I was born in Seine-et-Marne, in Nemours, on 15 February 1993. I was heading for a school-leaving diploma in Business when I decided to focus on a career in football instead. I began playing for Nandy when I was very young – under-11. At ten, I was wearing a US Sénart-Moissy jersey, before joining RC Lens and their training centre in 2004.
As a second-year youth recruit, it really was a whole new life for me. I was living away from my family, and I learned a lot: discipline, respect for others and especially respect for my elders, the drive to win… The training centre became my second family. I’d forget everything else when I was out on the pitch. I got a huge amount of pleasure from that experience.
In spring 2010, I signed my first professional contract with the “Red and Golds” (Lens)
Coach Jean-Guy Wallemme included me in his final squad when Samba Sow got injured, and sent me on in the 84th minute of the match against Lyon on 21 November, substituting for Toifilou Maoulida. At the end of the season, the team were demoted to Ligue 2, where I played a full season: 40 matches and my first goal, against Tours.
Those two years were a really great time for me on a personal level, because I blossomed and made a name for myself, but not so great in terms of the squad’s fortunes. I would have liked to be able to bring more to a team that subsequently found itself facing financial problems. Before the summer transfer window, I knew that the team couldn’t afford to keep me on, and that I was going to have to move away from the region.
I wanted to get to know the Spanish football scene. I got a good feeling when I visited Seville’s facilities and learned about their policy and their ambitions. And when the time came to sign my transfer, I chose Seville over Barcelona. The 2012-2013 season was a great source of satisfaction in all areas. In sporting terms, I still cherish the memory of my headed goal against Granada and my first match in the Euros against Wroclaw.
I wanted to get back into Ligue 1, after the missed chance with Lens. An ambitious AS Monaco, who were back in the top flight of French football after being demoted, offered me that opportunity. In two years, I played 64 matches and scored two goals. In 2014, with 80 points – a record for the club – we finished as runners-up in France, just behind PSG, and therefore qualified automatically for the Champions League, where I’d never played before. I played four matches in the groups, the round of 16 and then the quarter finals. And I scored a memorable goal at the Emirates Stadium against Arsenal. Many felt I was “man of the match” that day. That performance earned me a load of offers from the big European clubs.