Maupay: I read before kick-off to relax

When Neal Maupay moved to Brentford from St Etienne as a 20-year-old, it was the first time he had been to this country and he didn’t speak English.

By Alex Stedman • 15 January 2020

By Paul Hazlewood
Albion striker Neal Maupay has an unusual pre-match routine of reading before matches.

Fast-forward two-and-a-half years and the Frenchman is Albion’s leading scorer with seven goals following his summer switch from the Bees. He says his strong mentality and an appetite to learn and adapt has helped him make the transition to the Premier League. 

“I’ve always been curious to learn, when I don’t know something I want to find out more,” Maupay said.

“I just try to be as open-minded as possible with everything around the world. I didn’t speak English when I arrived here, so the first months weren’t easy.

“I was going to training every day and found it hard to communicate. I didn’t want to be isolated from the team or the club and I wanted to learn English quickly to help me become part of the environment.

“As time went on it became better and I felt good. I didn’t have lessons, I just picked things up and learnt by myself. I watched movies with English subtitles and some French films with the language setting changed.

“Then I sat with my teammates at lunch and listened to them. I just tried to improve - when you want something like that you learn quickly.”

By Paul Hazlewood
Neal Maupay didn't speak English when he arrived at Brentford in 2017.

The striker had scored a modest three goals in 23 appearances in the French top-flight before making the move to Brentford in the summer of 2017 and he talked about the number of factors off the pitch that can affect a player when they’re trying to settle into new surroundings. 

“I think people sometimes think it’s easy and that we just go out on the field and play football,” he said. 

“When you’re new to a country there are so many other things away from the pitch you have to deal with. When I joined Brentford I was living in a hotel, everything was back in France and my girlfriend was sorting it all for me, so it wasn’t easy for her either as I couldn’t go back to help.

By Paul Hazlewood
Albion forward Neal Maupay.

“If you’re not feeling good away from the pitch it can be tough, and that’s what I found when I didn’t know the language. I couldn’t really talk to anyone and had to find a house and open a bank account by myself which was hard.

“When you’re not feeling your best at home it’s difficult to come into training and matches and be completely free to enjoy yourself and play to the best of your ability.

“But once I felt settled it did seem to fall into place, there was a symmetry to it. Once I had my house and learnt the language and could go out with my teammates I was free in my mind.  Then I began to feel better on the pitch.”

By Paul Hazlewood
Neal Maupay is all smiles in the dressing room at the training ground.

Maupay’s desire to keep learning is best summed up by his unusual pre-match ritual of reading before matches. In the lead up to kick-off he can often be found buried in his latest novel – at the moment he's reading a book by extreme adventurer Mike Horn titled ‘Vouloir toucher les étoiles’ – translating to ‘Wanting to Touch the Stars’.

“I can’t remember when it started but I’d say it’s been happening for about three or four years now.

“It’s calming to read before a match, it focuses my mind. Before a game I’ll get into the changing room and then get changed before reading for half an hour or so – I’m relaxed when I read and I’m not thinking too much about the match.

“When I get to the stadium I know what I have to do on the pitch, so I don’t want to be thinking too much. I found this takes my mind away from that.

“I try to not pay attention to all the things around football like social media and the press. It’s easy from the outside to make a judgement sometimes. I just focus on myself and what I can do for the team. You can’t control what people will say around you, so I just try to think about what I can control.

“I would never have thought that I’d be a striker in the Premier League seven years after making my debut for Nice. It’s a dream for me. Back then I didn’t know what to expect when I started playing at the age of 16, but I’m so happy to be in this position.”


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