“I know all the lines of RER by heart” / Euro Espoirs / Qualifs / France-Serbie / SOFOOT.com

After a big season with Borussia Monchengladbach, Mano Kone was offered his first call-up with French side Espoir, who will face Serbia on Wednesday. The tireless midfielder who trained in Toulouse is reaping the fruits of an irresistible rise over several years. By passing through Villeneuve-la-Garenne as part of the youth tournament he was organizing, the 21-year-old is back on his impressive run so far. But that almost stopped prematurely.

We are at the Philippe Catillo Sports Center in Villeneuve-la-Garenne. Is this where your love for football started?
Honestly! Even in this gym we came to challenge each other, among the neighborhood guys. This is where we learned football. I must have been in CP or CE1 when I started kicking the ball. At the time, I wanted to play forward, like everyone else.

In fact, she did not cut ties with the city she saw you growing up in.
Once I have some time, I come back here, I see my friends, I watch the futsal matches… Everyone knows me, I know everyone, we’ve all grown up together. It’s family! With the MK Cup, I want to make the city proud, show I haven’t forgotten where I come from and let the kids benefit.

“When I was in a wheelchair, I was very disappointed. I had to stay in my room to do my homework, while all my friends were practicing and moving forward. But it created a spirit of revenge.”

Wasn’t it hard for you to go to the Toulouse training center when you were 15 years old?
No, because I was already used to the distance. When I was 10, I left home very early and took public transport on my own to train with FC Paris. I know Ile de France and all the lines of the RER by heart (As a young man, he also played with AC Boulogne-Billancourt and INF Clairefontaine, editor’s note). So I wasn’t afraid to be away from my family. My mother was undoubtedly the one who suffered the most from my departure.

Shortly after arriving at TFC, you sustained a serious foot injury, ending your season. How did you overcome this ordeal?
It was already a major injury that required surgery. Honestly, when I was in a wheelchair, I was very disappointed. I had to stay in my room to do my homework, while all my friends were practicing and moving forward. But it created a spirit of revenge, and when I finally started playing again, I wanted to show everyone what I could do. I had a slab. Looking back, I think it helped me a lot. Maybe that’s what got me here now. The club has supported me very well, and I have also been able to count on my family. One of my brothers came to see me in Toulouse. It made me understand that I had to do my best to get an ambitious contract, and I can’t leave it and go back to Villeneuve with nothing. From there, it was like I was on a mission.

“My job was to get my team back to the First Division so they could go through the front door. Unfortunately, something went wrong.”

Did you consider it a stress hit or an added element of motivation?
At the time, I’m not going to lie to you, I was a little under pressure! (Laugh). Talk to me honestly, but without rushing me. So it was more positive pressure than anything else. And when I arrived, I got it, this necklace!

Your move to Borussia Monchengladbach was registered in January 2021, but you managed to finish the season on loan with the Violet. Was it easy to manage?
I had six months left, I knew I was leaving. My job was to get my team back to the top flight so they could go through the front door. Unfortunately, an error occurred (TFC fails play-off against Nantes, editor’s note). But I am very happy that I played in Toulouse. When I got back there a few weeks ago, I really wanted to go back to the park and play with my friends, but it just couldn’t!

Have you monitored the results of your previous team, which flew over Ligue 2?
naturally ! I still keep in regular contact with my ex-teammates, we text each other all the time. I often go to LesViolets.com for the latest news. It didn’t surprise me at all that their season was so good, their recruitment was amazing, and from the start of the tournament we knew they were so strong.

“I improved in the way to recover the ball at the feet of opponents. In Toulouse, I did it quite a bit.”

How did you feel when you moved from the second division to the German Bundesliga?
I wouldn’t say it was a shock, but in fact, the level had nothing to do with it. In Germany, things go faster, you have to be tougher with or without the ball… I had to adapt.

With Toulouse, we’ve always seen you hit hard, able to hit races and break lines with the ball at your feet. What have you changed in your game to adapt to this new tournament?
I’ve preserved the main aspects of the game and improved them a bit. Especially in the way to retrieve the ball in the feet of opponents. In Toulouse, I did quite a bit. There is a coach (Adi Hütter, editor’s note) It made me realize that I couldn’t just frame a player, I had to get the ball myself (Mimics physical impact by striking his fist into the palm of his hand, editor’s note). I really got ahead of it, I ran a lot more than before.

And you take a lot of yellow cards (ten this season). Is it a direct result of this aggressiveness on the field?
It’s mainly related to my game, yes, and to the tournament itself. There are a lot of duels, and I want to recover many balls to help my partners. But it is true that I should have more control over myself. If I could take fewer cards to help my team, it would still be better.

“I do not regret joining Gladbach at all. As for my progress, it was clearly the best choice to make.”

Honestly, did you expect to play a lot this season (27 league games, including 26 at the start)?
I wish I could play as much, but I didn’t expect that. Especially since I also had an injury soon after I arrived, which could impair my chances. Once I got back into training, the coach trusted me and it worked. I remained a novice, until I was one of the youngest in the locker room. Anyway, I don’t regret at all that I joined Gladbach. As for my progress, it was clearly the best choice to make.

As a cake decoration, you are first summoned with hopes. How did you react when you found out?
This summoning, I’ve been waiting for for a while. I was very happy, it shows that I had a very good season. I have to go on like this and try to help the team as best I can. We have to win those three games, then go to Euro and then bring the trophy back home!

In the list of Sylvain Ripoll we also find the name Khafrin Thuram, whom you know very well …
We ended up on the same team at ACBB, we were 12-13 at the time. Then in Clairefontaine, we were together. He’s been my friend all this time. We have a good relationship, I know his father, I play with his brother Marcus in Gladbach… It’s blood!

So I visited the Clairefontaine INF information site. To get back out there after a few years in the shoes of hope, what does that represent?
It’s a lot of emotion. I will go back to where it all began, to the largest football institution in France. Review all the coaches, teachers, environment…it does something. It is a source of great pride and should strengthen young people, motivating them to do everything to follow in our footsteps.

Interview by Raphael Bruce at Villeneuve-la-Garenne

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