EXCLUDED RMC SPORT – At 45, Cris is preparing to start his second season on the bench at Le Mans FC after having had a mixed last year ending in 10th place. A week before the resumption of the National championship (against Dunkirk), “the Policeman” takes stock of his new coaching job, talks about his challenge at Le Mans, looks back on the Lyon summer and talks about Neymar and Christophe Galtier, two people he knows well.
Cris, you are going to start a second season on the bench of a pro team with Le Mans as a coach after years at GOAL or with OL youth, how do you feel you have gained experience?
We learn with each decision, in the exchange with the players and the staff, in the locker room. We are in the third division and we have to adapt to it. I will sometimes put things in thinking that the players will understand right away, but you have to show them, guide them, they need closer support than for a Ligue 1 club. I have to take a step back to explain how I have to even stop training if necessary so that my players better understand what I’m asking.
Are you learning to correct mistakes that you may have made during your first experiences?
Mistakes will always be made whether it is a young coach or an experienced one. Each year, it’s a different squad, I have to adapt. Last season was quite complicated with ups and downs. This season we want to work in continuity, we resumed earlier, we are preparing differently.
Are you inspired by other coaches you may have met during your playing career?
My coaches were my teachers. I’ve had quite a few and whether it’s good or bad, there’s a bit of each that sticks in my head, that’s what makes me grow. In all that is communication, in the exchange with the players, Gérard Houllier marked me. As for aggressiveness on the pitch, it would rather be Luiz Felipe Scolari who was world champion with Brazil. (Vanderlei) Luxembourgo, the former Real Madrid coach, that was the tactic. I try to take from everyone to bring something to my players.
Do you ever want to enter the field to help your players?
Especially when you concede a goal (laughs). I’m on the other side now and even though every once in a while I think like a player, I try to cut. I lived twenty years on the ground as a player, necessarily that I sometimes want to return but I must now direct them. Sometimes I tell myself that it’s easy for me because I’ve already been through such a situation, they haven’t. This is where I have to be the manager, I have to explain to them, be patient. The coach today must be close to the players.
Who is the reference coach today in your eyes?
I’m a fan of Pep Guardiola, of his way of working. He’s a coach who takes risks, isn’t afraid to play, changes his team with the same players… I watch Manchester City’s matches a lot, I watched those of Barça or Bayern before that. I try to learn and understand.
The National is a special championship where clubs hire a lot of players on loan, this was the case with Le Mans last year, how can we project ourselves in these conditions?
When it works, we will say that the player came, was decisive and left in Ligue 2 or Ligue 1. On the other hand, we talk about it more when it does not work. We are going to be disappointed, to say to ourselves that he did not give everything because he is going to return to his club with which he is under contract. Unfortunately, last season it didn’t work, we did everything to make it work but the team didn’t find each other. This year it’s different, we only have one player on loan. We’ll see.
With a 3rd place that is no longer a roadblocker and six runs, will you be under more pressure this season?
There is already pressure in relation to the history of this club, to these infrastructures such as the stadium we have (The MMArena has just been renamed Stade Marie-Marvingt), to recruitment too. I’m super happy on this point, I had all the players I asked for, we brought back the best player and one of the best scorers in the National Championship last season (Fahd El Khoumisti arrived free from Concarneau) so yes the responsibility is there. If you ask me if the objective is to climb, I answer you no. The objective is to find automatisms and create a competitive team. Little by little, I will think about the climb.
Is the transfer window over?
We have our defender Alexandre Laurey who is injured in the cruciate ligament so he will stay six months in rehabilitation so if we have a need today it will be a central-right defender to make up for this loss. We can’t rush though, we don’t have much time but we’re going to work, we’re going to analyze.
The idea of bringing back former members of the club to help it move up to Ligue 2 was discussed with Thierry Gomez, your president, Mathieu Coutadeur in particular?
We were in discussion with Coutadeur, I had him on the phone, we talked. He could go up to Ligue 1 with Ajaccio so he was very clear. We understand that, I agree with his decision. His family is from here too so he told me his desire to come back to the club to help him, we discussed it then he made his choice, the page is turned.
