“I want to be a part of this story”
Youssef Ben Ali, who was hired as a medical joker by FC Barcelona last season, has just joined Pays d’Aix Université Club Handball. At the age of 35 and with the Champions League under his belt, the Qatari pivot did not show up for further interviews for Le Quotidien Du Sport and Handball magazine.
You were hired as a medical joker at FC Barcelona, how did you experience this role?
“Barcelona” had an injured player, I didn’t hesitate for a second. It was a very good experience. We played four tables and won all four, so it was one of the best years of my career for me. Not everyone gets to win this Champions League!
You have just joined the growing club “Aix”, why did you make this choice?
I was offered to stay in Barcelona, but I preferred to join PAUC, especially because the sports project there was more interesting for me. My relationship with head coach Thierry (Anti) was in favor of PAUC. We were always in touch. PAUC is going through an important phase in its history, I wanted to be a part of this history and experience this transition with the club. I want to continue the success and progress of the club.
Are you looked at differently when you come from Barça with the added bonus of the Champions League?
I don’t know… It’s true that I came from Barça with the Champions League, but now I’m only thinking about PAUC. The best athlete has to prove it every day. I am under pressure because I am a professional player, international level and I came from Barcelona with the Champions League. People will observe me more and expect more from me. It gives me more responsibility and I take it positively. I will give anything for this.
“I’m not someone who plays for statistics”
How did the coach say he intended to use you?
I will play an important role on and off the field, which motivates me a lot. Thierry (Anti) knows what he wants from his players, and the players know what he expects in return. We have a group with good experience. Now it’s up to us to prove it on the field to please the coach and the public.
Isn’t it disappointing not to play in the Champions League?
I haven’t played in the Champions League for ten years in a row (laughs). All international competitions are important. This year we will play in the Europa League, we will try to go as far as possible in this competition.
Aix should remind you of Barcelona in terms of life outside the palm and Ivry and Chartres change you…
Frankly, Aix reminds me more of Chartres than Barcelona. I’m happy here at the moment, still slowly settling in. I feel good in the city, it has everything you need. But the most important thing is on the field.
On a collective level, what are the club’s goals?
Goals will emerge gradually. The most important thing is to build a team anyway, because there are seven new recruits. We will try to go all the way in the league, go as far as possible in the European Cups and why not a title, be it the French Cup, the Coupe de la Liga or even, who knows, France.
So what are your personal goals?
It was important for me to return to France. I have a lot to show. My main goal is to live up to the club’s expectations and be a part of the club’s development. I would like to lead young people forward, supervise them and bring my experience to the group. I’m not one to play for stats, but if it comes, so much the better.
Youssef Ben Ali lives a serious life at the age of 35
At the age of 35, how long do you plan to play?
I don’t even think about it. At the moment I feel in great shape, I’m training well. I hope to continue like this and avoid injuries. Lifestyle is important for a top athlete, I try to apply that to playing as long as possible.
The world championship will be held in January, do you think you will go far in the tournament with Qatar?
The team is no longer the same, there are no longer the same players, many young people have come to this selection. Me, my role is to integrate these young people as soon as possible so that they can feel, then take over. We should be able to have fun and go as far as possible.
You have dual Qatari-Tunisian citizenship, have you been criticized for your choice?
My choice was purely sports and I think it helped me a lot to reveal my character on the field. Sometimes in a career you have to make decisions and when I make my decision I’m not going to dwell on criticism because I don’t care.
Interview by Theo Loffroy