In the career of Thierry Audel, stopping goals has been the chief aim, though he has shown too an undoubted knack for pouncing first when a chance arrives. That, he believes, has been in no small part due to planning for the often mentioned second ball in a set-piece scenario. Such proactive thinking has also been in evidence in his time away from penalty areas.

The former Macclesfield Town and Notts County defender was a Brackley Town player last season, contributing significantly as Kevin Wilkin’s side made the National League North play-offs again. Ultimately, though, he would not be part of their final promotion efforts last summer, with the Frenchman having returned to Italy in the time since the league action was halted last March. While his on-field story continues, he has been putting no shortage of effort into his own business recently, Audel Sports.

After the best part of a decade in English football, the recently-turned-34-year-old’s Ligurian surroundings now mean he is actually far closer to his roots, in the south of France. Sharing some insight into his current set-up, he also looks back in this conversation on some of his years in England, beginning with an eye-opening glimpse as a teenager into a Premier League club that has changed somewhat since.

 

Firstly Thierry, you’re back playing in Italy, is that correct?

Yes, I signed for a team in Italy, which is about the level of Conference North/South, called Rapallo Rivarolese. We have stopped at the minute in this league because of the Coronavirus, end of October. We do train from time to time but we’re not able to play competitive games.

Tell me about your work away from playing, with Audel Sports. Fitness training but also mentoring for players, is that a good way to describe it?

Yes, so basically what I did is I decided to create a brand two years ago, when I did personal training in the UK, which I called Audel Sports. Then a year after, I decided to bring support to players, especially the ones with maybe not a lot of experience, for everything on the pitch and away from it. Then when I came here, I decided to follow this step, because when I moved away from the UK, I created my own fitness studio, which is also the same brand, Audel Sports. So basically I help people to get back in shape and I’m still mentoring a few young players in order to help bring them to the path I was lucky to have.

Obviously last season in the league ended early, and it wasn’t clear for some time what was going to happen after it stopped in March. You were with Brackley Town, had you already left before the play-offs eventually went ahead?

Yes, I was already in Italy, so I was not able to come back, regarding my personal situation. I tried, because I really wanted to, but sometimes in life you have to make choices, and I chose to stay in Italy. I really, really enjoyed my time in Brackley, I have to say. I played 30 games and scored eight goals last season, so I was really enjoying myself. When the Coronavirus arrived, it obviously was not planned for anybody, and I already planned to start to move back to Italy. When the play-offs arrived and they decided to play them, the manager called me to go back, but it couldn’t match with my personal situation, so I wasn’t able to come back to play. I was very disappointed, because obviously when you work hard all season long, and when the play-offs arrive you cannot play, it’s hard, but it’s life.

Do you think there is any possibility that we might see you play in England again?

I don’t know, but I don’t think I will be back In the UK to play. For now, it’s not in my plans, and I don’t have many, many years left to play! I still feel fit, but for now, it’s in Italy that I see the future.

Before you came to England, you had played in Italy when you were young. Does Italy feel like a real second home for you?

I have to say that where I am now in Italy is a completely different reality than it was when I was first playing there. I had a different experience playing in Italy when I was young. I was still young so I was a different man as well! But now I see Italy in a different way, I’m in a different area, and I do feel a bit at home, even though I felt at home in the UK as well. That’s why I bought my house there (in the UK).

How would you describe the surroundings of where you are now? Set the scene, if you will…

Where I am, I’m about ten minutes’ walk to the beach. It’s sunny all the time, so this is already a huge difference from where I lived the past eight years! It’s two hours away from France, from my home town, so I’m not far from my family as well.

If we think about everywhere you’ve played so far in football, is there a time that stands out as when you felt at your best on the pitch, most content away from it, the overall happiest time?

I have to say in football I had two happiest times, where most of the things were good, I would say. The last year in Pisa, the group was really fantastic, and it was a great area as well of Italy. I had a great relationship with the staff, the club, and life was going really well. The second one was Notts County. The last season, even though the season didn’t finish in a great way, most of it I really enjoyed on the pitch. I was very relaxed; I think I arrived in a time where I was comfortable in my life. I was not stressing at all, I was just enjoying playing football at that time.

There were quite a few different managers in those years at Notts County, was there one you enjoyed it most with?

(Pauses to think) I have to say my favourite manager there was Ricardo Moniz. Even though I always say he was crazy, it was a good crazy! He was living his football, it was something from his heart, and he wanted to be close with his players. Everyone has a different personality, and it was matching with some and not with others, but with me, it matched. Even though he was hard with me, he did really help me and make me see some situations in a different way.

 

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What is the approach from a manager that you feel has got the best out of you over the years, is it that tougher style, or more encouragement?

