minute late in the morning for class leads to a training deprivation in the evening”, says director Jean-Sébastien Mérieux. The topic is crucial. Few more than 10% of young people in any promotion become professionals. “It’s important that they prepare for the future… And experience has shown that anyone who is successful in this profession has a good education,” he analyses.
Originally from Guinea and coming to France at the age of 13, Moussa knows that getting your diploma is important. His mother, a nursing assistant in Tours (Indre-et-Loire), wanted him to continue his studies when he arrived in France. It was his uncle who insisted he try his luck in the middle of football. So today the young man learned French at breakneck speed, dribbles like never before and tries to read in the evenings so he can never stop.
Make her parents proud of her
Money, that’s what everyone thinks about. “In the beginning it’s not about the money. But eventually the idea will inevitably catch on, even if I’ll never play for it. formulated his classmate Victor, 16 years old. At this point, only those who have a “candidate contract” with the club receive a monthly allowance of between €285 and €425 gross.
“My family doesn’t put any pressure on me, but I have to make them proud”, develops the player whose idol is the Portuguese international Cristiano Ronaldo. He joined the club at the beginning of the school year after completing his first lessons at the temple of French pre-education, the National Football Institute (INF) of Clairefontaine, from which stars of the round ball such as Kylian Mbappé or Lilian Thuram came out. . He is now helping his mother financially through the severance payment as a candidate contract and would like to be able to do more one day.
Take action against fantasies about the environment
The world of football has a portion of dreams that shouldn’t be broken. The coaching staff know they are walking a particularly tough line to walk. “Our priority is to support these young people as much as possible in their decisions. You all have talent. But the mistake for them would be to take the big head or just do it for the money. explains the director. The club is trying “to open them to the outside as well”.
Internships in companies, fundraising for charity with the Restos du Coeur, awareness of homophobia, still a taboo in the environment… But it has to be admitted that few of the young people you meet are outside the world of football appear professionally. “If we didn’t at least believe in it, we wouldn’t have anything to do with it,” explains Nolan, 19, who wears the team’s yellow and blue colors in National 3.
He trusts, hardly a lip service, “Maybe I’ll think about a resumption (his) studied when it doesn’t work”. He says two cruciate ligament injuries in recent years have affected him “like an electric shock”.
Since then he has been very careful about his lifestyle. “These are small things, but that makes the difference in the end” His teammate Martin, 19 years old, has plenty. A native of Ile-de-France, he also explains that he is particularly careful about what he posts on social networks.
Cyberbullying, a way to improve your image, media training… Several workshops will be organized during the training to sensitize young people to digital practices. “We don’t have a very good reputation, but we have to remain professional. We have to take care of the club’s image and that of our team-mates. And then the little ones will follow us into the nets, we want to set an example there too.” he is arguing.
Behave in an exemplary manner
Nolan and Martin will end their contract at FC Sochaux next year. You know, in this extremely competitive environment, that’s how it will be “duplicate or terminated”. “Of course, the pressure and the uncertainty can cause fatigue. But we can’t complain. My father gets up at 4 am every other week to work at the factory; I get up every day to play football with my friends.” Émilien, 19, also a reserve player and from the region, wants to put things into perspective. He and others now want to help give people a better image of football.
Atseloncourt, we are a far cry from the disconnected footballer cliché. Now they all belong to the same Lionceaux tribe – that’s the nickname given to FC Sochaux players – and each act as spokesman for the group spirit.
“Only when the collective shines can individualities emerge, said 16-year-old Adam nicely. Even small teams can always cause a surprise. Turnarounds are the magic of this sport. » Which probably also explains why this sport is still so popular.