Thomas Meunier: Mentality matters
Paris Saint-Germain right-back Thomas Meunier has a cultured approach to work/life balance and, unsurprisingly, sees the mental strength of the club's new recruits as their forte. Interview with a cultured footballer…
Despite having a job that is entrenched in the world of athletes, social media, sponsors and gossip columns, Thomas Meunier does things differently from the average footballer - often spending his time off taking in the artistic riches that Paris has to offer.
"For me, art is like an escape - a way to get away from things a bit," the Paris Saint-Germain right-back told This is Paris. "When I go to an exhibition, I like to take my time and enjoy the moment. I can look at a painting for minutes and analyse it. I find it really relaxing. It's a real source of inner peace."
Meunier may display passion out on the pitch, but chasing a ball around certainly isn't his whole life. The summer was an opportunity for the Belgian to take in more of Paris' cultural offerings, as well as spending some quality time with his family.
"I didn't even see a football, didn't kick a ball. I don't think I even talked about football apart from when I was at Réunion Island where I'm a patron for a charity, where I played with the kids," said the rangy right-back. "For the rest of the time, I really made a clean break from football. It's important for the family, because they are living and breathing football 24/7 throughout the season. It's important to take a bit of space and respect our private life as well."
Striking that balance has helped the 27-year-old enjoy a successful career. Meunier has already claimed two French titles to go with the Belgian crown he won with Bruges. But after shining for Belgium at the World Cup in Russia in 2018, he struggled with injuries last season.
"In total, I almost missed half the season with injury, from January to May," he explained. "It wasn't easy, but despite that, I still made a good number of appearances. That also proves that the coaching staff is counting on me, because I always go straight back into the 18-man squad when I come back from injury."
The defender with a knack for scoring beautiful goals is characteristically circumspect about how much game time to expect given that he is in one of the mostly richly assembled squads in the world.
"My intention is always to play as much as possible," said the canny Belgian. "That then depends on how the opposition line up, but we've got a very strong squad, even more so this season with the players who have come in."
Indeed, Paris may not have made a high-profile signing so far this summer, but midfield recruits Ander Herrera, Pablo Sarrabia and Idrissa Gueye are just what the club needed, in Meunier's opinion.
"This year, with the transfers we've done, I think they are very intelligent recruits," offered the cultured defender. "Having seen them at work during the preseason, they each bring a huge amount to the team. It just took a couple of training sessions to convince everyone of their quality. I think this year, in terms of tactics and philosophy, things will change for the better."
Meunier is a big fan of what these new recruits can bring in terms of mental strength.
"We have guys like Ander and Pablo who really work for the team, 1000 per cent, they defend, they attack. They have a great mentality and are always willing to press and work hard," explained the Belgian. "With Gueye in midfield as well, I think we are really solid mentally."
'The pressure is on'
Neither Herrera, Sarrabia nor Gueye started on Sunday, however, as PSG slumped to a surprise loss at Rennes. For Meunier, that setback serves as a warning for the capital club, who are aiming to win the league title for a third season running.
"Here in France, we know that all eyes are on us, that the pressure is on us because we're not just contenders, we are clear favourites for the title and the cup competitions," admitted the extremely lucid Meunier. "So it's up to us to live up to the billing."