With sure eyes, calm voice, Samuel Umtiti exudes a form of maturity similar to that of a football player at the end of his career, in his thirties. The native of Yaoundé is just beginning, at 29, another phase of his career, away from FC Barcelona where he had his best years, winning two championships and three King's Cups, before being away from the field by chronic pain in his left knee.
In the wake of the 2018 World Cup that he won as one of the executives of the Blues, Umtiti has played only fifty games in four years...
"There are very difficult moments that I have been able to live, but it is behind me," he said. I did a lot of work on it because I had a lot of resentment, things in me and in the end it did not allow me to move forward. That's life, I've understood that in a career, there are ups and downs, things that I can't handle on my own."
This summer, he left Catalonia after seven years (2016-2023) culminating in a convincing loan spell at Lecce (Italy) last season. After a delayed physical preparation and a "small injury", the central defender "(s)e sen(t) better" and proclaims his "need to chain matches".
Starting in Rennes the previous day, he should be again, this time at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy against Reims, to help his club get closer to the top of the table. Tenth (eight points), Losc is only three units off the podium, just ahead of Reims (seven).
His role seems to be found within the northern club: to bring his experience alongside young centers that are Leny Yoro (17 years old), Bafodé Diakité (22) and Aleksandro (24) and to make solid a feverish defense at the end of matches since the beginning of the season. As in Rennes, where Paulo Fonseca's players lost two points in the last twenty minutes of a match until then controlled (2-2).
Samuel Umtiti with Barça against Juventus at the Sant Joan Despi sports centre, near Barcelona, on August 8, 2021 © Pau BARRENA / AFP/Archives
"I am a person who likes to give advice, to have discussions with the staff and the players to know what each person thinks about a game, an opportunity, a fact of play, to be able to do better in the next games. Even when I was injured, I had the opportunity to talk with all the players, and even more so now that I can play a series of matches. I feel listened to."
"Living in the moment"
Like others, the one who could become the taulier of the Dogues is full of praise for Leny Yoro, recently summoned to the team of France Espoirs and already scorer twice this season. "I'm lucky to have good players who are really listening, like Leny (Yoro) who is young. I can talk to him from time to time, whether it's about placement, about how to approach an action. He's doing it pretty well at his age."
In addition to the advice from the field, there are those of life: "This is a message that I pass on to young people: you really have to live in the moment, take everything there is to take and realize that you have the chance to do an incredible job, and when you are healthy, enjoy it."
Umtiti suspects it, his international career may end with the 31 selections lived between 2016 and 2019, made essentially highs between the world title of 2018, therefore, and the final of Euro-2016 played at home.
Samuel Umtiti scorer for Les Bleus against Belgium in the semi-finals of the World Cup on July 10, 2018 in St. © Petersburg CHRISTOPHE SIMON / AFP/Archives
"Compared to everything I've been through, I know exactly where I want to go," he says. There are steps, I don't want to skip them at all, I'm quite lucid about it. That's why I came to Lille, to settle in a club (...) that corresponds to me, in its mentality and in its game, so that people can see my qualities. I've had some great years with this blue jersey, but right now it's really Lille."
Among these steps is probably the most important of all: becoming "Big Sam" again.
© 2023 AFP