INTERVIEW | Soungoutou Magassa: “There is no reason why I can’t reach the highest level.”

All is quiet at AS Monaco’s performance centre in La Turbie on a Monday. Those who participated in the Principality club’s 2-1 victory over FC Metz the previous day benefit from a day off, whilst those who didn’t feature are put through their paces. For the first time this season, that includes the suspended Soungoutou Magassa, who was absent from proceedings at the Stade Louis II on Sunday. After Monday’s session, the France U21 international sat down with Get French Football News to discuss his breakthrough this season. 

Magassa has been a name on the lips of the Monaco fans for a while. The Diagonale Academy product has impressed coming through the ranks at the Principality club. His chance came last season against Stade Rennais. Down to 10 men early in the first half of the match in August 2022, Magassa steadied the ship and was essential to Monaco securing a hard-fought draw. Ultimately, however, this wouldn’t prove to be the springboard for a more prominent role. 

“After that match against Rennes, I thought that having had a good match, I anticipated that I’d get my chance. That didn’t happen. My next match was six months later against Rodez in the Coupe de France. It took time, I worked hard and I played with the Groupe Élite but I was disappointed during these six months where I wasn’t playing in the first team,” said Magassa.

A dawning realisation

Magassa would have to be patient. He was used sparingly, if at all, by Philippe Clement, but he quickly earned the trust of new manager Adi Hütter. However, as the club’s pre-season preparations progressed, there was a slow realisation that Magassa would feature in an unfamiliar role. 

Largely as a result of absences and sales, Magassa, a No.6 by trade, came on against Leeds United in an LCB role for the final 20 minutes. That cameo was followed by full 90-minute matches in defence against Genoa and then Arsenal. What was unclear, however, was whether Magassa would feature quite so frequently when the season got underway. The response was a pleasant surprise. 

“Honestly, I thought I’d get game time but not as much as I have had in these three months. I’m lucky to have the opportunity to express myself every weekend and to show the coach what I’m capable of,” said the Monaco academy product, who was equally surprised by the contours of his deployment. ” I wasn’t expecting to play in this position. I was used to filling in at centre back for 10/15 minutes but never a full 90.” It is a role that he is more than happy to play, and in his own words, it is a position in which he is “flourishing.” 

Nevertheless, Magassa still perceives himself as a holding midfielder. “I like this position (No.6) because you run more, you see more of the ball, but I try to bring as much as possible as a defender. I have a lot of fun in midfield and I like the position a lot,” said the Frenchman, who cites his distribution, aggressivity, directness, physicality and risk-taking as his primary strengths. 

Elite inspirations

Whether Magassa’s future lies in midfield or in defence, he can draw on some elite inspirations. He has trained with players such as Aurélien Tchouaméni, Axel Disasi and Benoît Badiashile. There are undeniable similarities between Magassa and Badiashile, both of whom like to be aggressive and push into the midfield out of possession. “Similarities? I’m not necessarily sure, but they are great players and I was inspired by them. When they were here, I tried to learn from them on a daily basis, to see how they worked, how they were in matches and I solicited advice from them,” said Magassa. 

He added, “Benoît did great things at the club and he was also of course a player that played on the left of the defence. Even if I play on the left, I’m a right-footer who can also play the ball out well, which I try to take inspiration from because it was really his strength. If I can be inspired by Benoît, as a defender, I’ll be happy.”

Photo source:  AS Monaco

Badiashile, like Magassa, came through the club’s prestigious academy. The Chelsea defender is naturally an inspiration to Magassa and a relatable one. It hasn’t all been plain sailing for Magassa since arriving at the Principality club. “At the start, it wasn’t easy. I was without my parents and my brother for the first time and I didn’t play a lot in the first year, but I learnt to quickly adapt.”

