Two years after crossing the Atlantic, Hassoun Camara has carved out a reputation as one of the most reliable performers in Major League Soccer. His Montreal Impact side currently lie top of the Eastern Conference and they owe much of their success to a cast-iron defence, of which Camara is a vital member. "I feel very good here," the Frenchman told FIFA.com. "I've found a good balance in my life."
Camara packed his bags for Canada in 2011, when Montreal were gearing themselves up to join Major League Soccer. In many ways it was a risky move, but the 27-year-old knew exactly what he was getting himself into. "I didn't really know much about MLS at first, but I knew that it was a league on the up, especially given the arrivals of Thierry Henry and David Beckham," he said. "I did a little research into the club and its structure, and I saw that it was very professional. After that, I didn't hesitate. I don't regret it at all now and I've seen more and more players come over here. I'd say that I came at the right time."
Originally hailing from the suburbs of Paris, Camara signed his first professional contract with Marseille in 2006. He could hardly have hoped for a more prestigious club to begin his career, but competition for places proved fierce and he spent most of the next two years in the reserves. Preferring playing time, he opted for a switch to Bastia in Ligue 2, but he found himself facing another decision after his third season in Corsica ended in 2010. Out of contract, he was anxious to find a new destination. "There were some tentative offers that looked quite interesting. What I wanted was to be competitive and focused, so I didn't really want to go to any of the more exotic leagues. I knew that MLS was a very well-organised league, with full, modern stadiums, and I decided to go for it 100 per cent."
That willingness to commit himself has clearly paid off. Camara settled in quickly and has served Montreal with aplomb both in defence and midfield. He was voted the Impact's best player during his first season and was selected in the team of the year for the second-tier NASL, an excellent start as the club prepared to make the step up to MLS. "My versatility has helped me," explained Camara. "I can play in several positions and I have a better-than-average technique for a central defender."
I knew that MLS was a very well-organised league, with full, modern stadiums, and I decided to go for it 100 per cent.
Determined to hold their own in MLS, Montreal made strenuous efforts to bolster their squad ahead of their debut campaign, luring prestigious names including Marco Di Vaio and Alessandro Nesta. "That's extraordinary for me," said Camara, delighted to be sharing defensive duties with former Lazio and AC Milan stalwart Nesta. "On top of being the player he is, Nesta is an exceptional guy who brings a lot of humour to the dressing room and gives a lot of good advice. His attitude has impressed me. When he goes out on the pitch, you can see him transform instantly into a hard-nosed competitor who's ready to give everything not to concede a goal. I'm trying to learn as much as I can from him before he leaves so that I can help the team in the future. We communicate a lot and everything seems easier with him."
The statistics certainly bear that out, with Montreal currently possessing the most miserly defence in the Eastern Conference. "We started off the season in the right way," said Camara. "With the squad we have, I honestly think we can do something special this year." The Quebec outfit finished seventh in their division last term, but Camara believes there is a whole new ambition to the team this season. "We had a pre-season training camp in Italy, and we played against teams like Bologna and Fiorentina. We saw then that we were able to match sides like that, and that made us aware of our potential. As a result, we came back to MLS with a lot of motivation and the desire to prove our worth. We've totally forgotten the complex we had last year, when we were new to the league.
"We're organised along fairly European lines," he added. "The Italians in the team have brought us a lot in terms of tactics. Players like Nesta and Matteo Ferrari are real assets when it comes to making a team hard to score against. Meanwhile, we know that with players like Di Vaio and Daniele Paponi further forward, we can score at any moment."
Thanks to those big names and a series of excellent results, football is now on the rise in a part of the world more traditionally associated with ice hockey. "You can feel that it's growing, and that makes sense given that the sport is spreading more and more around the world," noted Camara, who has succumbed to the charms of his new home. "The mentality here is really pleasant. To be in North America and a francophone province is the ideal compromise for a Frenchman. I want to stay as long as possible, although you can never tell what will happen next in sport at the highest level."