After arriving at ESTAC Troyes at the end of August, Adil Rami sat down for a chat about the background to his signing, his long physical preparation and his desire to show that he is still a top-level player - in a Ligue 1 Uber Eats that he says is on the rise - after several difficult seasons.
The 35-year-old centre-back spoke to FIFA.com several days ago about his decision to join Troyes, before speaking frankly about the doubts surrounding his fitness since leaving Olympique de Marseille. Fully aware that Laurent Batlles may have "reservations" about him, the former LOSC player intends to show all football fans that he is "still here and that he never gives up".
Adil, can you tell us about the background to your signing at ESTAC Troyes?
I was preparing in Saint-Tropez, but I had the ambition to go and live in the United States. I wanted to find a club there and, at the same time, prepare for my transition to a commentary role for the 2026 World Cup. I'm lucky enough to speak Spanish very well and have a decent level of English, so I thought it was the right time to immerse myself in this environment. I also had the opportunity to work for RMC or to join Les Grosses Têtes on RTL. I was very happy with these offers, because there are not many footballers at the end of their careers who receive so many offers. Then I got a call from my entourage and they said: "Are you OK to come back to Ligue 1? I asked: "Which club?" and they said: "Troyes". I thought about it for ten minutes and then I said, "Let's go". The most difficult obstacle was the medical examination. They tested me from head to toe [laughs]. It was a very, very tough day physically, but my body managed to hold out. At 35, I'm very proud of it.
What are the reasons that motivated you to make this choice?
There are many reasons: [coach] Laurent Batlles, a young team, a style of play that was recognised last season in Ligue 2 BKT, the ambition of the City Football Group, and above all the fact that I am now closer to my children. They love football, they often talk to me about it, and I thought it was time they got to see their daddy play more closely. All these arguments added up to convince me. As a competitor, I thought it was the perfect choice. And I love football - and challenges. Troyes offered me a real chance. Moreover, when people ask me: "Why did you choose Troyes? I answer them the opposite question: "Why did Troyes choose me? The club have proven themselves, earned promotion and worked really hard, whereas for me, for two years, it was neither this nor that. I am very grateful to the club for for the chance to wear this shirt.
Your arrival has created a lot of excitement. How was it for you?
I didn't expect it. People were talking about Sergio Ramos and then Lionel Messi, so I thought I was going to be overlooked. But in the end, I got a lot of attention. It's a source of pride. Afterwards, the buzz is good. At the time, it's nice. But when people talk about you like that, you must always remember that it's ephemeral. Because the reality is that I have to work to meet the expectations of the club, the coach and the fans. I keep telling myself that in training, in my car or at home. That's the most important thing.
'My passion for football will not be taken away from me'
How were you physically before joining ESTAC?
I'm not going to lie, it was complicated after Olympique de Marseille. But last season, I managed to play a lot of games with Boavista (22 games). I was one of the most important players in helping the club to keep its title. I wasn't in bad shape - I was physically good without being exceptional. When I arrived at ESTAC, I had the chance to meet Pascal Faure and Mathieu Dubarry [physical trainers]). They concocted a real preparation for me, and it was nothing like my previous experiences. They go through everything. They try to push the machine to the maximum in terms of my cardio, and we still have work to get through. They do things gradually so that I can be at 100%, without taking any risks. I haven't prepared myself in this way for more than two years. Of course, the first few games will be difficult. There is no substitute for the pitch. But without having played with Troyes, I already feel much better than last season with Boavista.
Do you feel your experience will be something you can contribute?
First of all, I'll have to earn my place. There are a lot of central defenders, even if they are young, and I'll have to respect the hierarchy. Because of my career and my experience, I know how to adapt and be patient to wait for my time. But, like a child who has done his homework well at school, I am serene and I am eager to show that I have worked well. To the fans, the coach and the French public, whether they like me or not, I will show that I am still here, that I never give up. As long as I still have this feeling of being able to contribute something, I will do it without question. Of course, at one point I wanted to stop, with the injuries and the hypocrisy of the football world. But I told myself that if I did, I would prove my detractors right, so I followed my heart and my passion and chose to continue. My passion for football will not be taken away from me.
'I don't care about my past'
What are your goals on a personal level?
First of all, I wanted to succeed in my physical preparation. As I said, it hasn't been easy but I'm starting to feel better and better. I'm already satisfied with that. Secondly, I need to settle into the squad. Once that happens, I can concentrate on winning my place as a starter. I want to be a pillar of this team. It's very important for me, even at my age. Clearly, I don't care about my past, I'll have time to talk about it after my career with my children and my friends. What matters to me is the present and the future.
Since your arrival, have you felt a certain expectation from your teammates?
The most important thing for them is that they feel comfortable, that they have fun with me and that we have a good connection. Little by little, I'm starting to talk to the other central defenders. Whether they are young or experienced players, I try to make them understand that we have to talk to each other 24 hours a day. My job, which I do naturally, is to create links between all the players. I know that in order to have good results, you have to have good cohesion. It's something that I manage to encourage. At the moment, I can see that they are trying to get to know me, but there is not much to find out from all the things you hear about me.
Have they ever asked you for advice?
A few youngsters have. I tell them that you have to communicate and trust your partners. As soon as one of them goes into a challenge, he really has to think that if he slips, makes a bad choice or loses the ball, there will always be a team-mate to cover him. On preventive marking, I also explain to them that when we have possession of the ball and the block is high, we must not be spectators. That's when we have to be in place to anticipate the slightest loss of the ball. That means that if there are two attackers in front of us, we must be three, with two players marking and one covering. This is fundamental when our attacking players have the ball. And that's something you have to integrate little by little, it's not so easy. I'm trying to bring my experience on this type of point, but I don't want to distort the coach's work. I also have to get to know the team's style of play.
