Sport interview with Lianick Comba
Translated by Margot Daniele, proofread by Coralie Frachisse
Lianick Comba is a young soccer player who is living what could be called a true “American dream”. He has grown in Bondy with a guy named Kylian Mbappé and is in fact one of these young soccer players who has known how to get back on his feet after an unusual career. Between travelling to Istanbul, his family circle, and a current “rebirth” in the United States, this is the story of a young career that is already full of twists and is enlightening in a world that can be obscure.
Hello Lianick, we wanted to talk with you about your career. After starting in the youth league in Île de France, you decided to go to Turkey. Why did you make this choice?
When the opportunity to grow in Turkey was presented to me, it was to play professionally for the first time for the team of Antalya. It’s always hard to leave your family, especially at a very young age, to grow abroad, but this is one of the sacrifices that a soccer player has to do to succeed. In fact, I find it crazy to be able to say that I’ve visited many countries thanks to a leather ball!
Unfortunately, in some soccer families, we have blind faith in agents, and this is what happened to my family. They never met my first agent and with what happened they learnt from their mistakes and met the next ones to see if they had a serious project or if they were simply working for their own interests.
What was your personal relationship with agents?
I was very happy and on alert at the same time because, in the soccer world, agents are like sharks searching for a “sucker”. To be honest with you, I was the type of soccer player who didn’t believe all of these legends because I never had an agent who had contacted me directly to offer me an experience abroad: they always went through my coaches. I thought it was a question of level, of merit more precisely. I think it’s a shame because there are great agents out there who give themselves fully and I was able to see that, in this field, some of them take advantage of us and take advantage of others’ credibility.
If I understood correctly, your bad experience comes from the agent who got you to try your luck in Turkey?
My first agent was Turkish, and he had very good contacts in Turkey, so with a few players of my club back then, we decided to grow with this agent. To tell the truth, I was the triggering factor of this decision-making.
We all met up in a luxurious hotel and he started to ask us questions about how much money we earned in France. Obviously, no one was earning any money: none of us were professional soccer players. His answer was, and I quote, “I promise you that with me you will have a very juicy professional contract on one condition: you have to sign this accountability agreement between you and me”.
The problem was that the agreement was entirely in Turkish and that we couldn’t understand it: he knew we couldn’t read the agreement. My coach at the time and the players were all reluctant, but I wasn’t. I thought I had nothing to lose, and the agent started to blackmail us by saying he wouldn’t take us to Istanbul if we didn’t sign these agreements. In reality, it was written in these agreements that he could accept or refuse a Turkish club’s offer on our behalf for two years if he ever was interested.
What were the consequences on your experience in Turkey?
During my tryout, various professional clubs saw me and asked for information about me. I learnt this thanks to a professional soccer player of French U21 international who had been growing for a few years in Turkey, and that was when I learnt the truth. Three clubs wanted me, but my previous agent refused all their offers because the signing bonus he had earned didn’t meet his expectations.
With my teammates, we went to the airport a day before the take-off of our return flight to France without being accompanied because our agent had disappeared right after what had just happened. We were on our own and we were two hours away from the Sabiha Gökçen airport of Istanbul with no money. We had to spend the night at the airport. On the bright side this allowed me to have a mind of steel and to not make the same mistakes again. When I left for the USA, it caused a stir because he tried to get in touch with me again but unfortunately for him, he only talked to my voicemail. This was an experience that helped me for the future because making mistakes means that you are a step closer to success.
Despite these manoeuvres of your money, do you still keep good memories of Turkey?
For me going to Turkey was a short-lived experience, admittedly, but it was very rewarding. In comparison to France, the differences that I found at the beginning mostly had to do with transport. In France, it is easier to move around because there is a great rail network. What later shocked me is that when you arrive at the airport you can feel that soccer is very important in their culture. I was asked to take at least a dozen selfies. Whether it be the airhostess or airhost, they were very friendly and impressed when I told them about the club in which I was supposed to grow.
Let’s go back to your current experience in the United States. How was your departure perceived after your miscarried attempt in Turkey?
Not everyone can go to the United States. To succeed, you have to do a lot of sacrifices, and surround yourself with people who have the same goals and ambitions as you do. At the time, those around me were holding me back a lot. They didn’t believe in me, I was told: “how come you are here when your teammates are all on the French national team?”. And when I said it was because of my short-sightedness that I had fallen behind, because I have grown during all my youth without glasses, I was called crazy.
Sure, I think I’m crazy it’s true, I train very hard at night, I regularly leave my family because of soccer but at least I’m happy to say that I don’t lie. I’m glad to be able to keep doing what I’ve always wanted to do since I was young when others lie to themselves and prefer criticizing others instead of taking chances. These “others” are no longer a part of my circle because we don’t have the same values and when a man has values, he inevitably has enemies. It was like a challenge for me to show them that after my failed attempt to sign professionally in Turkey, I kept going with soccer and that I now thrive by learning new cultures and languages.
The recruitment and post-training processes in the US are little known in Europe, would you care to explain to us how it happened for you?
I went to the US with the FFFUSA agency, they’re great guys who listen: for once I feel mentored in my career as a soccer player thanks to them.
I am growing at the Southern New Hampshire University for the “Penmen men’s soccer” program. In the United States, there really is this culture of sports and there are infrastructures worthy of the greatest professional clubs in Europe. I feel fulfilled and I am concentrated on my goal to become a professional soccer player in the United States thanks to a system named “draft”. They are university players like me who are selected during their last year at university to stand as candidates (NCAA) for MLS franchises (Major League Soccer, main league of soccer in the USA) to play in the league.
What is your opinion on the quality of soccer in the United States?
To be honest, soccer in the USA is more complicated than you’d imagine. It is not just for North American players. It is important to underline this because there are the best players of South America (Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Mexico…) who dream of growing in American university league, and they need to have the skills to get a scholarship, not to mention the European players who are also there. Going to the United States is more than a plan B, it’s a life choice to become a professional, or if this doesn’t work out, to have an American university diploma and to also become bilingual. I personally hope to become a professional at the end of my studies. My dream would be to be drafted and maybe, if Lionel Messi goes to Major League Soccer, to grow alongside him with Blaise Matuidi (a French international player who is growing at the Inter Miami in MLS).
Image credits: @piensaenpixel