Samuel Umtiti may be young, but he's already at ease in the footballing world after breaking into the first team in January 2012... The OL left-back is completely focused as he looks to take his career as far as it can go...
With Cris injured and B. Koné off on AFCON duty, Umtiti seized his chance to join the senior team in early January in a Coupe de France last-64 clash with La Duchère. After entering the world of professional football at 18 years of age, he went on to play 18 matches, including 12 in Ligue 1, from a possible 30. "It all went really fast as I found my feet in in Ligue 1 and high-level matches. I really enjoyed it and at the end of the season, I couldn't wait to do it all again..." He hardly had a break in the summer, with the U-19 European Championships - where he was a losing finalist - on the cards. "I had one week off... when I got back to training, I told myself that I had made mistakes and that I needed to be more professional. I wanted to play a lot more matches..."
'Sam' tok some time in returning to the first team, and it wasn't until OL's seventh match of the season (the visit of Sparta Prague) that he took the field again. But since the match in Biblao, he has started every one of OL's matches - excpet for when he was given a rest against Shmona. "When I wasn't playing, I began to doubt myself. I was impatient, but I worked hard at training. I knew that I could make it back into the team, that I had quality..." So how has it been? "I'm going well. I've progressed, I can feel it. My personality as a player and as a man have changed thanks to my experience. I'm really a bit of an introvert, and a perfectionist, which can be both a good and a bad thing..."
Just a few weeks after turning 19, does he still feel like a youngster? "I spend a lot of time with OL's other young players. I'm like them... but I have been playing more and so I've matured more. Off the pitch, however, I'm just like them." Is he enjoying life? "I'm 100% about football. It's all I do, and I love it. I quit my studies, but when I have time, I will look into a few subjects, like languages, to enrich and cultivate myself."
I learnt about positioning from Cris... playing out of defence from Maxime Gonalons... concentration from Milan Bisevac and Dejan Lovren, who talk me through a lot... from Bako Koné, I learnt a lot about challenging for the ball, especially in the air...
A France international at every youth level, Umtiti remains patient about making it into the country's senior team. "I'm not thinking about it. I'm just working to progress step by step. There will be the U-20 World Cup this summer and after that, I'm pretty sure of joining the U-21s. We'll see. It all depends on how I perform for my club." The youngster, who can play in the centre of defence as well as at left-back, has already partnered five different stoppers. "We know each other well; you get to know how the others play. You adapt, and you develop an understanding." What has he learnt, and what is he learning, from these different teammates? "I learnt about positioning from Cris... playing out of defence from Maxime Gonalons... concentration from Milan Bisevac and Dejan Lovren, who talk me through a lot... from Bako Koné, I learnt a lot about challenging for the ball, especially in the air..."
OL is like a train with no brakes this season, and for Samuel, there is no doubt. "Yes, the squad has changed. We're more of a team, we stick together more. It's the whole team that makes the difference, even though there are leaders among us. When I'm not playing, I watch closely and try to learn."
Samuel is already an important squad memebr but is still doing his apprenticeship in the big time. He remembers the day when he signed his forst professional contract very cleary. "Along with the Coupe de France final, it was the greatest moment in my life so far." However, he hasn't forgotten the disappointment of losing the Coupe de la Ligue final to OM. This lad still has room to grow... despite having made just 29 first-team appearances, including 19 in Ligue 1, he has been - with the exception in the loss to Toulouse - been delivering solid performances. Focused, lucid and willing, Samuel has made a great start in his chosen profession.