Ikoné: 'I am improving'
LOSC forward Jonathan Ikoné, who scored on debut for France in the 4-1 mauling of Albania on Friday, has spoken about his rapid ascension into the ranks of his country's finest footballers.
Ikoné may have been surprised by his call-up to Didier Deschamps' France squad for the Euro 2020 qualifiers against Albania and Andorra - and nervous when joining the squad at the Clairefontaine training centre for the first time - but he showed no sign of nerves when he slammed home his country's fourth goal off the bench to make it an incredibly memorable week for the 21-year-old.
'They put me at ease'
Speaking to French sports daily L'Equipe, Ikoné explained that his nerves were quickly put to bed at the famous chateau at Clairefontaine, just outside of Paris.
"When I arrived, all the players congratulated me and we chatted a bit. They're good people and they put me at ease. The staff also congratulated me," explained the awe-struck 21-year-old, who represented France at every youth level before making his senior-team debut on Saturday. "I spoke with the coach. He told me that if I was there, it was thanks to my work, but that it was not to give an inch, and not change my mindset."
After that, familiar routines - notably the bizutage, the tradition that requires new faces to stand up and sing in front of the whole group - kicked in.
"At the table, at dinner, Antoine [Griezmann] began to tap the glass on the table and it was announced that it was tome to sing. It was a member of the staff [Cyril Monk, the new physical trainer] who went first. Matteo [Guendouzi] was the second, and then it was my turn. I sang a song by Neto, a young French rapper."
Growing at LOSC
Despite having debuted for PSG - the club whose youth academy he graduated from - in Ligue 1 Conforama in October 2016, Ikoné really burst onto the scene last season with LOSC, when his partnership with Jonathan Bamba and Nicolas Pépé rivalled Paris' renowned 'MCN' - Kylian Mbapé, Edinson Cavani and Neymar - with some divine football and a second-placed finish.
"It's true that the last season was my first full season. If I were to highlight a match rom that campaign, it would be the one at home to Paris (a 5-1 win on 14 April, 2019). From that point on, I recognised that I had really grown and learned a lot of things in Lille, like playing the number ten role. Fundamentally, I am more of a winger and a dribbler. But at LOSC, I took on more of a playmaker role even though I would still get past my man from time to time. [Coach Christophe] Galtier asked me to continue to dribble but to dribble with purpose."
It was a role that Ikoné took to, providing nine assists and scoring three goals at Les Dogues clinched direct UEFA Champions League qualification, but now he feels his main task is to work on his finishing.
"At training, with the club, I often work with the assistant coach and one of the 'keepers. I need to improve my technique in the strike. I don't load up the right way; I'm not quite balanced and my position is out of whack. I'm generally leaning back too much. I need to find a way to concentrate more so I can have the lucidity to do this well in a match situation," explained the extremely focused young man. "But I feel that I am improving."
There was certainly no problem with his technique as he stroked home his first-ever senior goal for France which, given this young man's rise and rise over recent seasons, seems unlikely to be his last.