Following a season to forget with Newcastle United, Moussa Sissoko was not expected to be a stand-out performer for France at UEFA EURO 2016, with some even questioning his presence in the 23-man squad, not least because of the plentiful midfield options available to Les Bleus. As it turned out, however, the powerful Sissoko turned the criticism into glowing praise.
Enjoying a stellar tournament, the former Toulouse man reminded everyone why Didier Deschamps made him one of the cornerstones of the France side. Nicknamed “The Robot” by his team-mates on account of his durability and the calm and effective way he went about his work, Sissoko had a central role to play in France’s run to the final, where they lost in extra time to Portugal.
Yet despite his stunning return to the spotlight, he had to wait to the very end of the summer transfer window before finding a new club, with Tottenham Hotspur eventually coming in for him. Currently preparing to face Bulgaria and the Netherlands in the qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, the 27-year-old Sissoko spoke to FIFA.com about his eventful summer.
FIFA.com: how are you feeling after everything that has happened to you in the last three months?
Moussa Sissoko: *It’s been a tough summer for me. Losing the EURO final was a big blow because we wanted to win the title on home soil. We had a great tournament and I think we would have been worthy winners, though we realise that dominating games doesn’t mean to say that you win them. On the bright side, it was a great adventure for all of us and we showed a lot of desire. The fans saw a united France team, which is what everyone, from the coach to the supporters, expected from us. We showed that we’re still a great nation. We also felt especially proud after all the things that had gone on in France before the EUROs, with the terrorist attacks. The country was under pressure and I think we soothed the hearts of the French people with our performances. *
*Talk us through the days after the final.
*I went on holiday and everyone knew that I wanted to leave Newcastle and go to a bigger club that was in the Champions League and at the top of the table. I signed for Tottenham, thank God. I’d been in discussions with them for quite a while and everything was eventually sorted out in the final hours. I would have liked it to have gone through earlier. I managed to have a bit of a break, but it left me mentally drained. And I would have liked to have started the season with the team because that makes it easier to settle in. Arriving at the end of the transfer window is not the same, though I got a really good welcome and everything went well.
*You say that France met expectations, but do you feel that you also exceeded them on a personal level?
*In the eyes of the people of France and the media, yes, maybe. I’ve been on the receiving end of some pretty harsh comments in the past, but I’ve accepted them. It doesn’t bother me. Everyone has the right to express their preferences for one player or another. That’s football and that’s life. The important thing for me is to have the confidence of my coach and my team-mates because we spend a lot of time together on and off the pitch. I had a tough season with Newcastle, one that ended in relegation, so I understand the criticism. I’d even go as far as to say that it motivated me and pushed me to give even more.
*We saw you getting forward more than usual. Why was that?
*Making runs and getting forward have always been a strong point of mine and always will be. There were a lot of things that motivated me at the EUROs, like the fact that I was playing in front of home crowds, that I’d had a frustrating season, that I had to find a new club, and the opportunity to win a big tournament at home. That helped me give my all.
*Are you proud of the faith that Didier Deschamps has always shown in you?
*I was lucky he called me up so soon after coming into the job, bringing me in for the 2014 World Cup qualifier against Spain. He’s picked me ever since. I’m happy about that and grateful, though I know he doesn’t do it to make me happy but because he thinks I have a lot to offer the team. Above all, he’s trying to create a very solid unit and he knows that I fit in well and that I’m a versatile player to have around. The confidence he has in me makes me want to do even better and to fight for the team.
*What’s your take on the 1-1 draw with Belarus in September?
*The whole team was up for it. We were focused and in the right frame of mind, but we weren’t all at the same level physically because we hadn’t all got back into training at the same time. We’d played well against Italy five days before. It was a solid performance and a good win (3-1), but in Belarus we came up against a well-drilled team and things didn’t go our way. We had a lot of chances and if we’d put two of them away, everyone would have said that we’d played well. We went away happy with the point, but there are two matches coming up now and the aim is to win them both.