'My arrival was complicated for the coach to manage'
After having regularly played for top clubs, how do you adapt to playing for a side looking to avoid relegation?
It's very, very hard. Moreover, when you play with young players, like Boavista, you have to make them understand that stress and fear are our worst enemies throughout the season. The squad has to know how to stay calm, not to ask questions, to stick together and dare to get forward. If you start to have the ball burning your feet, you're not going to make it. At Troyes, what I really like about the team is that everyone works. There is no ego. In the big clubs, sometimes players have talent but they have too much ego. That can ruin the team and I hate that. For a player like me, very generous, with a heart and who loves people, I am well served here. The lads just need to realise that we have a great team. Of course, we have the label of promotees, that's how it is, but that doesn't mean we have to keep it. We're in Ligue 1 Uber Eats, like PSG, we have to play our game and know how to take advantage of the teams who are going to underestimate us.
Has Laurent Batlles told you how he wants to use you?
My arrival was complicated to manage for the coach because he didn't know where I was at physically. Honestly, I don't know what to think about his wishes concerning me. He already has a good squad. When the club recruited me, I didn't have a guarantee from the coach that I would get playing time. We have a lot of respect for each other. I put myself in his place: when you look at my career since the end of my adventure in Marseille, it is logical to have doubts. He is right to have reservations and to wait for me to prove myself. I like this challenge. It's up to me to show him on a daily basis who I am and how I am. I think that once he understands me, he will be able to use me to good effect. I know personally that I can bring a lot to this Troyes team. Now, I will have to continue to perform well in my preparation and in training, and then I will see with him what he needs.
How do you feel about being coached by a former player against whom you played in Ligue 1 Uber Eats?
I think it's a great sign of longevity. When you perform for so long at a high level, because in all my clubs I played in the first division, to have the chance to come back to Ligue 1 Uber Eats at the age of 35 is a source of pride. Moreover, I'm happy to be coached by Laurent Batlles because he still has the feel of a footballer, whereas with time, some coaches forget details and their discourse is less clear. When he talks about football, I understand him directly, the message is clear. What's also nice is that we can give our opinion on a situation we can't understand. He'll come back to it and explain it in an educational way.
You have worked with well-known coaches since you started. Are you surprised and won over by the Laurent Batlles method?
When he was a player, he already used his head a lot to analyse the game, he was very clever and he knew exactly what he was doing, so I am not surprised. He is a very smart coach. As I said, he also has this humility to listen. You can communicate. He's really very human. Moreover, with the style of play he advocates, I hope we'll be playing for more than just top-flight survival. The example to follow is RC Lens last season. Of course, we have a lot of players who were recruited at the end of the season, and the team is taking a little time to settle in, but we have all the ingredients to have a good season.
'Ligue 1 Uber Eats is a wonderful showcase'
You, who have played in Spain, Italy, Turkey, Russia and Portugal, what is your view on the development of Ligue 1 Uber Eats?
It has turned a corner and I am very happy about that. Today, when you come back to the French championship, people congratulate you. That was not the case in the past. Thanks to Paris Saint-Germain, who should not be considered an enemy but a rival, Ligue 1 Uber Eats is a magnificent showcase, with players like Lionel Messi or Sergio Ramos. OM have also started a new cycle with Jorge Sampaoli and his numerous recruits. It's positive. We mustn't forget OL as well. I'm really like Jean-Michel Aulas and Juninho. With all these characters, Ligue 1 Uber Eats is moving in the right direction. I hope that this will encourage young players to stay instead of going abroad.
You mentioned Lionel Messi. He was your bête noire in Spain (no wins in 12 games)...
Of course, I never won, but there were draws , and I got 4 or 5 shirts from him [laughs]. The worst thing is that with Sevilla we once won 2-1 at home against his Barça [on 3 October 2015] and I was injured. [He reflects] Oh dear, twelve games anyway... He was too strong. At the time, he was always at my back, in an offside position, then he'd slowly move back, hit the halfway line, go back and always find Pedro as a relay. It was incredible. Now he's more in a passing role, so it's easier for the defenders, we can wait for him. I don't think he's still capable of doing the mazing dribbling runs he used to do. Besides, as I am a big fan of Kylian Mbappé - I deeply hope he will get a Ballon d'Or - I am glad he stayed at PSG. Not for me, because I don't like players like him who reach their peak speed in just seconds, but because Lionel Messi will make him play even better. Honestly, if Kylian understands the runs he has to make, it will hurt teams a lot. Messi will know how to make the pass at the right moment and to measure it perfectly.
When you arrived at Troyes, you mentioned the France team. Is it still really in the back of your mind?
[He smiles] First of all, to get into the French team, the most important thing is your level of play. Didier Deschamps doesn't take a player just because he creates an atmosphere and brings cohesion. He doesn't care about that at all, he wants good players on whom he can rely. Afterwards, if you are generous, have a good mentality and bring joy to life, yes, he will call you up. Of course, it's almost unthinkable that I would return to the France team, but I find it hard not to think about it. It's part of my character, and nobody will stop me from dreaming. But I understand the people who read this interview and say: "What is he saying? He's thinking of a return to the France set-up when he's not even playing". That's the way I am. In my head, I always say to myself: "If you have a great season with Troyes and you show everyone that you can be there, then why not."
>> CLUB PROFILE: ESTAC Troyes