I think with me, the thing that works the most is the managers who let me express myself. For example, I always had great success with Steve King, who was my manager at Macclesfield and at Welling United, because he let me express myself. Even though I was sometimes making mistakes, he just let it go, because he knew I’d made a mistake and I was upset about it, and I would work hard to recover and do well after. I think my philosophy is more communicating with me. I don’t like shouting, as I don’t like to shout with players myself. More communication, positive communication.

You had a trial with Manchester City once upon a time! Did you meet (manager) Kevin Keegan? What do you remember about the whole experience?

Yeah, when I was 16, so I was very young at the time. I didn’t even know who was the first-team manager, because I joined up with the academy. I do remember that Sylvain Distin was there, because I was at the table with him and he was making me feel a bit more comfortable. Micah Richards was there, because I was staying in a house where he was staying. At the time, I was very young and I was not ready, I didn’t have the right level to play there. My ex-agent, French agent, sent me there because he thought I could do something well and maybe hit the jackpot there, but I don’t think I was ready. I realised at that time that players were physically stronger than me, and mentally already more prepared. I could see that they had more experience mentally of that high level. It was a great experience, though, because I did learn a lot from it.

Do any teammates from your career stand out as ones you felt an especially strong connection with on the pitch?

I did happen at different times; I think it’s more when you feel comfortable off the pitch. For example, I played for Barrow, and I was playing with Moussa Diarra at centre-back, who has now signed for Woking. He was my friend away from the pitch, and so on the pitch when we played, the communication was perfect. We didn’t play many games together unfortunately, because I got injured that year, but it’s really wonderful when you play with someone next to you who you have a great relationship with away from the pitch. In Notts County, it was Stanley Aborah, who was in centre-midfield. I knew when I was giving the ball to Stanley Aborah that I could be completely relaxed about it.

What about some of the characters that stand out? Whether that’s for being crazy, or just funny.

In every team, I always say that you have that crazy guy! I will say at Welling United it was Arnaud Mendy. Another French guy, crazy, every time he opens his mouth you have to laugh! So he is the first one who comes to mind, but to be honest, every year you always have a crazy guy. At Notts County, you had Liam Noble, and this guy was absolutely crazy. I remember one day there were some cameras coming to do some filming for some show at the training ground, and he just ran, pants off, in front of the camera! I know that ended up on the TV as well!

Have there been any particularly memorable battles you have had with individual opponents on the pitch?

There are many, to be fair. (Christian) Benteke was one, when we played Aston Villa with Crewe Alexandra in a friendly. I remember marking him on the corner and I put my hand on his back to hold him a bit, and that was just a wall! He is too strong. The professionalism of him was also clear, because even though he was playing against a smaller team than Aston Villa, he was really focusing on what he was doing. He scored three goals that day and he was impressive, everything he was doing was clinical. We played against Manchester United as well when Nani was involved and that was a crazy experience.

You touched on it earlier with last season at Brackley, is there a reason why you think you have been able to score quite a few goals from the back?

I think it’s experience, because I found that when you go into a lower level, the focus is different. So in every set-piece, everybody’s focused on the first ball, but most of the time, the second ball is the one where you find yourself in space and you can score. Many of my goals came like this, because people were always focusing on the first ball and I was finding a way to get alone for the second ball. Even the year before, with Welling United, I scored nine goals in 41 games, I think, and it was because I was focused for the second ball. Sometimes as well they were expecting me on the second ball and I was on the first one! I found it as well when we played against a higher team, that different kind of focus with their players, and I think that’s what makes the difference between players at different levels.

Have you ever had to sing when you’ve joined a new team?

Oh yes, I sang a lot! I think it’s more of a UK thing. Most of the time, I was getting away with it because I was singing in French, because my English at the beginning was not the greatest! When you arrive and you don’t speak the language properly, already you are a bit nervous, and I remember at Crewe being a bit shy to sing, but you just have to get on with it.

Away from football and the work we mentioned at the start, what other interests do you have?

I’ve obviously been around football a lot, and I’m also very much a family guy, everything I do in my life is for the future of my family. Every effort, every business is with the thought of having a future that is a bit more relaxed with my family. I’ve been following a bit of athletics in the past, because my brother was in athletics when he was young. He ran against Usain Bolt with the national team of France, so I was following it a bit, but when he left that, my interest did a bit, too.

Finally, the future in 2021 is obviously unclear, but what do you think it looks like for you personally?

Well as you know, I’m involved with the fitness industry, so it’s my duty to be fit! To show the right example. I decided to get involved in it when I started my qualifications because I wanted to have a good excuse to keep fit for myself, for my health. It’s also good because it allowed me to keep playing football long-term. I haven’t planned a day where I’m gonna stop with football, so for as long as I’m fit, I will play. The day I will stop, it will be a bit sad for me, because I really love football, but I will keep fit, and I just advise for every footballer in this period to keep fit, more for themselves than anyone else. Then when football starts again, it will be a job less to do.

Interview by @chris_brookes

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