He celebrated his 40th birthday and reached the age of reason. In Switzerland, where he settled down 16 years ago and lives peaceful days, Gilles Yapi Yapo has rewound the thread of his years in Nantes. The Ivorian international, 33 selections and a Can final in 2006, is the last scorer of FC Nantes on the European scene. It was August 4, 2004, against Slovan Liberec, in the semi-finals of the Intertoto Cup. Beaten in the first leg (1-0), the Canaries failed to reverse the trend despite a double from their playmaker (2-1, 5′ and 44′).
In Nantes, where he had arrived the previous winter, Gilles Yapi Yapo also began his descent into hell, sinking into occultism and accumulating debts with marabouts. This believer, committed to Protestantism, recounts in an interview given to Ouest-France his rebirth. After spending time with FC Basel, he now coaches the first team of a partner club, the equivalent of the fifth division in France.
If I tell you about Slovan Liberec, what do you remember?
I remember that game perfectly, and I remember everything. And in particular the catastrophic scenario. We take a goal that puts us in the shit and we should have scored at the end of the match, but the goalkeeper takes it out and deprives us of qualification. The adversary was however largely within our reach. It was a big collective disappointment, but a personal satisfaction. I did not score many goals and, there, I put a double.
This 2004-2005 season was also a difficult season in Ligue 1
We stay in the last game. I arrived in January and the club was having a great season. Important players left during the summer. There were a lot of concerns about recruitment, but also a lot of uncertainty about the direction. We hadn’t started the season in the best possible way.
What memories do you keep of your visit to Nantes?
If the results were not what I expected, in terms of personnel, experience and progression, it was exceptional. When I learned that Nantes was following me, in the summer of 2003, I was told that I was going to receive a proposal in the days to come. I was very impatient, I was waiting and it didn’t happen. I was very disappointed because I wanted to come to Nantes. They recruited me the following winter, when I least expected it.
Who is the best player you have played with in Nantes?
Jeremy Toulalan. He was not the most elegant player, the most technical or the most beautiful to see play, but he is a player who made you surpass yourself. He was a leader in his performance.
And the strongest player you have faced?
Zidane, during his return with the France team against Ivory Coast, in Montpellier, just before the 2006 World Cup. We lost 3-0. He was coming out of retirement, it was very publicized. He was my favorite player and seeing him on the field, in front of me, was impressive. He had such an aura with his teammates, but also with opponents.
“I was tired of football”
The player you are still in contact with?
Emerse Fae. He became the assistant coach of the Ivory Coast national team. I started the process to train. At the end of my career, I was tired of football, I wanted to get out of it and even have nothing to do with sport anymore. But that was my life for 20 years, it’s my area of expertise and the sector that I master best. Over the course of the exchanges, I understood that I could transmit things and work with young people. I like sharing and that’s what made me decide to get started.
Have you discovered a different role?
It’s not a role, it’s a different world! When I was a player, I didn’t give much importance to this profession. Today, I respect him enormously. What changes is that we never pick up. A footballer has prepared nothing. He takes care of his lifestyle, works mentally. But once the game is over, it’s over. A coach, he always thinks about the team, the game, the next match. He is always in thought and never disconnects.
To come back to European matches, you mainly played with Swiss clubs. Which one impressed you the most?
My first Champions League match with FC Basel. Hearing the music of the Champions League, the competition I watched as a child on TV, was really a special moment. The European Cup is always special. Between the trip, the adversary, the culture, it’s really different from a championship match. There’s also the Europa League semi-final against Chelsea, but I didn’t start and we don’t experience things the same way. A substitute is more a spectator of his team.
Was it the period of your career when you felt the strongest?
I had times when I felt very strong, but I was never consistent. I couldn’t maintain that level for a whole season. But it was in Switzerland where I felt very good about myself.
On a personal level, was your time in Nantes more painful?
It started with the arrival of Le Dizet. I experienced a less good time when he took office and he replaced me with Dimitrijevic. I played less and I had the pressure of the selection with the World Cup which was coming. It’s not something that I experienced very well. I was young, I realized my dream of coming to play in France. Everything happened very quickly, I was in the media and I was earning a lot of money for my age. It was not easy to manage, it destabilized me. I was away from my parents and had to bear it all alone.
In Nantes, you said you fell into depression…
I started to play less and this is the beginning of my dark period. She continued in Switzerland with the injuries. I had debts, I even had suicidal thoughts, it was starting to be too heavy. I invested a lot in the occult during this period. On bounces on the Pogba affair and everyone puts him on the index because he went to see marabouts. But there are how many players among whom it is a common practice?
The marabouts: “We fall into a spiral”
How do we get there?
We have been told since childhood that there is nothing harmful, that it is a way of protecting ourselves. In naivety and recklessness, we listen to their advice, but unfortunately it is a world that is not neutral. We fall into a spiral. Me, I was manipulated and defrauded. I practically spent €200,000 and got no result. I wanted to heal from my wounds, to regain the popularity I had lost. It’s explained that you have to make sacrifices to break the spells and you start to get addicted. You are always asked for more, until you are no longer able. Me, I couldn’t make up my mind. And since I was losing a lot of money, I was attracted to get my bet back.
How did you get out?
One day I was asked to sacrifice my own son. It must have been the element to regain glory and protect me from spells. I didn’t have the strength and it was a click, an awakening. At that time, my wife also took me to church and I know that God took me out of there. I found another way, I felt alive again and I made peace with myself.
The Gilles Yapi Yapo of today would have known another career?
If I had understood things as I see them today, if I had been more mature, it would undoubtedly have been different. With hindsight, we can say that we could have done otherwise. But I keep everything. I was once told that if “my mistakes make me feel good today, then they weren’t mistakes”. And I also grew up with my mistakes.