Florian Lejeune has revealed that even before last season ended, Rafa Benitez contacted him about a move to Newcastle.
The French defender says that he and the United boss talked a lot and he was desperate to come and play in England ‘but not just at any club’.
However, when a ‘legendary’ club such as Newcastle United approached him with ‘one of the best coaches in the world’, the player says his ‘decision was quick’.
Florian Lejeune became the 27th French player to join Newcastle in the Premier League era, more than any other English club. With French players already at the club and coaching staff who all spoke Spanish, he says it was an easy settling in period and that his English was quickly brought up to a decent standard.
Lejeune admits it has been a tough introduction with a higher standard of football and a Newcastle team that wasn’t strengthened properly after promotion.
In 12 Premier League starts, Lejeune has only enjoyed one win (v Palace) and two draws, currently out with an unspecified injury and missing the win at West Ham on Saturday.
Having looked good in pre-season, an early injury in the Spurs match must have been tough and even though he is 27 in May, he has still only had one full season in top flight football before joining Newcastle.
He definitely has ability and now it is down to him whether he can prove he can make it in the Premier League.
He says that ‘Without lying, it’s crazy’ when adapting from the seven thousand capacity at Spanish minnows Eibar, compared to fifty two thousand at St James Park.
He is clearly loving it on Tyneside and describes Newcastle as ‘a city that only lives for football’.
Florian Lejeune speaking to France Football:
Florian, after a successful season in Eibar (finishing 10th in LaLiga), you land in the Premier League, how did you like the Newcastle project?
“It was done very early, before the last matches of the season I received a call from Rafael Benitez, we talked a lot. I wanted to discover England but not just at any club. Newcastle is a legendary club and to go with one of the best coaches in the world … So my decision was quick.”
With your arrival, Newcastle became the most Francophile club in the history of the Premier League (27 players), how was your integration?
“It went very well, I was lucky to have a technical staff who speaks Spanish so it made my life easier. There are also some French players so it was quite simple: they can help you on everything you need in everyday life, both sporting and non-sporting.
“It depends on the personality of the player. I am an open person who always has a smile, I do not hesitate to go to people, I ask. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong, there’s only that way we learn. After there may be the language barrier that can slow down a bit but now I’m able to get by at the level of English. So it’s a good integration.”
Did you manage to adapt to this more physical game with powerful attackers?
“Often in England, the game starts are quite intense so if you are not physically ready, it’s complicated. I am ready but I am still in the process of adaptation. It’s a new Championship that I discover: it’s a different game and the contacts are tougher too. I know that I have to work more on the physical and tactical aspects.
“There are very physical attackers who give you a lot of work, even though they may not be the best known in the world, like Burnley or Bournemouth. But they make a lot of calls and make me work a lot.”
What is missing to compete after promotion?
“It lacks a bit of everything: we have a fairly young team, most players have not experienced this Championship before, and success too.
“In some matches, at key moments, we have not been able to make a difference. In the last three games, we can do things that are more interesting, more supportive and more compact.
“We saw against West Ham (3-2), we managed to take the three points against a direct competitor.”
Your coach Rafael Benitez recently said that you have to be patient about yourself, and that you are going to bring “something different”, do you agree?
“He knows my qualities, he knows what I can bring. I am a player who likes to bring out the ball, I can play with the left foot (as well as the right).
“He has more vision of the Spanish game with short passes, than want to play long each time. When one does not win, it is immediately the defence that is criticised, one must know how to accept that. And once the results come, we will be better. It’s logical.”
What does it mean to go from the small stadium of Eibar (7,083 capacity) to St James Park?
“Without lying, it’s crazy.
“As soon as you get onto the pitch, 52,000 people who shout, sing … It’s really impressive. When I signed, I saw the stadium but I really realised it in the first match. The (home) matches are still sold out and travel (away games) is (also sold out) 2,500, 3,000 people. It’s a city that only lives for football.”
As we approach the end of the year, what can you wish for in 2018?
“That we manage to stay as quickly as possible in the Premier League and that I can impose myself here. Quite simple.”