We talk about them because in Lyon they are back. Lacazette, whom you saw growing up at OL, Tolisso, were you not sounded out to come back?
Not at all. What’s surprising is that since my arrival in Lyon, it’s the second time that alumni have come back. The first time was Patrick Müller. It’s good that the players are coming home. Lacazette and Tolisso know what they can bring, they are two players who have marked the history of the club, they can do good, we will see on the field if it was a good choice. They know the club and will come with a new status. They will no longer be the darlings of the house but will have responsibilities.
When you were at the club you saw players like Karim Benzema arrive, he was surrounded by experienced players. Is that what OL have been missing in recent years?
There was a bit of a lack of leaders in the locker room. Lacazette, Tolisso who is world champion, they can bring a lot of things to players like Caqueret who are among the young people who need to be guided to pass a course.
You regretted Jean-Michel Aulas’ way of doing things when you left in 2012 (the President wanted to make the pharaohs and the dinosaurs go away), are you still in contact?
I have nothing against the president. He defended his club, it’s part of football, of business but when we meet, we discuss. Today, with maturity, it is easier to understand.
He is looking to pass on the baton, what image will you keep of him?
I think he changed everything in French football, for both men and women. As a person and as president, he will remain in everyone’s memory because he fought for his club but also to advance the French championship or for the teams qualified for the European Cup. He was the best president I have had, a present president, who knows how to do things, his record speaks for him.
A new investor is coming, are you worried?
No, I think it may change some things. Lyon will remain the club of Jean-Michel Aulas but you have to know how to move on. A cycle will perhaps close, another will open, perhaps with different ambitions. It’s a risk, but if President Aulas has decided it’s because he feels it’s time to do it.
A young Lyonnais impresses, in your former position, it is Castello Lukeba…
I see him going far. He has quality, he is serious but above all he likes to defend. I like defenders whose first objective is to defend. Today some want to do the work of a midfielder, crosses, decisive passes… He is focused, I see far for him.
The Lyon destiny of your compatriot Lucas Paqueta is written in dotted lines, should OL keep him?
Yes, but will Lyon make the effort to keep it? He will play the World Cup with Brazil, he had a good last season, he has offers. Seeing Paqueta, Lacazette, Tolisso, Caqueret play together for the team would be good, but the question is will they be able to keep him?
Do you still have contact with your friend Juninho?
We talk on the phone and we send messages from time to time yes.
Do you think he will bounce back after this adventure which did not end very well in Lyon?
He’s smart, he takes his time. Football is a goal for him, as sports director or coach. He will come back because Juninho never lets go.
Another Brazilian, Neymar has been criticized lately, he went through a complicated period at Paris-Saint-Germain who even thought about getting rid of him. How do you view the player and the man?
Neymar is (he pauses then smiles). For me, it’s joy. He plays with pleasure, he makes the difference, he scores goals every year, he is an extraordinary player. You have to analyze him, make him play his position. He is the most important player in the national team, one of the captains. Critics are sometimes too harsh. Look at what he does for football, his track record, few have one like his. Whether in Europe or Brazil he is criticized but in the national team he always makes the difference with whom he has won almost everything. The only thing on which we can criticize him is perhaps his lifestyle, what he does off the pitch, but we have to analyze what he does on the pitch.
Will it be up to Christophe Galtier to find the key to getting the best out of him?
I had Christophe Galtier as an assistant (at Lyon in 2007-08), I know he will do him good. He will know how to control it but Neymar has a life that we all know. He lives with his buddies, his childhood friends but for me on the ground he does his job.
Precisely, let’s come to Christophe Galtier, he too has raised doubts among some observers, as to his ability to manage PSG. Do you think he is capable of leading such a club and making it win?
Yes, I think he has already shown his qualities in all the clubs he has been through. Why not give it a chance? He has the shoulders to take on a squad with Neymar, Messi, Ramos or Marquinhos, he has character. We see it with the change of system. We, the coaches who analyze the matches, can already see changes compared to Messi, Neymar or Mbappé. We already saw that in Paris we had to play with three defenders, Christophe Galtier arrives and he changes, he has the shoulders.