Ngapeth still enamoured with first love

  • Earvin Ngapeth is a volleyball legend

  • He won gold at the last Olympics and was voted Player of the Tournament

  • Before focusing on volleyball, he was passionate about football

A ball, two teams, liberos, passers, attacks and a net that bulges. Football and volleyball certainly have a lot in common, and not just a shared lexicon. Just ask Ivan Perisic, a runner-up with Croatia at the 2018 FIFA World Cup™ who has also represented his country in beach volleyball. Or Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who hails from a family of volleyball players and who himself practiced this sport for many years before finally opting for football. One person who went in the opposite direction is Earvin Ngapeth. A keen amateur footballer in his youth, the Frenchman eventually pursued a career in volleyball that culminated in Olympic gold this year. Yet even today, his passion for football remains undimmed, as evidenced in his conversation with FIFA.com, when he revealed his enduring ties with the game and his favourites for The Best FIFA Football Awards™ 2021.

FIFA.com: During brief respites from your professional commitments, can you still find time for football? Earvin Ngapeth: Yes, there’s still ample room! For a start I enjoy Playstation and its FIFA22 game any chance I get, and when I have a little spare time, I go to the municipal sports ground, where we organize small games with friends. However, I must admit that I don’t do it as often as I used to, as there’s always the fear of injury. Given that you played football for a long time, what made you opt for volleyball? As a child, I could never get enough football. At the time I was living in in Frejus and attended a football academy, but when I was 11 my family moved to Poitiers. The volleyball scene there is much bigger than the football one, so that’s when I started playing. What position did you play in football? I was a No.9, so centre-forward, although I played one season in goal because I was injured. Legend has it that you even relegated current Paris Saint-Germain defender Layvin Kurzawa to the bench when the two of you were playing in Frejus… That story has been exaggerated a bit (laughs). There was one game, out of about 72, where Layvin was on the bench and I started. Even then, the coach brought him on early as we were losing. Honestly, there was no comparison between the two of us.

PARIS, FRANCE - OCTOBER 31:  Layvin Kurzawa of PSG celebrates scoring his sides fourth goal during the UEFA Champions League group B match between Paris Saint-Germain and RSC Anderlecht at Parc des Princes on October 31, 2017 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

Is it also true that missed football so much that you registered as a player five or six years ago in the middle of your volleyball career? Yes, that’s true! I was in Russia and a bit homesick, as I was still quite young and far away from my friends and family. I left my club but wasn’t allowed to play again in another volleyball club in France for contractual reasons. So, I got a license to play amateur football for a few weeks... It was cool except that all the matches I could’ve played in were cancelled because of the weather!

Have you ever regretted choosing volleyball over football? No, my volleyball career has been very fulfilling. The life of a footballer looks more complicated than mine: more pressure, more media coverage... But it's true that I would’ve liked to have continued with football for longer, because the game itself is really interesting to play. Is your Olympic gold medal the equivalent of a World Cup winner’s medal in football? I think so. It’s true that each discipline has its own holy grail. For us, the pinnacle is indeed the Olympic Games. For footballers, I guess it's the World Cup! Once you’ve reached that pinnacle, how do you maintain the motivation to try and win another trophy? That challenge is at the essence of sport and motivation. Win or lose, a true competitor is consumed by this desire to go in search of the next thing. It never stops and you’re never sated. You accomplish one goal, and then the next one arrives. Sport is forever turning over a new page.

Tokyo 2020 Olympiad Tokyo TÓQUIO, TO - 01.08.2021: TOKYO 2020 OLYMPIAD TOKYO - Ngapeth from France during the Brazil vs France volleyball game at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, Olympische Spiele, Olympia, OS held in 2021, the game held at Ariake Arena in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo: Richard Callis/Fotoarena) x2101039x PUBLICATIONxNOTxINxBRA RichardxCallis

FIFA will soon designate The Best FIFA Men’s Player 2021. Who do you think deserves the accolade? They are quite a few who could lay claim it, and the same names keep cropping up. So, I'm going to think outside the box and propose Federico Chiesa. He's a great player who has an extraordinary impact on the game. During the last EURO, he was the standout player in my eyes. And who would be your choice for The Best FIFA Men’s Coach? With Italy having won the EURO, I’d vote for their coach Roberto Mancini. As a Frenchman, who is your favourite Bleu? Kylian Mbappe. His self-confidence is admirable. Above and beyond his on-field performances, I really appreciate his interviews. He’s intelligent and has a good head on his shoulders.

Ngapeth's Best Of...

The best club in the world? Auxerre in the days of Philippe Mexes, Jean-Alain Boumsong, Djibril Cisse... Then it became Paris Saint-Germain! Your best memory as a fan? The last World Cup. The best player of all time? Zizou. The best match you've ever attended? One engraved in my memory is the final of the Africa Cup of Nations won by Cameroon, where my father came from, at the expense of Egypt. The best women’s player of all time? Wendie Renard. What’s more, I know her a little. Your favourite technical move? I love the sombrero overhead flick.