October 13, 2017
The kiss from Belhanda
He is one of those creators that you could head off to war with. One of those players who once they are on the pitch, lose their smile and terrify their opponents. Technical, powerful, a fighter, Younes Belhanda (27 years old) left a superb mark during his time at the Gym. A key member of the squad that achieved 3rd place last season, the Moroccan international left for Galatasaray this summer. Getting off to a good start this season playing at 8 or 10, he picked up the phone for old times’ sake, to speak about the Aiglons and their clash against Montpellier, the club where he spent his formative years. An encounter that, thanks to his decisive goal, he used to mark his return to L1 last season.
Younes, before anything else, how is your new life going?
Very well. I am at a big club, something solid. Galatasaray, that speaks to everybody, but once you are inside it, it’s crazy. I would never have thought that it would be like this, it can’t be compared. In everyday life, the training, it’s immeasurable. If you like the ball, it’s perfect.
Does Istanbul live up to its reputation?
It is fantastic. It’s immense. Even people that are from here say that it is impossible to visit everything. Everything is pretty, everywhere. And wherever you go, you meet fans. In the streets, at training, at home... Even away from home! Galatasaray are the biggest club in Turkey, so when we travel, you get the feeling that you are at home. And at home, there aren’t one or two kop(s) like you see in France or in Germany: there are 4, one per stand. All of the stadium responds. It’s incredible.
And the level of the football?
The Super Lig is not a minor league, you come up against some very good teams. Lots of players have arrived this year, it’s very technical, there is lots of passion, big stadiums, fans. And then for us, everything is going well. We were knocked out of the Europa League (by Ostersund) because there weren’t many people at our place. We lost 0-2 in the first leg and then, it was too tough to come back (1-1 in the second leg). However, in the league, our start has been fantastic. Lots of players got here at the end of the transfer window, everything slipped into place and we are leading. I hope it will continue.
Do you continue to follow the Gym’s performances?
Of course! Every time I am not playing, I watch. It’s nice, because the team continues to play well with the ball.
“Gomis? I told him, that last year, against us, Marseille didn’t see the light of day…”
How do you judge the start of the Red and Blacks’ season?
In the league, there were a couple of problems, but that’s normal. Paul, Ricardo, Dalbert, Val and I left, there were some players who arrived, it’s logical that everything takes a bit of time to get in place. There was that great performance against Ajax, after when you pull out Napoli, you have no chance. Last year, we played less weak opponents in the Europa League and it was complicated, we couldn’t get there. We didn’t have enough experience. But that helped, because the start in the Europa this season is perfect. Even better.
Do you still have your teammates on the phone?
Of course. Since the start of the season, I have spoken to Malang (Sarr), Yoan (Cardinale), Val (Eysseric), Mario (Balotelli)… And then I spoke to the coach two weeks ago.
If it isn’t too indiscrete, what was said between you?
I sent him a message after Marseille to tell him that it was nothing, that we lost because of mistakes. That’s our only sporting exchange, then we spoke about life, because he is a very normal guy and we already spoke a lot about that before.
Did you speak to Bafétimbi Gomis about the Nice – Marseille derby?
Did I ever! I said to him that last year, they didn’t see the light of day. At home and at their place, because the second match, we also should have won it. He said to me that they won it thanks to set pieces which they had worked on (final score 2-1). We can’t rewrite history, but when you think back to it, it pi**** me of, because it’s a derby, that always hurts.
“For me, Nice, it’s about the game”
When people talk to you about the Gym, what is the first thing that comes to mind?
For me, Nice, it’s about the game. That’s what stays with me. There was also a super mentality amongst the players. When it’s like that, nothing can touch you. In Nice, I made friends. Even at the club, it was very familial, I found what I had a bit of at Montpellier, on a human scale, you meet supporters at training every day, you speak to them… Honestly, it was magnificent.
Exactly, your relationship was also good with the fans.
We know that in Nice, they are on-fire, and for me, I like that. With other players, when we arrived, we spoke directly with them (the supporters). We told them that we were competitors, who would give their all for the club. And we always gave everything, we never cheated. When you do that, they have no gripes with you.
When stepping back a bit, what is your favourite memory of your time here?
PSG at home. It had everything.
Your biggest regret?
The injuries to Wylan (Cyprien) and Alass’ (Plea). They didn’t come at the right time. They were capable of unblocking situations. Without them, we dropped silly points, like at Toulouse or at Rennes.
“The new training ground was imperative”
The Gym has just inaugurated its new training centre….
(He interrupts and laughs) I always follow you, I saw the images! The complex is beautiful, there will be magnificent conditions to work in. If you want to move forward, it’s imperative, because you have, for example, players that need to stay in the gym and need a good environment. Even for signing players or for training sessions, it’s better. With that, you give yourself every chance.
Have you followed the start of Montpellier’s season?
Yes. This summer, Loulou left us, but his son Laurent knows the place very well, he has spent all of his life there. I am sure that he will carry the torch very well too. After some mixed results at the start, they played two big sides, Paris and Monaco, and they got good results (0-0 and 1-1). Against the Gym, with players like St-Maximin who fly forward very quickly, it will be something different.
We won’t ask you for a prediction?
No. But hey, 1-1 like last year, I will go for that…
Finally, what can we wish you going forward?
To win the title of Champion of Turkey and to qualify with Morocco for the World Cup. We are leaders of our group, we have a match to play against the Ivory Coast. And even if we go there to win, a point is enough for us to be there in Russia, we believe we can do it. To qualify would be magnificent, it would be an incredible end to the season…