"It’s more something that you try at training ... but that night, I was in the right place at the right time," the Marseille captain tells UEFA.com ahead of Europa Conference League semi-final opener against Feyenoord.
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Dimitri Payet's first experience of a major continental final with Marseille was not a positive one, the winger substituted after sustaining an injury in the first half of his side's 3-0 loss to Atlético in the 2018 UEFA Europa League decider. Four years on, the 35-year-old may yet have a chance to make amends, with OM taking on Feyenoord for a place in the inaugural UEFA Europa Conference League decider.
Since leaving the Pacific island of Réunion for Nantes, Payet has experienced plenty, with his two spells at Marseille separated by 18 months in England with West Ham. However, after scoring one of the greatest goals in UEFA Europa Conference League history in the quarter-finals, he is hoping to leave the club's famously passionate fans with something else to remember him by.
On taking on Feyenoord in the semi-finals
I think we’re well prepared for it after our trip to Greece with the passionate crowd [at PAOK]. We’re expecting a very difficult match, that they’ll be under pressure to win. So it’s up to us to approach this match like we have the others: to play our game and try to make it as difficult as possible for them.
If I’m lucky enough to play in a European final I will give it my all. That’s the aim: to play two matches to then be able to play in the final. We must do well in the league as well and try to juggle both competitions.
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On what he expected when he first joined Marseille from LOSC in 2013
[I was expecting] a significant challenge. I was expecting to join a big club, the biggest French club, with everything that goes with that: the fans’ expectations and the daily pressure. Also, the fact that I’d have to play with that in mind and earn my place in a well-put-together squad at the time, too. It raised more questions than it brought me relief.
I realise [now] that expectations grow with the years. I’m currently living near the stadium in Marseille. I’m continuously reminded by the fans of individual games, what happens at the end of the season, and so many other things. There’s always something to say about OM. Living in Marseille, you can’t escape this passion.
Dimitri Payet factfile
Born: 29 March 1987, Saint-Pierre, Réunion
UEFA club competition appearances/goals: 62/14
International appearances/goals: 38/8
On his development as a player
I’ve been through so much in the last 10-15 years. I don’t think I was as good when I was 20 as I am today, because I wasn’t experienced, mature or cunning enough, but I grew up because I got it wrong. I made mistakes, I fell several times and it allowed me to become stronger mentally, to be calmer and to deal with situations differently.
I’m not a captain at heart. What has made me wear the armband is time and experience. I’m sharing it with Steve [Mandanda]. I’m more of a leader on the pitch. I do make speeches but it’s rare, only when I feel it’s really useful. I’m more like a big brother: I give advice. We have great young players and we need to guide them so that they can take us far because they are our future.
On his magnificent strike against PAOK
Honestly, in that position and at that distance, I haven’t achieved that many times. It’s more something that you try at training or when we focus on finishing. But I think that night, I was at the right place at the right time and I shot it the right way. It was successful because I think I can try again a lot of times and it won’t be as good. I’m enjoying it because it’s a goal that people will remember and it’s a goal that mattered.
We talked about it in the dressing room. I took the shot in a casual manner, as if it was during training. I think that this sense of relaxation makes the movement fluid. I couldn’t have hit it better. It bounced before; it sat up perfectly for a left-footed shot. It was a difficult move but I did it without pressure and I think I scored because I was relaxed when I took the shot.