This interview originally featured in the November 2015 edition of the Arsenal Magazine.
It's more than five years since Laurent Koscielny made his Arsenal debut as a virtual unknown from France's Ligue 1. He was sent off late on in a 1-1 draw at Anfield. Luckily that red card didn't prove to be a portent for his Gunners career, which has continued to blossom year-on-year since then.
He's grown into one of the most accomplished defenders in Europe, and has a string of career highlights to look back on since joining Arsenal.
The club – and he himself – have both changed considerably since 2010, but that rate of development looks set to continue during the coming years too.
In an exclusive interview with the Arsenal Magazine, Laurent sat down with respected French journalist Julien Laurens during the recent international break to reflect on his time at the club.
How quickly do you feel those five years have gone, Laurent?
Honestly, time has flown! It all went very quickly. I really feel it this year. I have just turned 30 and you realise at this age that you are closer to the end of your career than the beginning.
My children will soon be five and three. It’s the same for all the players. Seasons go quickly – everything goes quickly. We do enjoy it but you go from one season to another before you know it.
What do you remember of your first day here?
It was in July 2010. I came here to sign my contract. I was a bit excited and a bit apprehensive as well. I was coming from Lorient, a small Ligue 1 club. I had only played 35 games in the top flight in France.
It was massive for me to come here at 24. I had never seen a training ground like this one or a stadium like the Emirates either. I was so happy.
Do you remember the starting XI of your first game for Arsenal away at Liverpool on August 15?
Oh! [he smiles]. So I would say, Almunia in goal. At the back, I think it was Thomas Vermaelen next to me, Bac [Bacary Sagna] and Clich [Gael Clichy] at full back. In midfield, Abou Diaby. [He thinks for a while...] Denilson? Djourou? So if it was not them, it must have been Eboue! Then Nasri, Jack Wilshere, Arshavin. And Chamakh up front.
Well done! Is it a good memory or not?
I don’t think about it too much but I remember it well. Playing your first match with Arsenal in the Premier League at Anfield is pretty special. We got a draw right at the end in added time. And then I got sent off on my debut.
Before that match, I only had two red cards in my whole career! I thought I got a bit unlucky on my second yellow, though.
How are you stronger now than back in 2010?
I have improved in every department: physically, in the challenges, in my mental approach and technically too.
I was never stressed before a game but now I have so much more experience, I know exactly how to prepare for every game. I obviously know the Premier League so much better too. I’ve worked very hard since coming here to be where I am now.
Have you improved as much as you thought you would?
Yes, I think I am where I should be. My progression has been constant thanks to working hard. Every year, I feel I have improved. I want to keep getting better and better though, so I’m working even harder now than when I joined the club.
What did you have to work on the most when you arrived?
I knew straight away that I would have to work really hard physically. I had enough pace. Technically, I could pass it out from the back. But the big difference with France was the physicality of the game and the pace.
So I focused on that at the start. I also had to learn not be to intimidated by the atmosphere, the fans, the stadia – not to feel the pressure too much.
How are you different as a person than in 2010?
First of all, I am a father now. I was always quite chastened, reserved and stay-at-home, but having children helps you to put things in perspective, to stay grounded and to avoid thinking only about your own self. Now I live for my kids – I prepare their future. It’s very important for me.
And how are you different as an Arsenal player?
I can feel the respect in the dressing room here. There is a difference from when I arrived. Now, the boys know that I am here, they can rely on me during games and they know I will never give up, never stop fighting for the team.
Is it important for you to feel this respect?
It is, although I don’t think I myself am important. But to know that your team-mates have faith in you, trust you and that there is respect between us, that’s crucial for me. We all feel good together.
How have Arsenal changed since 2010?
The spirit is different. A lot of players have changed. There are not many left from 2010. That’s the life of a football club. The manager and the players change but only the club remains. There is a new philosophy.
We have signed some very technical players from Spain or Spanish speaking players like Nacho, Santi, Alexis and even Hector. That was a turning point. Then the Germans came too. And the boss has managed to gel everybody together. We have been playing together for a few years now.
With a bit of hindsight, how would you summarise those five years?
I’m pretty satisfied with my time here so far. I’ve played more than 200 games for Arsenal in five seasons. I was lucky not to get too many injuries through the years.
I’m more mature too and I’m hoping that I’m now considered as a good centre half in the Premier League too.
In those five years, you experienced the League Cup final defeat against Birmingham and the two FA Cup victories in the last two seasons...
I don’t think too much about the Birmingham game anymore but it will always be a very bad memory. It’s never nice to lose your first final with your new club but you learn from it. It has helped me for the rest of my career.
Losing a final like that, after making a mistake with my keeper made me work harder to make amends for it. The FA Cups, on the other hand, were pure joy!
Could this be Arsenal’s year in the Premier League?
It could be. If we can reproduce regularly the first 20 minutes from the Manchester United game, yes we can have the ambition of being champions. But if we play like against Olympiacos, we won’t even finish in the top four.
We have a good squad, a lot of quality. We need to be consistent, though, to win the league. It’s a marathon. Every weekend, we have tough games.
We need to have the same desire and ambition in each of them, even if we know we can’t be at our best all the time. But we need to be solid defensively and efficient offensively to win 1-0 when we’re not at our best.
