Jonathan Pitroipa’s transfer to Rennes in Summer 2011 immediately looked a very shrewd piece of business when the Burkina Faso international took to Ligue 1 like a duck to water, instantly endearing himself to supporters with his dazzling pace and trickery down both flanks and a hugely welcome, late, point-rescuing goal against Paris-Saint Germain in a 1-1 draw early in the season. Thanks to PUMA, Just Football recently had the opportunity to speak to the ex-Hamburg and Freiburg star about life in France, the differences between German and French football, the upcoming African Cup of Nations 2012 and plenty more:
Jonathan F: Jonathan Pitroipa it’s a pleasure to speak to you. This is your first season at Rennes after joining in the summer, what do you think of your time up to now?
Jonathan Pitroipa: True, it’s my first season in Ligue 1, my first season at Stade Rennais. I’m happy to have joined Rennes. We started the season well. We had a few difficulties recently after we lost in the Europa League (against Celtic), the Coupe de la Ligue against Le Mans and also against Toulouse before drawing with Valenciennes. Recent results haven’t been great but I think we have a very good team. We work hard and we have a good coach who helps the youngsters to progress. All teams have difficult moments in the season but I think that after the international break we will be ready to get back to a good level and I hope we can continue to remain high in the table.
JF: You started the season very well with impressive performances and a goal against Paris-Saint Germain. How have you found it so far adapting to French football?
JP: Well since I arrived everybody here has helped me to adapt. All the players have been very nice with me and the coach has really helped me to get used to the tactical aspect of football in France. That has enabled me to integrate, learn and quickly get used to Ligue 1. It has gone well so far. I think I’ve played very well in some games. I know I still have to work hard to improve because I would like to score a lot more goals. I started the season in good goalscoring form even though I’m still waiting to get my third goal of the season, but that’s normal. Goals will come if I continue to work hard.
JF: Has the manager (Frederic Antonetti) given you a specific target this season as to the number of goals you should be aiming for or do you have your own personal target at all?
JP: Well when the coach signed me he told me that he wanted me to be more decisive in front of goal and score more goals. It’s a target I have set myself as well because I know that I can often play well but just lack that finishing touch. My aim is to become more decisive. I’m working hard and I would like to increase the number of goals and assists I create in order to help the team realise our ambitions.
JF: You arrived in the summer from Hamburg and the Bundesliga. In terms of style, what do you think are the main differences between French football and German football?
JP: Well I was very happy to move to France because I spent seven seasons in Germany – four seasons at Freiburg and three at Hamburg. It’s a fantastic league, I really enjoyed my time there. At Hamburg I was fortunate enough to play in many big games and competitions, like the UEFA Cup for example where we reached the semi-finals. For me it was great to play in games like that. I would have loved to have won a trophy at Hamburg but unfortunately we didn’t manage to. But anyway, I spent many good seasons there and I still follow Hamburg because I made a lot of friends there.
I think the difference between football in France and Germany is that German football is more open. In every game there are loads of goals, loads of chances. There are often heavy scores – 4-0s, 3-0s or 3-1s. But in France the style is a little more conservative. There are less goals, more 0-0s.
JF: Why do you think this is? Is there better tactical organisation in France? Is it more defensive?
JP: In France it is more tactical. We work harder on tactics here. We watch a lot of videos before the game and a lot of our pre-match preparation is focused on not conceding goals. They do that in Germany too but they also concentrate a lot on the attacking side, creating more opportunities for attacking players to score, creating space in attack. Teams in France are very organised. They defend well and that often makes it difficult for attackers to score.
JF: Does that make it more difficult for a dribbler like yourself?
JP: Yes. A winger like myself in France is always surrounded by two or three defenders, which makes it more difficult to influence the game. But I’m getting used to French football now so hopefully I will keep progressing and improving.
JF: Rennes have had some disappointing results in the Europa League this season, the recent defeat to Celtic a case in point. Do you still think you can qualify for the next phase or is it too late now?
JP: It will be difficult after that defeat because we have only two points and Udinese and Atletico Madrid are some way ahead of us now. But for me we must look at the two remaining group games as finals. We will try to win those games and at least make sure we don’t get knocked out with just two points. Even if we don’t qualify, if we can take points from the next two games we’ll be able to hold our heads high. It will give us experience for the future because we are a young group at Rennes. For many players in the group it’s our first time in Europe with the club, so anything we can learn now can help us in future for next time.
JF: Moving onto international football now and Burkina Faso. What do you think of your group for the upcoming African Cup of Nations, with Côte d’Ivoire, Angola and Sudan?
JP: Actually I’m really happy to be in this group because it will be very exciting to play against a team like Ivory Coast. Personally I always enjoy playing against the big teams because they are like battles. You have to use all your experience, it allows you to measure your own ability and that ultimately makes you a stronger player.
The game against Ivory Coast will give us an idea as to how far we can go as a team in this CAN because we have a young team that is evolving. We are working hard to try and become a giant of African football. But for now I hope we can battle to take points, qualify and try and win our group – even if Ivory Coast are the favourites. Our main goal is to qualify and if we can manage that it will be a fantastic achievement for Burkina Faso.
JF: You have often been referred to in Africa and around the world as ‘the Burkinabe Ronaldo’ and you are very popular in your homeland. How do you feel about that tag and what is it like to represent your country at such a high level?
JP: For me I’m really happy that the people of Burkina Faso like me. They encourage and support me a lot. I am working hard to try and reach a high level. I think the Burkinabe public want to see a player evolve and develop to the level of big players like Samuel Eto’o and Didier Drogba. These people have worked very hard and I know that it hasn’t been easy for them to achieve what they have. I hope that everything I am doing now will eventually help me achieve my goals.
Regarding the comparisons people make between me and Ronaldo in Burkina, I’m happy that people would talk about me in those terms even if it is a bit exaggerated. I still need to reach a level where I become even more decisive and influential in games. So I will continue to work hard. I have my own qualities and I hope that with these qualities one day people will be comparing others to Jonathan Pitroipa.