Magassa’s breakthrough came after the Covid break, and Monaco quickly tied him to a professional contract. The next season, he spent his time with the reserve side in the National 2. That team no longer exists and has been replaced by the Groupe Élite, which competes in the Premier League International Cup. Magassa at least partially attributes his progression to the club’s decision to create the group. “We played prestigious matches, such as the one against Manchester United at Old Trafford, like against Arsenal, West Ham United, and Bayern Munich as well. They were really high-quality matches. When you play these kinds of matches, it is easier to adapt to the professional world. It was a good idea to create the Groupe Élite at Monaco,” 
said Magassa.

The Hütter effect

Those experiences have allowed Magassa to take the next step under Hütter, under whom he has already played eight official matches. “He is a coach who has a lot of confidence in me, and I really feel that. On the pitch, he speaks with me a lot and it’s the same in training as well. Lots of that is on the mental aspects and he gives me a lot of advice on this, on how to keep focused until the end, and how to play with confidence. He is pushing me forward. I hope to repay his faith in every in which he gives me the confidence to play,” said Magassa.

Monaco are top of Ligue 1 after Round Nine, and Magassa has praised the Austrian’s ability to get the best out of a team that last season dropped off dramatically, missing out on all forms of European football for the current campaign. “He has a philosophy of football that corresponds really well with the players that are here. We have great players here and he has managed to put things in place. We have managed to adapt well because we are a team that likes to be attacking. We have great attacking players, we have great quality in our press, in our ability to win the ball back. We’ve managed to adapt to him and he has adapted to us as well,” said the Île-de-France-born player.

The reunion

However, Magassa, just like the rest of the Monaco squad, is refusing to be drawn into title talk. “It is still early. We’re only a quarter of the way through the season and the road is still long. We need to keep working hard, keep being rigorous, remain consistent and focused and fight for each other in every minute of every match and in every duel. Why not, if we keep doing that, reach our objective, which is to achieve European competition? But we’re not limiting ourselves,” said Magassa.

Whilst Monaco continue to flourish collectively, there an individual success stories. Magassa is one of them, as is Maghnes Akliouche and Chrislain Matsima. All three are now playing for the France U21 side, which gave Magassa the chance to be reunited with former Monaco manager Thierry Henry. “I already met and spoke with him on many occasions whilst I was in the academy because he was very close with the young players when he coached here at Monaco. I remember I first met him when I was playing for the U17 side. To meet with him again with Les Bleuets is something that I am really proud of. He was a great player and now a great coach too. He gave me good advice that I took on board and that I am trying to work into my game day by day,” said Magassa. 

Magassa is part of what is being described as a “golden generation,” with players such as Warren Zaïre-Emery, Mathys Tel and Rayan Cherki catching the eye. However, a step up to the senior side isn’t on Magassa’s mind. “There are lots of steps to take and there is a lot of room to progress to get to that level. I need to challenge myself on a daily basis, to learn from my errors, to seek advice, to really analyse my game. I’m trying to work day by day and not to look too far into the future. I need to focus on the steps that I have to take today,” he said.

‘I don’t really limit myself’ – Magassa

Whilst Magassa isn’t thinking about a call-up to Didier Deschamps’ side, that is not to say that he is lacking in ambition. Quite the opposite. The Frenchman is brimming with self-confidence and has the mentality to match. “I don’t really limit myself and I don’t set myself any specific objectives […] I think if I continue to work, if I stay disciplined, applied and I listen to advice and remain humble, there is no reason why I can’t reach the highest level. I think everything comes with work. You also need to avoid injuries and have good people around you, which I do. If you have all that, there is no reason not to be a great player and play in the biggest matches,” Magassa told Get French Football News.

Many of Monaco’s best ultimately make the move away, but for Magassa there is not yet any question of a departure. “I am already playing at a very big club in the form of Monaco, in a good league as well,” said Magassa. The Frenchman is fully focused on his daily development and becoming the “great player” that he believes he can become.

GFFN | Luke Entwistle

Photo credit: Luke Entwistle

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