Transfer deadline days are always interesting, for the fan at least. For the player they are often a mixture of emotions, fear, anxiety, elation or excitement. Agents tell players to carry their passports at all times, it is this uncertainty that surrounds the player and club fortunes that creates the excitement for the fans.
This window was no different for me, resulting in me signing on loan for Olympique Marseille. For this reason, each of the emotions aforementioned were obviously amplified.
For the number of top players England has produced over the years, few have gone to play abroad. I understand there are obvious variables, which have prevented this, nowadays the money in England is great, the fans are passionate and the standard is up there with the best.
Succeeding in Europe
However, when you actually make the step yourself and head across into another country you begin to understand the safety net that England offers. In my opinion the real reason why many players do not turn their hand to play on foreign soil is a fear of the unknown. It is something I always wanted to do, even as a kid, to test myself in Europe. Whether I succeed or fail I will be able to look back at my career and at least know I tried.
After experiencing this myself, my admiration for the players that have embraced the adventure has grown. Before you join any new club there is also that worry as you head into the dressing room, you know that worry from when you were a kid and signed for a new Sunday team. It is a nervousness, it is raw, there is a desire to fit in and be accepted. Particularly when you are different, being English and on the back of a much-publicised incident, you couldn’t blame the players for pre-judging.
This nervousness was put to bed by my new teammates, I’ve already made some great friends amongst the players and staff at the club. You cannot help but undergo some self-reflection, these guys have a decent grasp of our language, listening to Gignac, Valbuena and me talk in broken English after the PSG game must have been quite the sight. However, it is this compassion for your teammates, which I most admire and appreciate.
I have played with plenty of foreign players who have come to England to ply their trade in the past. I’ve been ignorant to the test they’ve faced and continually do so. A new club is tough at the best of times, but a new country, language and coming to the strongest league in the world to learn your trade? There is no wonder why the Henry’s, Ronaldo’s and many others take a season before we see their best football.
Learning the language
I am in the process of undertaking French lessons; the club placed unlimited French lessons into my contract so I am taking full advantage of that. I wish I would have concentrated more in school as this process would have been much easier but C’est La Vie. Speaking another language is something our culture generally ignores, other countries embrace it more readily. It’s something I’ll certainly be drumming into my young lad, as you never know when you will need it. My goal is to be fluent by the end of the season and I would like to think I’ll be attempting press conferences in French after Christmas.
The fans on the continent are something special. I witnessed my first le Classico two weeks ago. The noise from the Velodrome was unnerving, I sat in the stand with the fans to get a feel for the atmosphere and it was truly an experience I will never forget. I have been out to meet many of the supporters groups associated with Marseille, these groups are more like families with a real sense of community. The groups contain men, women and children all with one common aim of supporting their football club in every way.
Training has been testing, of course, I have undergone my own pre-season with my own fitness coach and I am feeling in great condition. There is a real level of professionalism at the club and I am told across France too.
The players and staff eat together; there is a close relationship between them, from the OMTV (Marseille TV) who are based at the ground, right through to the head coach of the club. My French teacher explained to me that nothing is above and beyond the call of duty, we are all on the same team, to ensure this club wins football matches.
Droit au But.