I’m back to tell you a little bit more about what’s it like playing in France and to give you a little insight into how my pre-season workdays are organized.
Last time I wrote, I had just gotten back from our first camp in the French Alps.
This second installment comes to you from Arzon in Brittany – some five hours west of Paris on the Atlantic coast – where ESTAC’s second pre-season camp is taking place. The first division club Paris Saint-Germain just left, and we arrived soon after.
Don’t get me wrong. The French preseason is made up of much more than plane and train and bus trips to camps. But there are days when it seems like that even to us.
We actually stayed in Troyes for two weeks after the Alps and before heading west to Brittany. The routine of rediscovering individual soccer sensations and a collective game personality is in place. No more bike trips and discovering the challenging pleasures of via ferrata. Now it’s soccer, soccer, soccer. We train once or twice a day, and the schedule starts to resemble what it’ll be like during the season, which begins August 1. We still work a lot physically. In other words, there’s still a whole lot of running. It’s hard to believe there are so many different ways to run. The work is also concentrated around technical and tactical skills – both individually and collectively.
The point is to prepare for our first friendly games. No one expects 100% from the first match. The result hardly matters. An increasingly strong playing base develops to incorporate the physical, technical and tactical elements that will eventually define our shape as a team.
We’ve played two friendly games against teams we’ll eventually face in Ligue 2 competition: Dijon and newly relegated FC Metz. The point of the first 1-1 contest against Dijon was to give all the available players 45 minutes of playing time. We consequently played the two halves with a different eleven-man squad.
The starting eleven played 60 minutes or so in the second match against Metz – with guys then coming on as replacements in droves in a 0-0 tie. It’s always pretty tense in these contests, as nobody wants to commit too much offensively and give away defensive solidarity in the back. Moreover, the pre-season friendly provides the coach his first impressions of the team he’ll eventually play, manipulate and forge for the season. There’s a fair amount of pressure. Nobody wants to get caught making a mistake. Some guys just want to show off by dribbling through anybody and everybody in sight. The youngest and least experienced sometimes get rid of the ball as soon as humanly possible. So developing and maintaining solid ball possession and circulation forward is a high priority. Overall it’s always a great feeling to get a little competition in, but we know that league and Cup competition is and will be very different.
One difference is the atmosphere in the crowd. The matches are played near two pre-season training camps or halfway between the two clubs – usually in small towns or villages for whom the match is as important as Christmas or July 14th (Bastille Day, the equivalent of the 4th of July in the States). Usually about 2000 people stand around the edge of the field. Why? Because the grandstands usually accommodate only 100. 200 tops. The amateur clubs that host these pro pre-season matches use them to bolster their image and generate local interest in their activities. It’s like a country cookout, the stands manned by volunteers working to bring a little money into the local club’s coffers. There’s beer, soda, water, grilled sausage sandwiches in a long baguette with mustard and ketchup, hotdogs and of course fries (for the record, the French never got too worked up about that “freedom fries” nonsense). It’s festive and fun – except the food stands are obviously off limits to us before and after the matches.
Brittany is a lot different from the Alps – not only the landscape but the accommodations. This one is a spa for salt-water well-being treatments called thalassothérapie.
We have everything we need to properly workout and practice – and to fulfil what’s called the “invisible training.”
Invisible training is everything you do when you are not on a soccer field – starting with the amount of sleep you get, the food you eat, the way you rest and the way you recuperate from tough preseason training sessions. The food is good in the hotel despite the strict menu imposed by our training staff. Don’t even bother asking for mayonnaise, ketchup or even any sauce à la française. Thirsty? Have some water. Want a drink in the hotel bar? Excellent water there as well.
The spa is huge with a roof top salt water pool, saunas, bubble baths and all kinds of petit soins that help recuperate. Overall, the environment is very nice, luxurious even. The hotel is great but all we really do is focus on getting ready individually and collectively – the only real purpose of these type of camps. We spend a lot of time together at meals, in the training room or in the pool, which we wouldn’t do as much if we were in Troyes and just heading home after practices.
This camp will end on Saturday with a friendly against Ligue 1 team Lorient . Then we’ll have a long bus drive back to Troyes, rest on Sunday and then two friendly contests next week before the season begins Friday evening August 1 at home against the Corsican club Bastia.
Until then,Take care everybody.
On to your questions :
Hello Quentin, really enjoying your blog so far! I just have one question, if you could play for any club in the world other than ES Troyes AC) who would it be and why?
I think I’m one of those few players who’d like to play for the same club for an entire career – like Raul or Paolo Maldini, whose identities are intimately linked with their club and are great examples to follow. On the other hand, playing for a club like Real Madrid would be awesome because I think Spanish soccer is probably the best in the world and Real is, after all, mythic. And then there’s PSG, the club of my region of France, where I was raised and the club I’ve always followed.
Quentin, are you a fan of penalty kicks deciding games? I know some folks love them, some believe they’re aren’t the best way to end a game. I was interested to know what your stance was, being a goalkeeper.
Good question…I actually love them, especially being a goalkeeper. I love the duel situation, the fact that your performance is going to decide the outcome of the game. And it’s the only situation in a game where all the pressure is on the player that’s taking the pk. When you think about it, the player facing you is expected to score, a pk is a gift for him. As a keeper, you have to defend against this big goal. Anytime the forward scores a pk, he’s going to feel relieved. Anytime the keeper saves one, he feels decisive. The ultimate outcome I dream of is saving the last pk and scoring the game winning one myself…
Hey Quentin, I was wondering, did you ever consider/receive interest from any MLS clubs? I was curious if you ever considered it, or were more focused on playing in France. Good luck with your fight for promotion this season!
-Michelle in Lyon
Hi, a France colleague I see. I did/would consider interest from MLS clubs. I would love to play in America at some point in my career. I seriously thought about it a couple years ago, but I had a long term contract here with no real possibility of being released and the fact that seasons are so separate in MLS and France made it really complicated to negotiate a loan. Anyway, I still think Europe is the cradle of soccer and a great place to play but I think soccer is really developing in America and it would be great to be part of it.
Bonjour Mr. Westberg. is there any player in Ligue 1/2 that you’d like to play specifically? Or any team for that matter.
There is no particular player I can think of I’d specifically like to play against in either in L1 or L2. I do love to play against friends – especially the ones I’ve known for a very long time and came up through the ranks with – facing them in big stadiums in front of big crowds really rocks and makes you realize what you have accomplished. Plus, the competition is even greater, especially with my forward friends. Otherwise playing PSG in Paris is always the greatest just because I love the stadium and the club really means something to me.
Love the blog Quentin! Do you or any of the guys play any footy video games? Fifa/Pro Evo or Football Manager. I know they’re very popular among many players, and I was curious if either you or your teammates played. Keep up the great work!
Guys do play a lot of soccer video games here – too much…Whether in training academies or with pro teams you’ll always find a ton of players who talk crap, claiming they’re the best at Pro Evo called “PES” here. There’s always a guy or two who brings his playstation to the hotel and you can easily identify the room he’s – the loudest. For sure.
I don’t play video games that much, but being in academies since I’m 13, I had to know how to play. I like the trash talking around it more than the game. I always take the American national team and end up playing against better teams (in the game) like Brazil, Argentina or France. I pack my defence, tackle and foul like crazy, try to get the 0-0. And if by chance I win, you can be sure the person I beat is not going to play me again. First of all because I’m not the most experienced player. Then because he lost to the US with one of the best teams in the game and finally because I’ve driven him crazy throughout the game. If you like PES, then come to France…later.