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Max in his Own Words: Part 1, Childhood

Speaking exclusively to RMC Sport, Allan Saint-Maximin opened up at length on very personal aspects of his life, on his aspirations, and his desire to play again one day for the French national side. Click here for full interview from the original source – it’s in French

When you were young, your mother used to give you 10 Euros every day, which you spent partly on sweets and partly on helping other children…

My family always stressed how important it is to share what you have. Whenever I had a little bit of money, I used it to buy sweets with my friends and to share them out in class, or I used to just to help friends who didn’t even have ten Euros to take to school every day. As a result, I ended up with nothing in the end, but it was always the sharing that mattered. Our family is very religious – we give without expecting anything in return.

What place does religion hold in your life?

To be honest, it’s my whole life. It’s really important. I pray every day and I go to church once or twice a week. It has large a role, also in the way I treat others and on the pitch. God is merciful, so we must be forgiving. Obviously, that’s difficult sometimes, especially when things are difficult or complicated or when people are trying to be malicious or to do you harm. It’s difficult to forgive, but, with my values and what religion teaches me, I try to find forgiveness more easily in certain situations. Those are the values that were instilled in me from an early age. That remains rooted in me.

It seems that you developed language and motor skills very early on. Is that true?

It’s true. In any case, my mum tried to make me take an IQ test to see where I was in relation to that. I had quite a high IQ. I don’t know if it’s still there (laughing), but I know it’s helped me a lot in a whole range of areas and in everything I do outside sport. It helps me to understand things much more quickly and to adapt faster.

We don’t always manage to have the necessary detachment in life, all the more so when you’re young. It’s very difficult to actually question or to understand certain situations. Reflecting on the consequences of things and on so much else has really helped me when certain things have happened in my life. Instinctively, I’ve got this way of thinking about things, of making sure that these things don’t happen again.

Is it anticipation?

Yes, that’s it. It’s anticipation. I lived near Paris. Bad things can happen there very quickly. I had to pay attention to the company I was keeping and everything around me. Even more so with football. It was pretty difficult when I arrived at Saint-Etienne. As you know, as soon as there’s even a bit of money, that can often turn the heads of a lot of people. There were lots of things to manage and I dealt well with all those small problems.

Do you consider yourself to be gifted?

I felt like it because I was interested in things… It’s still the case today. I’m interested in lots of things, in a huge number of sports. I follow politics. So many things. Everything interests me. I like to find something out about everything, and I read a lot. I like to watch the paths taken by people like the head of Tesla or Mr Amazon, Jeff Bezos. It’s curiosity. It’s knowing, and asking myself, what thought processes took them to where they are today, understanding their histories, their family stories etc. That interests me a great deal.

What kind of life did you lead? Because you seemed to be out of step with your peers…

I wasn’t understood. Without flattering myself, I was often able to see a little further than others. It’s not necessarily a good thing because people usually like to live from day to day. As for me, I was already thinking about my life, about what I wanted to do, where I was going to be. That might not have done me anyfavours among some people, but that’s always been my way of thinking, and it’s what ensured that I managed to find this ideal equilibrium.

You started playing football when you were 5 years old. When you were 7, you said to your mother, “One day, I’m going to be a professional footballer.” And she replied by telling you to work hard at school so that you could get a good job. Is that true?

That’s the perfect example of what I’ve been telling you, that there were some things that I was able to anticipate. People looked at me as if I was mad: “What’s he talking about?” But I knew exactly what I was saying. It motivated me. What a person says is important. When we say something, we have to stick to it. Otherwise, it’s better not to say anything at all. That’s always been important to me. Even when I was young, I didn’t like saying, for example, “When we play, I’m going to beat you 5-0” and then accept the 5-0. I never liked that feeling, so I always tried to take my time before saying anything. And when I was pretty sure of myself, then I would just say it. It happened after watching my brother play, seeing people older than me playing and seeing that I had superior skills to them. In fact, that was maybe what enabled me to really have confidence in myself, as a result of playing and then continuing to play over time. And telling myself that if I’m better than these people – who are two, three, four, or five years older than me – and if I continue to work hard and manage to be better, then I’ll put myself in the best position to become a top-class footballer.

What about tennis? Do you think you could become a professional in five years?

Honestly, if I threw myself into it, I know I would be capable of… Tennis is more difficult in the sense that you have to be exceptional with your hands. And I’ve never been very skilled with my hands. But it’s a very good example because it’s two or three months since I took up tennis to help me in my play, my base, being explosive, moving at any moment from the back of the court. It helped me to really prepare myself physically. It was something I did on the side. People who have played tennis for many years and have seen my level after three months of playing, they were all a bit surprised. Knowing that I’d never really played tennis, they were wondering what I’d done to reach that level after only three months.

