YVES BISSOUMA: TOTTENHAM'S NEW TORCHBEARER
Premier League enthusiasts need only glance at recent history to uncover legendary figures from the Ivory Coast. Yaya Touré and Didier Zokora, midfield titans, orchestrated the flow of the game with finesse every time they set foot on the pitch. Gervinho and Salomon Kalou showcased a level of pace and agility that bordered on the extraordinary. Meanwhile, Didier Drogba, the colossal game-changer and inspirational leader, left an indelible mark, motivating countless aspiring footballers worldwide. Though these luminaries may no longer grace our fields, their profound influence resurfaces in the distinctive play-style of Tottenham Hotspur’s incredibly dynamic midfield maestro, Yves Bissouma.
For the first 13 years of his life, Yves called the Ivory Coast home. However, driven by his footballing aspirations, he made a pivotal move to Mali, joining the Jean-Marc Guillou Academy. It was here that his innate hunger for success was not only nurtured but meticulously honed, giving rise to a play-style characterised by unyielding determination and tenacity that landed him as one of Lille’s top transfer targets.
With technical prowess inviting comparisons to the likes of Paul Pogba, Yves swiftly captured the attention of Brighton's esteemed scouting team. A leap to the Premier League is often accompanied by unforeseen challenges and moments of apprehension, yet the Malian took to this transition with remarkable ease, adapting to the new environment seamlessly.
Undoubtedly asserting his dominance over four seasons at Brighton, Yves Bissouma garnered acclaim not only from the Seagulls' staff and fans but also caught the discerning eye of Tottenham's Antonio Conte. Bissouma's innate knack for anticipating and eluding the press, coupled with his razor-sharp ball skills, perfectly aligned with the Italian manager's style of play, making him a great fit for Conte's vision.
However, Yves encountered a challenging debut season at Spurs. Conte contended that he hadn't fully grasped the team's tactics, resulting in limited game time that hindered his ability to showcase his true potential.
Yves shares an exceptionally tight bond with his family, from whom he learnt the virtues of humility and perseverance. This unique blend, paired with an unwavering focus and a genuine belief in his ability to be the best, has propelled him through the ranks into a pivotal role under the guidance of new manager, Ange Postecoglu.
Yves’ journey to the top has been inspiring, and he kindly took the time to discuss with us the ins and out of his come up, his future aspirations, and his personal life…
Fashion is a big passion of yours – where did it come from? Your parents? Your brothers?
No, I think it was from friends, you know, because I remember when I was playing in France, I would see other players who I played with dressing well, and I think that’s where the addiction started.
You were in Lille for two and a half years – overall, how did you find your time in France?
Yeah, it was good. I spent two good years there, with my family, they were around me as well, so yeah it was cool. I really enjoyed it there.
Do you have a big family? Do you feel their support when you’re playing football? Is it helpful?
Yeah, of course, I always feel it! Family is very important to me, I am very close to my family, so with everything I do, I just want them to know what I’m doing, and try to support me however they can. They’re always supporting me and that gives me more power to do what I have to do and be the best.
Take me back to the beginning - so you were born in Ivory Coast, you lived there for around 13 years, and then you moved to Mali? Where are your parents from?
My parents live in Ivory Coast because they work there. So, I was born there, and then after, I moved to Mali to the French Academy, like football school and stuff like that.
So, do you remember growing up in Ivory Coast? You have fond memories of it? Obviously Ivory Coast is also a big country in the football world too.
Yeah, I have some really good memories. And of course, yeah, we have Drogba, Toure, Gervinho, Kalou, some amazing players, one who even played for Tottenham – Zokora.
Yaya Touré was a coach at Tottenham when you joined – what was it like to play under an Ivorian legend of the game?
