Samuel Umtiti: "With France or with Barcelona, I'm always representing Lyon"

Published on 17 February 2019 at 8:39 PM
Samuel Umtiti : « Je représenterai toujours l'OL »
Ahead of Tuesday's Round of 16 first leg at Groupama Stadium, the Barcelona defender looked back fondly at his time with Lyon. Despite spending the last three years in Spain, the World Cup champion's bond with his first club remains as strong as ever.

How are you feeling ahead of next week's match against OL?

I'm very excited. I was in training in Doha to treat my left knee injury when they had the Round of 16 draw. I was sure we were going to get OL. I'm so happy to face my old club and reunite with all these people who helped me improve. This is an opportunity to show how much I have grown since my departure three years ago.

2018 was a huge year for you thanks to a World Cup win with France and La Liga title with Barcelona

People's view of me changed. I feel a lot of admiration and respect for what we accomplished. In France, we were able to bring together a whole country and that's wonderful. These titles gave me even more desire to win. With Barcelona, we want to defend our trophies and win the Champions League. The idea is to improve each year. This has been my goal since making my pro debut in 2012.

Despite the distance, you always seem close to OL

Of course. It was hard leaving Lyon in 2016. I left my friends, my family and a club where I was loved and that gave me so many beautiful things. Without OL, I would never have been able to sign in Barcelona or make the French team. In my head, OL are associated with all my victories. At the end of the World Cup final, I thought back to my debut at OL and saw the happiness of Jean-Michel Aulas. Whether with the French team or in a Barcelona jersey, I will always represent OL.

What do you make of the current OL squad?

The team has changed a lot since I left and there are fewer players from the Academy. But the recruitment was very well thought out and the workforce is competitive: Houssem (Aouar) is very strong. Tanguy (Ndombele) shows match after match that he has the level to play at a European top club. Ferland Mendy also amazes me. It's a modern side. They're solid defensively with Denayer and offensively there is a lot of quality with Nabil (Fekir), Bertrand Traore, Memphis and Moussa Dembélé, who has a very complete game. They are also perfectly supervised by Bruno Genesio, who does a great job. I think Bruno is the man of the moment, except perhaps against us (laughs).

You also have a special bond with his assistant, Claudio Caçapa…

He gave me so much during the six months I spent with him. He immediately believed in me, saying that I had the potential to play at a top club one day. And you can't know how much it helped me and gave me confidence for the future. I will never forget his encouragement and I often ask him for advice.

On Tuesday, he and the rest of Lyon will be your opponents...

Yes, and I know that if I want to win the Champions League, we have to eliminate OL. I really hope to be on the pitch at Groupama Stadium on Tuesday. I want to see the fans who saw me grow up and re-visit this stage where I had so many good times.