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Jason Denayer on joining Lyon, captaincy and Vieira's influence

Becoming Lyon captain at 24, Jason Denayer discussed his football journey.

Jason Denayer in action for Lyon
Jason Denayer in action for Lyon Getty Images

UEFA.com is combing its archive to bring you a series of different UEFA Champions League interviews from over the course of this season.

Today is the turn of Lyon and Belgium centre-back Jason Denayer, who spoke to us in February about moving to France, becoming club captain at 24, and his career so far.

UEFA.com: You joined Lyon at the relatively young age of 23, having already been at Celtic, Sunderland, Galatasaray and Manchester City. When you arrived in Lyon, did you feel you had come at the right time?

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Jason Denayer: Yes, I think so because had I managed to gain plenty of experience thanks to several loan deals. It's not easy going somewhere new, not knowing if you'll be there next year. You can't really get settled anywhere. So when Lyon showed their interest in signing me, I was kind of relieved. It brought stability and I knew I could focus entirely on football. I think it was the right time for me.

In your first season for Lyon, you scored in a 2-0 derby victory over Saint-Etienne in Ligue 1. That's the best thing you can do if you want to win over the fans.

It worked out perfectly for me. Firstly, I was really happy to score my first goal for Lyon. And, to do it in such a match is pretty special and always will be, so I'm really happy.

It's rare for such a young player to be a club's captain. Do you feel at home here?

People were welcoming and I adapted very quickly. I felt comfortable straight away and that really helped my performances. Being the captain is a reward for me, I'm flattered, but I need to keep working hard and put in good performances.

What type of captain are you?

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I don't want to change my personality, I want to stay true to who I am. Being quiet doesn't prevent me from speaking to people. There are different ways of saying things but if I have to say something – whether it's good or bad – I will say it. Everything I do is in the team's best interest.

This season's UEFA Champions League group stage had mixed results: two wins, two draws and two defeats. You got through by the skin of your teeth. Looking back, how would you analyse the group stage?

We could have done a lot better, especially when we've looked back at the matches. There were times when we could have had better results than we actually got. But now we're through, so we’re not complaining.

Which match left you with the biggest regrets or where you feel that you really missed an opportunity?

Matchday 1 highlights: Lyon 1-1 Zenit

We could have won against Zenit at home. Benfica away too, we could have got a result there. However, these things happen. We must learn from our mistakes and try to move forward.

When you arrived at Manchester City, you were quite young. How did it feel going to such a prestigious club?

At first it was a bit complicated, especially in terms of speaking the language. Although, when I got there, there were some French-speaking players. There was also another Belgian player [Vincent Kompany] so it was pretty easy to adapt to my new life. The main problem was speaking the language, but I went to English classes so it was alright. My dad was there too so he helped me a lot. It wasn't easy at the beginning but it got better with time.

What influence did Patrick Vieira have on you at Manchester City?

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Coming from the academy, we were not especially working on our tactical game and before going to Manchester City, I had never played 11-a-side football as a defender. So he had a huge influence from a tactical point of view and he brought a lot of his experience to the mix. He was really important when I was a youngster.

Virgil van Dijk was Ballon d'Or runner-up this year, but a lot of people think he deserved to win. What do you think? Is he the kind of player you aim to learn from?

I played with Virgil at Celtic and he had huge potential – you could already see that he was going to go places. He deserves what he gets because he's worked hard for it. It's always nice to see defenders doing well in the Ballon d'Or, it gives us hope that we can reach the same level as forwards.