Right in Boxing Day, the young central defender of Oldham Timothée Dieng speaks of the complicated season of the Latics, currently in the relegation zone in League One. The player trained in Grenoble and passed through the stade Brestois in French first and second division also tells us about his vision of English football and this atypical period of Boxing Day. Interview.
Hi Timothée, we had left you in 2014 in Brest, how did you come to Oldham?
At the end of my contract with Brest I did a trial here. After two training sessions and one friendly match that went very well, the club offered me a two-year contract plus an option year, and that’s how I found myself in England.
How is the 3rd English division compared to what you have known in France?
In terms of atmosphere frankly, I was surprised. I thought that in the third division, it would be a bit dead, but not at all. The stadiums are always filled with crowds of around 8,000 people, almost every time, and if you go to Sheffield United for example, the average is 19,000! The atmosphere is really great.
And in terms of level?
I would say there is a lot of rhythm, not much down times in the game, it’s really intense. Afterwards, if one were to compare with France, I have not played in the National (3rd French) division, but I know the Ligue 2, and it’s pretty close in terms of level.
The players are different in England?
The League One is very strong and there are lots of very physical players, but at the same time you also have many very good technicians. For example, Dele Alli, which is now Tottenham and England team, played last season in League One at MK Dons. In another example, two weeks ago, I found myself marking Joe Cole, so it’s really a League where there is quality, that is physical, but there are good football players.
You had to mark Joe Cole?
Yes, now he plays in Coventry! We did a 1-1 against them, and during the pre-match protocol, I saw Joe Cole. He still has the technique. Well, he has lost some vivacity, but he’s still a very good player technically, tactically, it’s very high level.
How is the beginning of the season?
We started the season with a new coach who had not much experience with professionals. In terms of preparation we have not had very good results in the friendly games and even in the first games of the league. The coach was sacked and replaced by David Dunn, the former Blackburn player. The results have not improved too much for now, and in mid-season, we are in the relegation zone, so it’s true that it’s a complicated start.
And on a personal level?
Personally, I had a difficult preparation since I got injured in the first pre-season match, so I was sidelined for three weeks. I started the season on the bench but gradually I got more playing time, whether at the right back position, defensive midfielder or as a central defender, so on that level I am quite satisfied because I was able to play 18 games in all competitions during this first part of the season.
Defensive midfielder, right back, central defender… which is your preferred position?
I played number 6 until I was 16. When I arrived at 16 I started to develop into central defense until I signed at Oldham. When I came here, the coach told me that I had the qualities to play 6, but I feel more comfortable in central defense. This year I also played right back, and I had not been bad, I had even been elected man of the match in that position.
You have only won one game at home this season, do you have an explanation for that ?
It’s true that it’s weird because it’s at home that we must be more difficult to beat. This season, and even since the end of last season, it’s complicated at home. Yet we manage to produce the game, but we show too much inefficiencies in both boxes. We are febrile defensively, we concede goals that we should avoid, and offensively we created many chances but we did not manage to put the ball in the back of the net.
Yet, away you have lost only one game!
It is true that it is paradoxical, perhaps we have some kind of public pressure at home, I don’t know, but this is the first time I know this kind of situation with better results away than at home, I have no real explanation to give you.
Has the arrival of David Dunn changed anything?
Yes, I would say that the trainings are more intense and there is more game than before. It reflects in the matches where we produce more things even if, for now, it has not paid in terms of results. He brought the positive and I hope it will bear fruits in the games to come.
It is precisely the Boxing Day period, how is it in practice ?
Specifically, in France you have a week break, allowing you to go and see your family for the holidays, to cut a bit with football. Here, in fact, nothing changes compared to previous months, it is training every day except December 25 where we had a day off. Well, it’s a typical week, except that it’s Christmas!
Isn’t it too hard to live?
For me with my family in France, you spend the Christmas times without them, for sure it’s not the same, but you have to stay professional and that’s part of the small sacrifices of the trade! Now this year, I took the English rhythm, and I feel better physically than last year where at this time, it was a little more complicated.
The matches schedule was December 26th and 28th and another one coming on January 2nd … a tough sequence right?
Yes, but the match of the 26th was postponed as it was a real deluge! The ground was flooded, so it was not a real Boxing Day!
You lost your last game against Doncaster on the 28th (1-2), can you tell us about that ?
Sure, we started very well, we had the ball and put them under pressure. But we conceded a goal that hurt us when we were in a strong period. We continued to play, we created chances, I had the opportunity to equalize but I put my header on the bar while I should have scored and equalized. We conceded a second goal before the break, and we took a serious hit.
What did the coach say during the break?
He told us we had no right to concede goals like that and that we had everything to come back. In the second half we manage to reduce the score but we could not get the equalizer. When you are not efficient in both boxes you pay the full price. We will play against Colchester on January 2nd, they are also in the relegation zone so it is a direct competitor for us. We will play at home and have to start winning in 2016 in order to relaunch our season.
What are the objectives for the club?
The main objective at the club level is to stay in League One. But we also have to give pleasure to the fans who are behind us and try to launch a series of victories, particularly at home. We must do everything to give them back what they give us and try to finish the season as high as possible.
And on a personal level?
Since I am out of contract at the end of the season I will do everything to show me and make good performances on the pitch, either to extend my year option in Oldham or to ensure in case it could not be the case. Anyway, I will give everything and try to take maximum pleasure on the pitch.
Your rating in FIFA 16 is 60, do you think it is deserved?
I would like to put something straight about FIFA: I am not left footed !!! I tested myself last week in the game, and frankly, it’s complicated to play with a player like that! I’m really not lively in the game (he laughs) !!! In the match where I tested myself I started 6 initially, I ended as a striker, and I even scored my goal so it was fun! But I think I deserved to be still a bit faster and a bit more lively!
Last question, as you play on Saturday, what are your plans for the New Year’s Eve ?
For now, I have not really planned, I think I’m going to see some friends, we will do a little quiet evening story to mark the occasion, but nothing crazy. You must remain professional and focused on football, and not make waves in this complicated period for the club.
Interviewed on 12/30/2015 – Translated from the French version available here