James Eastham catches up with Montpellier midfielder Remy Cabella to discuss winning the league, those Newcastle rumours and why he's used to dealing with eccentric chairmen...
Where did you grow up and first play football?
I was born on Corsica into a family that loved football. My dad was a youth football coach. I was a fan of Gazelec Ajaccio [the second team in Ajaccio]. We would go and watch games as a family. Gazelec was also where I started out playing youth football.
At 14 you left Ajaccio to join Montpellier. What made you pick Montpellier?
There was a really good feeling about the place when we went there. The staff were always really welcoming; it's a really good family club. I think I made the right choice because there is a good youth setup and I was able to progress towards the professional ranks.
It must have been hard to leave home at such a young age. Did you have problems?
At first when you leave home, you don't think it's a big deal. I didn't really worry about it too much, but it's true that there are certain moments when you realise you're all on your own. That can be difficult. I had a few tough times along the way but you learn to handle it.
You were part of an excellent Montpellier team that won the Coupe Gambardella in 2009 [France's national U19 knockout competition]. What do you remember about that?
Winning that competition is my best memory from my time as a youth player at Montpellier. We beat Nantes 2-0 in the final and I scored the second goal. Winning the Coupe Gambardella was basically a sign that all the hard work we'd put in as young players in the academy was paying off. We were a good team, but more than anything, we were a really tight-knit group of mates [Cabella's team-mates included Younes Belhanda and Benjamin Stambouli]. We'd been together from the age of 14 so we all knew each other really well. I have fantastic memories of that triumph and always will have.
You then suffered a serious knee injury in September 2009. How much did that set you back?
It was a big blow because I'd just signed my first professional contract [July 2009]. I was effectively sidelined for the entire first season of my career. From a morale point of view, that was difficult to deal with. When you're faced with a situation like that, obviously you have a few doubts about whether you'll ever get back to the level you were at before. But it made me mentally stronger. These things are part and parcel of a career. You mentally grow as a result of them. I had plenty of support from the staff and people around me.
How did it feel to be part of the Montpellier team that caused a massive shock by winning the 2011/12 Ligue 1 title?
It was amazing. Looking back on that season, the spirit in the camp was fantastic. All the lads got along really well. There were never any problems between us. I particularly remember our final home game against Lille [penultimate matchday of season]. We won 1-0, with the winning goal scored deep into injury-time. That win meant we needed just a point on the final day to be absolutely sure of winning the title. The atmosphere for that final home game was magnificent. You had the fans in the stadium celebrating and then fans in town supporting us as well. That night, we felt as though the entire city was behind us.
Would it be fair to say the midway point of 2011/12 was a turning point for you?
Yes, that's fair. During the first half of the season Benjamin Stambouli and I were usually named among the substitutes. From January onwards we started getting more games. I remember there was an important match against Lyon [January 14, first league game of 2012]. Benjamin and I both got picked in the starting XI. Before the match Montpellier president [Louis Nicollin] put his arm around us and basically said this was our chance to show what we could do, that we should just go out and play our usual game. We did, everything went fine, the team played well and won 1-0. From then on we were able to contribute to the title victory [NB: Cabella played in all 19 games (13 starts, six substitute appearances) during the second-half of Montpellier's title-winning season].
Montpellier president Louis Nicollin is one of French football's biggest characters. What's he like?
He's basically exactly the same as what you see on the telly: a really passionate man who loves football and loves his club. He can put his arm around you when you need it but he's also prepared to have a go at you to get you back on track if he thinks that's necessary. It's the same with son, Laurent [day-to-day chairman] - they're both so passionate. When you play for Montpellier, you're more than just a player to them. You obviously want to go out and repay that on the pitch.
You've played in a lot of different positions. What's your best?
You're right, I've played right midfield, on the left now and again, sometimes as a No.10 and sometimes as a proper second striker in the nine-and-a-half position. I like playing in the No.10 role, but I also like being able to dribble on the flanks. It's down to me to be able to adapt so that I can perform well in the two positions [wide and centrally].
Your 2013/14 scoring stats were fantastic [14 goals in 37 appearances at a rate of a goal every 229 minutes, including only three penalties]. Had you set a personal target?
Going into the season I set myself the aim of scoring more goals than I had done the previous year [Cabella scored seven goals in 31 appearances at a rate of a goal every 326 minutes in 2012/13]. I worked hard on my finishing in training and it paid off. Statistics are important these days so I wanted to increase my return.
There has been a lot of talk about you potentially moving to the Premier League. Newcastle United have been linked with you. Is there any truth to these stories?
Obviously the Premier League's a fantastic league. For me, England and Germany are the top two leagues in the world. Newcastle were interested last January and there was a bit of contact, but it's always difficult to move midway through a season. We'll see what happens. There are lots of good clubs in England. If the chance comes along one day to play there - why not?