If Amos Youga had been asked in 2011 about the role in which he felt most comfortable, he may well have responded “postman”.
Indeed, it was in a postal sorting facility on the outskirts of Lyon that the current Gazelec Ajaccio No18 first gained a taste of life outside football four years ago, having assumed that any chance of a professional sporting career had passed him by.
However, fate – and his talents on the pitch – would eventually decide otherwise for the midfielder who represents Central African Republic. “There’s a little bit of luck in my story, but there’s also a lot of hard work,” Youga told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview. “My career path certainly isn’t run-of-the-mill. Going from working as a postman to playing in Ligue 1 in under four years probably appears quite unbelievable, but I’m aware of how far I’ve come and can really enjoy my football because of it.
“That said, I wasn’t unhappy back then. I had my own little routine – I went to work in the morning, and I rested or played amateur football in the afternoon. It was a simple life that I haven’t turned my back on, as I’m still in touch with quite a lot of my former work colleagues.”
And his lifestyle has not changed significantly either; the Villeurbanne native has no intention of showing off. “I’ve not got Cristiano Ronaldo’s car or house!” he joked.
“I’ve got a low-key, practical flat, and I have everything that I need. It’s got two bedrooms, a balcony, a living room and a kitchen, but no swimming pool. There wouldn’t be any point in that. I’m keeping my feet on the ground. Not all that long ago, I was delivering letters.”
These days, Youga delivers top-notch performances on the park. A product of the youth system of Saint-Priest, he made his way from Lyon’s reserve side in the French fifth tier to Vannes (in the Championnat National, the third division) and then to Ligue 2 team Gazelec in 2014, subsequently contributing fully to the Corsicans’ historic promotion to Ligue 1.
“The club is pretty similar to me – we’ve had the same kind of rise,” said the affable 22-year-old of the Ajaccio-based outfit, the name of which reflects the fact that it was founded by workers of the French gas and electricity company EDF-GDF.
Le Gaz have found their debut campaign in France’s top flight tough to handle so far, and they sit firmly at the bottom of the table after nine games. “But we’re going to fight,” said Youga, who realised the extent of the challenge awaiting the club after crossing swords with Paris Saint-Germain in the second match of the season.
“Their teams is full of big names – I’ve got a lot of respect for them, because they’re exceptionally talented. That said, when you’re focused on the match, you tend to forget who you’re actually playing against. Yes, Marco Verratti, Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are major stars, but they’re still only footballers – footballers you need to fight hard against,” he continued.
“Fight” is a word that surfaces continually in a conversation with the robust midfield man. “That’s the foundation of everything for me,” he said. “I have no problem accepting defeat as long as I know that I fought. I’m a warrior. That’s how I play. Sure, it can lead to fouls and yellow cards. But I always try to put in a huge effort; that’s my mental approach.”
This combative style would eventually lead to international recognition, in a qualifying match for Brazil 2014 versus Botswana on 15 June 2013. “Getting called up to the Central African Republic national team was a very important and proud achievement for me. Everyone in my family was born there except me. It gives me the chance to go ‘back home’ and rediscover my roots,” he explained.
As the only Central African international presently performing in a major European league, he has since become one of the team’s key figures.
“My status has changed. Before, I was the ‘little one’,” explained Youga, whose older brother, Kelly, has also been capped for Les Fauves. “I feel like the way the supporters view me has also changed. More is expected of me now, especially in terms of controlling the midfield.”
Fans of the Central African Republic can rest assured that the former postman is not the type to shirk his new responsibilities. Youga is likely to be pushing the envelope for his country for many years to come.