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Kanoute: Messi is not human

Sevilla FC's Malian striker Frédéric Kanouté controls the ball

Frederic Kanoute, a likeable character with an easy-on-the-eye playing style and a strong set of values, has had a frustrating end to his seven-season spell with Sevilla. Yet, despite enduring an injury-hit campaign and seeing his team struggle on the pitch, the veteran forward leaves the club with only positive memories of his stay in Andalusia. After departing Lyon in 2000, the former Mali international spent five years in England and forged a strong reputation in the Premier League, before bursting on to the continental scene with Sevilla, winning consecutive UEFA Cup titles in 2006 and 2007.

Now 34, Kanoute has just released his biography and is busy preparing for what could be his last challenge on the pitch. So when caught up with him recently, there was no shortage of topics to discuss. Frederic, your contract with Sevilla expires in a few days and you’re leaving the club after seven seasons. Why has it become so rare for players to see their contracts through to the end? Frederic Kanoute: It is indeed quite rare, and I think it’s linked to strong demand from other clubs. These days, a player stays at a club for a maximum of two years before receiving a better offer, which is often difficult to refuse. It all comes down to business. Although we’re seeing this side of football more and more, human connections and loyalty do still exist. During my seven years at Sevilla, everything went really well for me, not only on the pitch but also in my personal life. So I decided not to look at options elsewhere and to stay put. It was a choice I made for football and human reasons, and with consideration for my family.

With your injuries and the team’s up-and-down form, was this past season harder than you had imagined it would be?Yes, very much so. I had several injuries, it’s true, but the season was also difficult because our results were not very good due to our lack of consistent performances. We also changed coaches during the season, which doesn’t help if you’re looking to find stability in a team. We didn’t qualify for Europe, so of course I’m a bit disappointed. I would have preferred to finish on a more positive note, but I’m focusing on the good moments, of which there have been many! That’s all that matters. I just wanted things to be perfect, and to play at my best so that the fans would be left with a good image of me.

What will your next challenge be? And what are you looking for in this final move?
I’m working with my agent, looking towards different horizons, and we’ll see what suits me best. To be honest, I just love playing football. As long as I feel able to play, I’ll continue to be out there on the pitch. I think I’ll carry on playing for a few more years. It’s hard to say where I’ll go, as there are so many good leagues around the world. I’m also looking for a good quality of life away from the pitch, as that’s very important for my wife and children. I need to find the right mix of all these elements.

I don’t usually like watching football on TV that much, but when Barça are playing I make an exception. The world of football has been lucky to have this team.

Let’s return to your time in Spain. What’s your opinion of La Liga at the moment, and the domination of Barcelona and Real Madrid?
It has become a two-team championship. Around the world, whenever La Liga is mentioned, people only talk about Real and Barça. It’s a shame. A few years ago, a team like Sevilla would have been able to compete with them and cause them problems. But in the past two years they’ve had a lead of around 20 points over everyone else, which is frustrating.

When Sevilla take to the pitch against Barcelona or Real Madrid, is the lack of confidence possible to overcome?(Laughs) As sportsmen and competitors, we’re sometimes foolish enough to think that we can win against these teams! And other times, we really are capable of achieving something. This year, for example, we went and got a draw at Camp Nou. You suffer for 90 minutes and, with a bit of luck, you can come away with a point. It’s possible but it’s very difficult, as they are so far above everyone else. I know that some of the smaller teams sometimes go out on the pitch knowing that they will lose, so their aim is to concede as few goals as possible. But I think that most teams have not given up and will work to make up the ground.

Just how can that gap be closed?
There is something that can’t be ignored: money! Barça and Real are the richest clubs. Not only do they have good infrastructures and academies for their youngsters, they can also strengthen by buying the best players, which is something the other clubs can’t do. We have to be realistic and try to close the gap in a different way.

You were lucky enough to witness Guardiola-era Barcelona first-hand. What was that period like for you?
In a few years’ time, when I look back and think that I competed against Guardiola’s Barcelona, I’ll realise how lucky I was to have played against the best team Barça has ever had. I don’t usually like watching football on TV that much, but when Barça are playing I make an exception. The world of football has been lucky to have this team.

Lionel Messi scored 50 league goals in the season just finished. As a forward yourself, how do you rate his performances?He is not human; he’s from another planet. I’ve played against him several times and he’s incredible – he’s not a normal player. In the same way that there’s Barcelona and the rest of the world, there is also Messi and the rest of the Barça players. He does things that only he is capable of doing. He’s exceptional.

You've just released your biography. Did you feel that, after 15 years in the game, it was the right time to take stock of your career?Absolutely. I must admit I was a bit reluctant to write the book at first, as I didn’t think I was important enough to write a biography. That kind of thing is meant for important, historical figures. But a lot of people urged me to do it. I received many offers from authors, and I told myself that if they were insisting so much, it was perhaps because I had things to say and share. It was also an opportunity to talk about subjects other than football, such as charitable work.

Are you happy with the result?Yes, I am. The book is a bit like my career. Football is my passion but it’s also a tool to help me achieve bigger goals in my life. Thanks to my career, I’ve been able to set up and support my foundation and give help to people who really need it. I would be happy if the reader were to read my biography and forget, for a moment, that it was written by a footballer. That would be my greatest victory.

You've often spoken of your love of Africa, the continent of your father’s birth. Do you regret the fact that you never won anything with Mali, despite being part of a great generation?No, I’ve no regrets. I knew when I chose to play for Mali that it was not going to be easy. It’s not a well-known team with a great, victorious past. I was never pretentious enough to think that my presence would change that. I just wanted to give as much as I could to the team. I did my best and we didn’t win anything, but it was an important part of my life: a great experience that opened many doors for my foundation and gave me a lot on a personal level.

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