From the age of 10 to 14 you played for AC Boulogne-Billancourt and began to get noticed in the Ȋle de France for your ability before you were even 8 years old. Did you already sensethat you enjoyed a certain popularity?

When you finish a tournament as the top scorer or the best player, you know that other people will be aware of it when you arrive at the next competition. And if they aren’t aware of it themselves, then their coach will talk about it. “Watch out for that player. He was the best player at such and such tournament, so you’ll have to pay attention to him.” They talk about, they discuss the main threats. And by talking about the best players, we know all the best players from every club, so I sensed it, I heard it from what the players would be saying.

And did you change anything, precisely because of that?

It’s a little difficult to manage, more so when you’re young. Because it can make you play above yourself, but also below your level, to manage things poorly. It’s not easy to carry everyone’s expectations, but I try not to focus on that too much and concentrate instead on my own performance. Not that it will always work, obviously. But that’s how I felt better about it. I used it as a force for myself.

All your teachers were very demanding. What did they ask of you that they didn’t ask of others?

When you’re gifted you think about a lot of things. I used to ask myself so many questions. Why is he like that with me but not with the others? Why has he been hard on me there when I didn’t see the need? It’s quite difficult to cope in those moments, but I began to get a general feel for it. And it was what happened all the time. I learnt to understand that the coach was actually being kind towards me and that he really wanted, in his heart of hearts, what was best for me.

When you were young you were a fan of Thierry Henry, and your dribbling was inspired by Zidane and Ronaldinho. Three very different personalities…

For me, if you mix these three players, then you’ve got the best player of all time.

Except that he won’t do much defending, this best ever player…

If you look at Messi and Ronaldo and all the Ballons d’Or that they’ve got, those are players who defend from time to time, but you don’t ask them to do it for the whole match. We know that defending is essential at this level, but you can turn a blind eye to a few defensive lapses from artists like that, because you know that they’ll contribute plenty of other things and they have to conserve some energy to make those contributions.

Before signing your first professional contract you took IQ tests at your mother’s request. She wanted you to concentrate on your studies. Your IQ was measured at 145. What was that like?

Very bad. It’s very difficult. There’s a lot of pressure. Saying “Allan is gifted, he has so much ability” and actually doing well in the tests, those are two totally different things.

You have to respond.

Exactly. Because if you talk about Allan as being gifted and you find yourself with a really poor test, you’re going to say it’s a bluff. There was a lot of pressure, and once I was there, I wanted to do things properly. I didn’t play around at it. My attitude was: “You’re here, so show what you can do.”

How did your mother react when she saw that you were really above everyone else?

She didn’t really need the test to know that. She was convinced of it. The test was really just her tool to tell me: “Listen to what I’ve said to you. You know what you still need to do. Throw yourself into your studies and football has to come second.”

Is that what you did?

No. It was difficult for my mum. She thought I had opportunities in so many areas: creating a new project, ideas, my mother saw a very different path for me. And I was obsessed by my religion – football. That was the only thing that interested me.

Did your relationship with your mother change after that?

It was damaged a little in that my mum didn’t necessarily think it was the right decision. She knew everything that football would generate, what it would bring with it, and she wasn’t wrong. Because it was a real test for her, everything that happened. There is criticism, people with bad intentions. You’re very exposed. It’s so many things. You’re no longer anonymous Allan. I was Allan who had to pay attention to everything he did. You can’t do whatever you like anymore. The death threats, the criticism, that went much too far. My mum saw so much further ahead for me when I was little. I thought about a lot of things. She would tell me all the time that football was a little world of sharks. She preferred me to stay on the academic side to avoid all the problems. And the thing that she really didn’t want – and that’s why I say that our relationship was damaged a little – it was that I would have to leave home. Going to Clairefontaine aged 13 and then to Saint-Etienne.

You escaped from her…

There you are. I didn’t see my mum anymore,so obviously it was like that for her. I still used to sleep in the same bed as her.

Until what age?

Late… to be honest…

Which means what?

13 or 14 years old… I still shared a bed with my parents.

Why?

I loved to tease my parents. Often, I was hyperactive. Going into their room, bothering them, or sleeping with them. It was often a way of reconciling myself with all the stupid things I’d done that day, of having myself forgiven for them. We watched films together. I tried to entertain them, to get as much as possible from the time I spent with them, and all the more so when I knew I was going to be leaving home relatively young.

Next time, in part 2, Allan talks about his time at his first professional clubs, Saint-Etienne and Nice, before leaving for Newcastle.

TRANSLATED BY MATTHEW PHILPOTTS (@mjp19731) FOR TRUE FAITH