Do you like Ted Lasso?
You will love Laurent Courtois. I reassure you: the new head coach of CF Montreal knows soccer infinitely better than the mustachioed character of Jason Sudeikis. But through their kindness, their benevolence, their wisdom, their sensitivity and their different outlook, the two are endearing and similar.
During our 45-minute meeting, Laurent Courtois spoke to me about his heart problems. About his guilt for being a school dropout. Difficulties he had in verbalizing his thoughts. “I’ve never been good at uniting people vocally. » About the time he thought he had become a millionaire, too. Wrongly. His club didn’t pay him for a year. Trials that other head coaches would hide. Him ? No. Adversity has marked his journey. She shaped the coach that he is today.
“I’m used to the struggles and the climbs. In the galleys, you suffer. In the notch below, everyone is waiting for you to win and move up. You feel the pressure all the time. »
In his case, the pressure came early.
At the age of 12.
“I learned to play football in the street, in the suburbs of Lyon. One day, my little club faced that of Olympique Lyonnais. » The great team from the region. “We won 4-2. I counted all four goals. » OL recruited him. The national team too, a little later.
“I was a great hope. I experienced what it was like to be a laboratory child. Everyone thinks you will become Lionel Messi. I experienced the pressure of not disappointing family and friends. I had created false representations for myself. I believed that I was (like) Messi, and that everything was going to happen easily. »
His coaches were of the same opinion.
“When I was little, I was never coached. We said: “Give the ball to Laurent so he can score.” It was like that, even at the OL academy, until I got injured. I was 17 then. When I came back to the game, at 18-19 years old, everyone was better than me. I did not understand. I was missing tactical and athletic baggage that no one had explained to me. I didn’t know how to position myself. I was just waiting for the ball to dribble. When I started to coachI told the young people (prodigies): be careful, you’re going to get hit in the face by a door.
—Did you have a teenage years?
– No. I’m a lab rat. At 15, I left school to sign a contract with Lyon. Since then, I have been out of school. I don’t have a diploma outside of football. At that time, I didn’t know how to act socially. I was missing some points of reference. I had a lot of trouble verbalizing what was in my head. With the coaching, in recent years, I have had to force myself to communicate with others. »
Even at 45, he says he still feels a “feeling of guilt for not having studied”. He would have liked to study history. Astronomy. Biology. But as a teenager, he says, “I wasn’t aware of what was happening elsewhere. I started to think I was someone else. I still realized that something was wrong. I didn’t see myself as being that good. I wondered why adults around me reacted like that. Because I was good at soccer? Are the others shit because they’re not good at football? I was uncomfortable with that.”
“When I came back from my injury, I understood that the adult had a completely false impression of what goes on in the head of a teenager. Some adults thought I was pretending to be hurt. How can any sane adult think that? The pain made me cry! The adults’ reaction made me sick. »
Misinformation “separated me a little from the adult world,” he says. “Maybe that’s why I wanted to go abroad very quickly. »
At the age of 22, Laurent Courtois crossed the Channel to join the English club West Ham. “Except they already had Michael Carrick, Jermain Defoe, Joe Cole, Paolo Di Canio… I was just a sweater to complete the lineup. » He only played eight games in two years. Dissatisfied with its use, he wanted to return to France. He had to settle for a contract with Istres, in the second division.
I never understood why I didn’t receive offers in D1.
He then headed to Levante, Spain. “I arrived as the big player who was supposed to help the team get back into D1. I felt very important there. I was seen as a “crazy” player. A grinder. This had never happened to me before. As a result, I found myself receiving a lot of red cards. In Spain, football is a game of chess to get you yellow cards. I was too naive. I responded immediately. I was an idiot (laughs).
In the months that followed, Levante surrounded him with other Frenchmen. Courtois then acquired the reputation of being a unifying player – a label that he qualifies.
“I was more of a working leader. I’ve never been good at uniting people vocally. Besides, I don’t think I’m good at all yet. I, the loud-talking captain, go the opposite way. I’ll go to the guy in the corner who doesn’t say anything. I’m interested in what he has to say.
“I have seen too many coaches who give the captaincy to players only because they are vocal. I have seen too many presidents or general managers who give importance to coaches only because they are comfortable with words. I like to scratch and see who isn’t comfortable with words. Maybe this person has something to say. »
If, on a sporting level, the stay at Levante was “an extraordinary adventure”, behind the scenes, it was a nightmare. “I thought I was a millionaire. Having ensured the safety of my family for a long time. But I didn’t get paid for a year. We went to court. We won, but I only got crumbs. »
Curiously, Laurent Courtois found himself three times in a team forced to file for bankruptcy: at Levante, Toulouse and Grenoble. When everything collapsed the third time, after good seasons in D1 in Grenoble, he did not want to return to D2. He left for the United States, with Chivas USA, based in Los Angeles.
“LA, for me, was Baywatch ! »
The cultural shock was brutal.
“We lost 3-0, and the next day we had a family barbecue on the beach in Santa Monica. I thought : what the f*** is going on? I wasn’t well. It’s funny, because I was just talking about it with Matías Cóccaro (a new player from CF Montreal). He told me : “Coach, I don’t understand. During training, we played ball tennis. The guys were losing and doing nothing. Me, if I lose, I’ll go crazy!” I replied: “Be careful, don’t fall for this. Here it’s different where you come from.” »
Have morals changed since his arrival in America, almost 15 years ago?
” Yes. We kept the good aspects, and we structured things better. »
Upon his retirement, Laurent Courtois returned to France to train as a coach. He started with the U15 girls of Olympique Lyonnais. A divorce disrupted his plans. He chose to change scenery and return to Los Angeles, where the Galaxy offered him a position. Two years later, he moved to Columbus, to manage the Crew’s reserve club. His success in Ohio then convinced CF Montreal to hire him last month.
Laurent Courtois describes himself as a head coach capable of delegating responsibilities to his assistants.
I would rather be disappointed by someone I trusted too much, rather than distrust someone who would be worth a lot.
“It’s extraordinary work, but complicated,” he adds. I was just talking about it (last week) with (Columbus head coach) Wilfried Nancy. He told me how crazy this job is. You can surround yourself, have the best relationships with everyone, you remain alone, in a sense, with your decisions. I’m still in anticipation. The present is too late (…) In my routine, I always watch my own match three times in a row, until 3 a.m. I’m not proud of it. My girlfriend at the time told me: “It’s not possible.” She wanted attention. But for me, that was my attention. People manage to do everything. I can’t do it. »
And how does he like to be perceived by his players?
Like a father.
“I don’t need you to love me. I will do everything for you to grow up. »
Ted Lasso couldn’t have said it better.
“I really like social networks”
Laurent Courtois is one of the rare head coaches active on the social network X.
“I really like social networks,” he explains: “99% of the things I do are to find out what my sons will think of me. I want them to have a map of what I think is an idea for designing our very short time on this planet. Social networks help me let them see what I do. Like an album. And then it allows me to stay connected with them. I’m a kid, me. I like anime. I like video games.
— Do you play Football Manager ?
— I’m afraid of coming across this, it’s so addictive and extremely realistic. I prefer video games that my guys play, like Star Wars And God of War. »