He’s an amazing guy. He’s a player everyone knows – I don’t have to say anything – fantastic player. But, as a person, he’s a really good guy. He would tell me to just shout him whenever I needed him. I would talk with him, and I would try to ask him for advice, which is important for me because he’s one of the best players in the world for me, so yeah, I was really happy to meet him there. He was my idol when I was young, so, to meet him and talk with him about football and about life was great for me.
Do you think it helped you settle down having someone around from the same background and upbringing as you?
Yeah, of course, it’s very important, you know, because he did what I want to do – he’s already done it, so he knows the way to do it, and that’s what I tried to ask him. He would tell me and advise me on how to be the best, and it was fantastic for me.
In 2016, it was a big year for you. You had the Africa Cup of Nations, which might have helped provoke your move to Lille. In the semi-final, you scored against Ivory Coast – what was that like?
To be honest, it was normal. Mali is my country; I play for Mali. At the same time, I really respect Ivory Coast as well, but I think for me, football is a game. You have to play and have fun. I try not to think about things like that, I just do what I have to do.
"...I remember when I was young, some people helped me, and I always dreamt that if I would have the chances to help people as well. So now I’m trying to do that, and I hope that it will lead to big things for people in Africa..."
In a couple of months, you’re gonna be there again. Hopefully this time you do one better than 2016 and you win, but how important is the competition for you, because I know a lot of people are frustrated with it being in the middle of the season, but your country is your country, so how important is it for you?
It’s really important, it’s really really really important for me. Not just for me, but for every African, you know. For us, it’s like a little World Cup in Africa. So, you know, to win this… it’s something. Especially in football, it’s something… With my country, we’re going to try hard to win this cup next year, because we’ve never won it, and for us to win our first AFCON would be fantastic. So yeah, I’m trying every day to be my best to be ready for these things… not just for my country, but for Tottenham too. Even thinking about playing in the World Cup because Mali have never played in it before. So, in my mind, I want Mali to be recognised globally, not just in Africa, so I’m working towards this.
I think the World Cup in 2026 is actually going to be slightly bigger, so we will have one or two more countries that qualify from Africa, so, there’s even more chance now.
Yeah, there’s a bigger chance, but you know, in Africa, it’s still tough, and you know, the reality there is not like here, everything is different.
But one thing is in African football, is that no matter the country, in 90 minutes, anything can happen.
Yeah, this is African football. It’s so hard, really hard. It’s strong. I think you have to be not only a good team, but very strong as a team to try to do something.
I always wonder this – we see so many African players thrive in the Premier League, like yourself, Salah, and Mahrez, so what is it that makes AFCON that much more difficult? Is it the pitches, the heat, the physicality?
Every aspect you’ve mentioned is important. When you play here, and then you go back and play there, it’s definitely not the same. It’s small details. You’ve got the weather, and yeah some pitches as well. Things like that can affect some players. But yeah, I think that if you really focus on what you want to do, and you understand the reality in Africa, then you will be ready. So all of the names you mentioned, I think they’re ready because they know the reality in Africa, you know what I’m saying?
You’ve got off to a brilliant start this season. You and Sarr have a really good partnership in midfield. When you joined Tottenham, because you were so brilliant at Brighton, everyone was expecting big things. Is it difficult with the pressure and expectation of a £30m move to a big club?
It was okay for me. I was happy, really happy to sign at Tottenham. Brighton and Tottenham are very different, you can’t compare both teams. So yeah, I was very happy to sign for Tottenham. But for me, I feel like I always do things that put pressure on myself, so everything I do I try to do as calmly as I can, because I know myself, and I believe in myself. So yeah, I can have one or two seasons that aren’t so good, but I believe in myself, and I work hard to show people that I’m here and that I can do what I have to do. But you know football, sometimes you can be good or bad; you just have to stay focused on your goals, and that’s what I’m trying to do this year.
What do you think has changed within yourself over the last year?
