“Football will always be part of my life.” Those were global tennis star Gael Monfils’ opening words in an exclusive interview granted to FIFA.com. And patently, for the Frenchman, who is now ranked seventh in the world, it is not just a throwaway statement.
There are countless videos online featuring the affable Parisian kicking a ball around. In 2012, he even participated in a training session with Evian, then in Ligue 1. More recently, Bruce Grannec, the two-time winner of the FIFA Interactive World Cup, admitted that Monfils was the sporting figure who had impressed him most while playing the FIFA video game.
“You could tell that he was a huge gaming fan and, more importantly, a real competitor,” recalled Grannec. “He stayed late into the night because he was so keen to beat me at least once. He did eventually manage to get a draw.”
When he is not playing real or virtual football, he can also be seen at the Parc des Princes supporting his club, Paris Saint-Germain or – when he is away from home – tweeting his love for PSG and their players. In short, as well as being a top-class tennis player, Monfils is a football fanatic.
While recently participating for the first time in the Masters – a tournament that brings together the top eight players in the world – Monfils took time out of his schedule to share his thoughts on various topics, including The Best FIFA Football Awards™ (Editor’s note: the interview took place before the finalists were announced).
FIFA.com: Gael, in the rare moments of respite that you enjoy, is there a place for football in your life?
Gael Monfils: Football will always be part of my life. I’ve taken an interest in it since I was a young boy; my father played, as did I, and I never miss the chance to organise a little match with my friends when my schedule permits it. I also follow the results of the major European leagues quite closely.
You recently admitted that you would fight 100 times harder to watch a PSG match than a game of tennis. Is that true?
PSG is the team I’ve always supported, since I was little. Since the Qataris’ arrival, the team has really moved up a gear in France and in Europe, and it’s such a joy to see stars playing for them who I used to dream about watching when I was younger. I also know some of the players, so that obviously creates a bond.
What are your thoughts on PSG’s performances this year?
The team has undergone a number of changes this season, such as the departure of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the arrival of a new coach. It always takes time for things to click. Spring will be the key period, results-wise.
What is your greatest football-related memory?
The 1998 FIFA World Cup™, without hesitation. It’s difficult to experience a greater football moment that watching your team beat Brazil to lift the World Cup on home soil. I won’t ever forget the scenes of joy that met that victory in France.
How good a footballer are you?
I played when I was little and I still play whenever I have any spare time. I remember training with Evian’s first team a few years’ back. Let’s say that I have a reasonable level and that my favourite position is forward. I like using my acceleration to get past my man.
And how about your tennis colleagues?
There are a few who are not bad at all with the ball at their feet. For example, Jo (Wilfried Tsonga), Richard (Gasquet), Benoit (Paire) and Rafa (Nadal). Football is definitely present in the tennis world. Given the mix of nationalities that exists in the changing rooms, there’s inevitably a bit of a rivalry between the players, especially in terms of the UEFA Champions League or competitions in which national teams compete. There’s a lot of banter flying back and forth, but there’s a huge amount of respect between us. Everything can be settled by playing FIFA, which is always a safe bet. We play it a lot. In fact, your interview interrupted a game!
Before you get back to your game, could you just give us some predictions regarding The Best FIFA Football Awards? In your opinion, who will be named The Best FIFA Men’s Player for 2016?
It’s very difficult to say, because this generation of players is truly exceptional. Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Luis Suarez all play at a really impressive level and are consistently excellent.
Who do you think deserves to win The Best FIFA Men’s Coach Award for 2016?
Once again, that is difficult to answer. In any case, I’ve got a lot of respect and admiration for the work carried by Arsene Wenger, even though he’s not one of the ten nominees. Spending 20 years in charge of the same club is just unthinkable in modern football!
Who is your favourite player?
I’ve got a weakness for Zlatan – for his talent, technique and personality. The French League lost a great player. As far as French players are concerned, I particularly like Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi.
Finally, as someone who is a bit of a showman on the tennis courts, which goal in the running for The FIFA Puskás Award do you like the most?
I voted for Mario Gaspar, simply because there’s something of the Zlatan about his goal!