Disappeared from the radar after being padlocked by Newcastle, Henri Saivet (31) lives in the second youth of Pau FC, which he joined this summer. The Senegalese international, author of 4 pawns in 9 games, looks back on his wonderful start to the season in Ligue 2, his long journey in the desert and his love for the Teranga Lions.
Interview with Thomas Morlec
I arrived quite casually. I was signed very early, at the end of May, which allowed me to get back in shape quietly, to find my level for continuing training. There, I felt really good. When I was out of contract in England, I returned to the region. Pau is not too far from Bordeaux, so I already know the city and the mentality of the inhabitants. I had no trouble acclimatizing, then here the weather is good, unlike Newcastle. (Laughter.)
Why did you choose Pau to revive you?
I have been training here at the end of last season for two weeks. Which made things easier when I got back. In the lot, there are some players I really sympathize with, so I’m not in uncharted territory. When I arrived, from the first days, it was going very well. With the staff, we have an honest relationship. It is a family club with ambitions and a great project. In the end, that was all I needed.
Returning to France, is it clear for you?
In absolute terms, I am open to other possibilities. Honestly, I thought I had other opportunities, but nothing happened to me. It’s part of football.
You asked Bordeaux to train the reserves to get you back on track. You remain unanswered by the Girondins while this is the club where you are trained, where you are the champion of France and where you are the captain. How did you feel at that time?
Bordeaux’s lack of response disappointed me and saddened me. I’ve been training alone for a few weeks, but I want to join a group. Bordeaux is my training club, where I arrived at the age of 12 and didn’t leave until I was 25 in good terms… I think I did a minimum of things there, even though I wore on the armband sometimes. This is an episode that is poorly handled. But hey, I’m not angry, maybe the new management doesn’t know me, surely they have other issues to deal with when the team is relegated to Ligue 2.
“When I returned to Newcastle after the final of the CAN losing against Algeria, they admitted to me that they had not followed my performance when there were two years left on my contract. It was just a lack of professionalism. »
You scored 4 goals in 9 games. Did you expect such a start to the season?
I never stopped playing, so I know I haven’t lost my football. Afterwards, from a physical point of view, with the sequence of matches, there were pains and small injuries, because my body was not used to the competition, but nothing serious. Maybe I was surprised by the people, especially the staff. During our discussions, they told me that they expect more from me in the second half of the season, so it was a nice surprise for everyone.
You always seem to like free kicks. You’ve got three this season, including two in the same game against Saint-Étienne. What’s your secret?
This is an exercise I always enjoy, several dozen of them per training day. It takes a lot of work, especially concentration and how to hit. You need to accelerate at the right time, see where the goalkeeper is. You have to find a mechanic and keep it, at this stage of my career I think I found it. If I shoot well, there is a good chance that it will rattle the net or create a danger in the opposing box. Now, it has become a deadly weapon. When I hear opponents tell me at the end of games that they avoid conceding free kicks because I’m in front, it makes me happy.
Looking back, how do you analyze your time in England?
This has to be a mixed report. I arrived at a good club, but not at the right time. The team is looking for each other and is in a difficult situation. The coach who recruited me was fired after four games. Rafa Benítez, the new coach, redistributes the cards… The urgency of his arrival is to save the club, not to manage egos or one’s playing time or another.
In the end, Newcastle fell…
In my contract, I have a clause that says that in the event of relegation, I can leave. My goal is not to play in the Championship, but higher. There are things going on inside that are out of my control. They blocked me from leaving. Newcastle demand poor sales percentages. They turned me down a lot when I wasn’t playing. Even for loans, I had to force my departure. Even now, I’m angry, because I don’t have an answer. I never understood why I was not more involved in the project of the club, when the players who were in my place on the pitch, in fact, were not better than me.
Surprisingly, it was a time when you had good times with the Senegalese team. You have been successful even in international competitions like the African Cup of Nations…
They have no respect for CAN, it’s that simple. When I returned to Newcastle after the final defeat against Algeria, they admitted to me that they had not followed my performance, when I had two years left on my contract. This is simply a lack of professionalism.
“Playing basketball probably allowed me to not hang up my cleats. »
Do you regret your choice to try your luck across the Channel?
In football, no. I had fun, I saw amazing atmospheres, St James’ Park is a beautiful stadium, and I discovered English football. Signing for Newcastle opened the doors of a big club like Saint-Étienne to me and allowed me to have the opportunity to discover Turkey, to play in a league I didn’t know where I live which is amazing those times. My departure even brought my club money at a time when they really needed it, so no regrets.
Has there ever been a time when you lost your self-confidence?
Certainly in these moments, even if the passion for football allows you not to let go, ask yourself questions. I wonder if I’m being naive. Despite everything I did, nothing made me smile. Within 3-4 days, I thought of quitting my career.
What makes you clear your head?
I love basketball, I did it when I was young. But when things are not going well in football, this is my escape. My friend is a basketball coach in Mérignac. Every year, he plans to travel to the United States to watch NBA games. I didn’t take long. This allows me to see something else, to make a few baskets with the Americans in Venice Beach. This is probably what allowed me to not hang up the crampons.
Due to your lack of playing time, you have not been called up since August 2019. Does that stick in your mind?
Of course, that’s a goal. The coach always told us that if we compete in the club, we can be called up. Because of my situation and the hard times I went through, I will do everything to be chosen first. I know what Aliou Cissé expects of me. I still hope to represent Senegal. Playing a World Cup is an experience I have never had, of course we all want to participate. There is nothing more rewarding than representing your country.
Are you dreaming of CAN 2023?
The current team is the defending champion, so it is always difficult to release a player. We’ll see at that time how I feel, if I can continue or not. I know there is a new generation. I have participated in three AFCONs. If I go, it’s to play a role and be competitive.
Interview with Thomas Morlec