I think I’m just focused. When you play football, you know, confidence is really important. As a football player, you need to have really high confidence to be able to play at your best level. But when you don’t have so much confidence, it’s a bit harder. It can affect you, not just in football, but in life as well. Because, yeah, we play football but after football, we have a life as well. There are many things that can affect both your football and your life as well. So, for me, I’m just trying to stay focused on what I have to do. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t, but that’s just life, you have to continue with what you have to do.
Last season, I think from the outside, because the team wasn’t performing as strong as you are this season, it sparked conversations about chemistry and other things. But this season - I saw a video of yourself and Emerson Royal dj’ing a Lil Baby song, and you clearly have a good relationship with Destiny Udogie – it just seems like the players are much more together, and you all have similar interests.
We’re more like a family, you know. That’s the gaffer, that’s what he showed us he wants. He wants us to be a family. So that’s what we’re trying to do. Every one of us is very close. And me, I’m always in a good mood, so when I’m in the changing room, I’m trying to show everyone love, and make people dance, and help them relax, you know. Because you don’t know what they have and what they do at home. I try to treat my teammates like my brothers.
So, in your personal life, away from football, how do you like spending your free time? What do you enjoy doing?
I like chilling at home, you know, going on some walks, some runs. Sometimes it’s music, because, you know, I have a studio at home, so I’m trying to make some songs.
So, you make music as well?
I’m not professional, but yeah, I want to. Maybe soon I’ll make a song. I’m still learning, because, you know, I have some friends doing who are doing well in the UK and in Paris as well. So, yeah, sometimes I spend my free time in the studio. Or sometimes I go out with my friends, shopping, going to restaurants. You know, chilling, normal life… no stress.
A lot of other footballers, like Onana, Iwobi, Rafael Leao, as well, are starting to make music. Footballers are starting to pursue things outside of football. Does it make it easier to perform better when you have ways to relax off the pitch?
Yeah, you know, everyone has their personality. I think I’m just trying to be me. I know I love music, which is why I chose to build a studio at home, because I know it’s going to help me relax. When I want to, I can spend time there, and I’m still at home, I’m recovering as well, you know. So it’s about how each person takes it. Me, I’m just trying to relax and have fun, but I know there would be players who find it helpful to focus when they’re playing football. It depends on who you are. I’m just trying to be me, you know. I think in life, you have to be you.
You’re a big fashion fan. Your favourite brand is clearly Louis Vuitton. You said in France, that your teammates inspired you to take fashion seriously. In the long term, can you see yourself being a model, and doing other things like that?
Yeah, I think so. Why not? It’s an opportunity, so if I have chances to try these things, why not? You always have to try things, every day, because we’re still learning, you know? Also, I’m a big fan of David Beckham as well, you know what I’m saying, so maybe one day I can be the African David Beckham, haha.
On the pitch, what is it that you want to achieve in the next five years? If you had one wish? Obviously, we’ve talked about Mali and taking them to the World Cup, but on a personal level, what is your goal?
The first one, I just want to stay focused at Tottenham, because, I am a Tottenham player first. I just want my team to be the best in the Premier League for the next couple of seasons. But we never know. At the moment, we’re playing well, but we have to continue like that, which is why we’re working very hard every game, trying to win. Everyone knows how hard the Premier League is. We’re just having a good time, taking it day by day, game by game, and we’ll see in the future.
Is there any businesses you might want to pursue outside of football? Maybe a fashion line, or, I know you like jewellery. Anything you have your eye on?
Yeah, I am trying to create my brand, YB8, but at the moment, the first thing on my mind is football. I could have more opportunity in the future for these things, so at the moment, I have to stay focused on football at the moment, and then we can see what happens. But I am making an association as well, for kids in Africa. Not just an academy, but like foundations as well, you know with jobs and things. Because I remember when I was young, some people helped me, and I always dreamt that if I would have the chances to help people as well. So now I’m trying to do that, and I hope that it will lead to big things for people in Africa, because I know how hard it is there. It’s very personal for me.