Football is a sport that is accessible to the majority of people from a young age. A sport that starts on the street and one in which if you’re good can excel you to dizzying heights. There are no formal rules to becoming a footballer and classicism barely exists when making it to the next level. It’s pretty simple - if you’re good then you can go far, no matter what your background.
For former Southampton player, Yan Valery, his footballing journey began in Champigny-sur-Marne, in the south-eastern suburbs of Paris, eight miles outside the city centre. It was on the streets where he learned to play football with his friends. Having an active role in different sports Valery was picked up at the age of six after joining his local team. Taking an interest in both basketball and boxing, it was clear that he was set for a career in sport.
By his early teens, Valery was being scouted by professional clubs and at 14 years old he signed to Stade Rennais. Recognised as having one of the best youth academies in the country and bringing through the likes of Ousmane Dembélé, Yacine Brahimi, Eduardo Camavinga, Yoann Gourcuff and Yann M'Vila, it was here that he learned everything about the game.
Becoming a key player in the academy, Valery would often train with older players. It was here that he recognised the outcome of working hard to progress. “Ousmane Dembélé was insanely gifted and an incredible footballer. Everyone knew he was good. We used to play a game where every player could have as many touches as they wanted, but Ousmane could only have three and what he was producing with those three touches was crazy.”
The fact that Valery was playing with the likes of Dembélé meant that his ability was improving rapidly and teams across the world were becoming alerted to the fact that Valery was highly talented on the pitch. For lots of foreign players, the dream is to play in the Premier League and for him it was no different. Although the technical side of his game came less naturally, his strength and determination shone through and after impressing in a tournament for Rennes, at 16, Southampton became aware of the talents on offer. Southampton eventually came for him soon after, with an offer he couldn’t refuse. Leaving his home country and his parents was a tough decision, but with dreams of playing in the Premier League from his childhood, it was a no-brainer.
The Premier League is a fast and aggressive league, much like learning to play on the streets. It’s here where footballers come to prove themselves on the world stage and for most football fans across the world, the Premier League is their go-to. Some would argue the Premier League is the most competitive league in the world, with the likes of Man City, Man United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and Spurs all competing at the top. The likes of Southampton, Leicester, West Ham and Brighton who are the smaller teams with lower budgets still pull surprises from time to time. The competitive nature of the league and the chance to play against the best is what drew Valery to the Premier League.
Valery’s competitive nature stemmed from his father. His mentality and the way that he thinks is something Valery admired from a young age and the guidance he received all the way from being a young child is something that he holds dear to him. Being raised in what some would argue was a lesser gentrified area of Paris, Valery talks about how this was something that he’s grateful for in many ways. “People see rough areas as a bad thing, but when you grow up in this sort of environment you learn a lot. It makes you mentally tougher because you see a lot of things. I’m happy to have come from there.” Growing up within this neighbourhood where there wasn’t much to do other than hang out with friends and play sport is something Valery is more than thankful for now.
Photography: Jonathan Tomlinson
Agency: The Mailroom
Styling: Nayaab Tania