Have you become a leader in the dressing room?
I think I lead by example on the pitch. The boys also know that if I’m not happy, I will go out at training and put big tackles in!
They know that I am reserved but that I have a temper! Now and again, I speak out. I recall one big talk since 2010. It was two years ago before the FA Cup semi-final against Wigan. I was out injured so I couldn’t play.
I told the squad what I was thinking.I wanted to mobilise everybody. I had a message to get through. It came from my heart and it went down well... I think! Even now, we joke about it sometimes. It was in English as well.
There is no point to talk too much, anyway. It has to be at the right time, for the right thing and the right way too. Sometimes, also, you don’t need to talk. Just a look or a gesture is enough. I’m more like that.
You arrived here at 24. Do you feel a bit English now?
I do a bit, especially with two little English people at home as my two children were born here. One of the physios keeps teasing me saying, “You’re not French, you’re English – you tackle and kick people.” It makes me laugh. I am still very French but on the pitch I do feel a bit English.
Do you feel respected by your opponents on the pitch?
I don’t pay too much attention to it. I would think so. I’m so focused on my game and the battle with the striker in front of me. I only think about winning, beating him in the challenges, getting the ball.
But for example, when I used to play against Luis Suarez, he would kick me, I would kick him but it always ended with respect and a handshake.
Is Suarez the toughest opponent you have faced?
Yes, he was one of the best, like Sergio Aguero or Didier Drogba. The good thing about the Premier League is that you have so many different strikers.
Every weekend, you have to excel in a different department to play against them. After every match, I have a look at my performance, the stats and see what I have done well.
What’s your relationship with the Arsenal fans. Do you feel they actually don’t know you that well?
I love them! And I want to thank them again for my new song, which is amazing. I think there’s a lot of respect between the fans and me.
Maybe they don’t feel like they know me because I’m not big on social networks. I have finally created a Twitter account but I don’t tweet much.
I can’t be on my phone all day! I’m not super keen on these things but it’s nice. Before I wanted to protect my family, my children. I’m a bit more open now.
Last season, the video of Per Mertesacker and you doing the “unclassic commentary” went viral. Maybe people had never seen that side of you?
That’s true. I’m not the same on the pitch and off it. I’m the first to laugh, to have a joke with people, to be a bit mischievous. But I don’t trust people easily and, like I said before, I am a reserved guy.
What is your view on the football world?
I know people talk a lot of transfer fees, wages and all of that. I understand. But in the football world, you get paid very well because sponsors invest a lot because they make money through football.
We wouldn’t be paid so much if football was not a lucrative industry. Football is a show. It makes millions of children dream every weekend. It makes millions of people happy every weekend. It’s the best show on earth.
It’s a different world. I’m not naive either. Not everything is perfect and rosy. And everybody talks about it. There are 65 million football managers in the country! I don’t pay too much attention to that.
If your children Noah and Maina wanted to become professional footballers, would you encourage them?
They will do what they want. I will push them to study and get a degree. That’s the most important even if they still want to become a footballer.
If they want to do another sport or become a lawyer or a gardener, as long as they are happy, I’m happy.
Do your children like playing football?
Yes, my son likes playing and kicking the ball. They both go to every game at the Emirates, with his sister. They sing, they cheer. They are happy. They’re two little Gunners.
Do you already think about what you will do after your career?
I think about it more and more but I’m not sure yet. I don’t know if I will stay and live here or go back to France. I will see what I can do. In the media, as a coach, setting up a business... I still have time.
"It’s a big psychological challenge. I try to know where the pass will land, how the pass will be played"
How many more years do you think you can play?
I don’t know. I will play for as long as my body can take it. I still have four years left on my contract here. I will be 34 then.
Then we will see how I feel physically. But even if you are still fit, at some point, you have to stop! You can’t do a Robert Pires and stop playing at 42 in India! [laughs].
Do you see yourself finishing your career here?
I have everything to be happy here. I have no reason to leave. At the end of my current contract, I will be one year away from my testimonial! Imagine a testimonial at the Emirates. It would be amazing!
There is a warrior side of you. You play through pain. Tell us about your first cap with France...
It was against the United States at the Stade de France, back in November 2011. I had a head clash with Brek Shea after just 10 minutes. It was my first cap and I didn’t want to come off.
At half time, Laurent Blanc was happy for me to continue. I knew it wasn’t serious. I wasn’t concussed or anything. So it was OK in the end. But that’s me – I am tough. It’s my nature.
You are high in a lot of stats rankings so far this season but there is one in particularly where you are top of the list.
Do you know which one?
Interceptions! It’s my game. It’s one of my qualities. I try to make it not dangerous for the team. I’m good at reading the game and a pass. I think it could help my team too.
It’s a big psychological challenge. I try to know where the pass will land, how the pass will be played. I’ve always had that in me. It’s partly instinct but also a lot of experience and knowledge of the game.
Earlier this season, a video of you doing a rabona at training went viral. How are you so good at it?
I can only do it with my left foot though! It is crazy as I am right-footed. I can’t do it with my right foot. I practise a bit before training!
But I have never done it in a game though. If we win the league before the last home game of the season, I will do it against Aston Villa at the Emirates, I promise!
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