Pro­mo­tion the key for Ar­gyle linch­pin Songo’o

To­day’s visit to An­field is a bonus for Ply­mouth and their mid­field strong­man, writes Jeremy Wil­son

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - SPORT -

If there is one Ply­mouth Ar­gyle player who is unlikely to be fazed by the al­lure of play­ing at An­field to­day, it is surely Yann Songo’o. His first foot­balling mem­o­ries were of watch­ing his father, Jac­ques, play live at the 1998 World Cup and also hear­ing his sto­ries of be­ing part of the leg­endary 1990 Cameroon squad who reached the quar­ter-fi­nal against Eng­land.

“It in­spired me – and I never had any­thing else in my mind but be­ing a foot­baller,” he says.

Then, while Songo’o him­self was de­vel­op­ing through the ranks at De­portivo La Coruña, his older brother Franck was signed to the Barcelona academy, where he would play with ar­guably the great­est crop of home­grown tal­ent in foot­ball his­tory. Ger­ard Piqué, Pe­dro, Cesc Fabre­gas and the best of them all – Lionel Messi – are among his brother’s cel­e­brated for­mer team-mates.

In­deed, when Messi emerged as a young teenager, it was Franck Songo’o he re­placed as the main striker in the youth team, and Franck in­stead forged a ca­reer as a winger, that would in­clude sub­se­quent spells at Portsmouth, Bournemouth, Pre­ston, Crys­tal Palace and Sun­der­land.

“He was with all that gen­er­a­tion and they stay in con­tact; they re­main close friends,” says Yann. “He would tell me how great Messi was when they were kids and he learned such a lot from them; it was an amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence to play with the great­est play­ers in the world. My brother was also an in­ter­na­tional with France, play­ing as well with [Karim] Ben­zema with the France team.”

And what did his brother learn most from his three years at the Barcelona academy? “It was the style of foot­ball, how they wanted them to play through the club,” he says.

Yann’s own jour­ney to the big stage has been very dif­fer­ent. He was born in Toulon, where his father played in the early 1990s be­fore foot­ball forced an­other fam­ily move, to Spain. He played at De­portivo be­fore mov­ing on his own to Metz at the age of 13 to be­gin his ca­reer in France. He sub­se­quently re­turned to var­i­ous Span­ish clubs be­fore play­ing Ma­jor League Soc­cer in Kansas, fol­lowed by spells in the Cham­pi­onship at Black­burn and the Scot­tish Pre­mier­ship for Ross County.

It was while at Dingwall that he met Derek Adams, who, af­ter be­com­ing man­ager of Ply­mouth in 2015, took him to Devon, where he is en­joy­ing the best sea­son of his ca­reer.

A po­si­tional change from de­fence to hold­ing mid­field has been trans­for­ma­tive, and in a Ply­mouth team who are ly­ing second in League Two fol­low­ing a big squad over­haul in the sum­mer, Songo’o has started ev­ery match this sea­son.

He says that it was ini­tially dif­fi­cult but that now, at the age of 25, he is com­ing to be­lieve that it is his best po­si­tion. He is also en­joy­ing his ru­ral sur­round­ings.

“I knew noth­ing about Ply­mouth and Devon be­fore but now, af­ter five months, I know it’s a re­ally lovely place to live,” he says. “The peo­ple re­ally are open­minded and, on the street, they are lovely to me. It’s nice to be some­where you can just chill and re­lax.”

That does not mean he has given up on his am­bi­tions of play­ing in the Premier League, and fol­low­ing his father and brother into the Cameroon na­tional team. Songo’o is friends with Liver­pool’s Joseph Matip, af­ter play­ing for var­i­ous age-group teams for Cameroon, but does not see this match as a po­ten­tial shop win­dow. The pri­or­ity, says Songo’o, is win­ning pro­mo­tion to League One rather than an FA Cup run. “Play­ing Liver­pool is a big thing, and a bonus for what we have been do­ing in this cam­paign, but we didn’t re­ally pay at­ten­tion about who the draw was,” he says. “They have a great team who­ever they put out, but the most im­por­tant thing is the pro­mo­tion.” In that – and also the prospect of sub­se­quent pro­mo­tions up the league pyra­mid – in­spi­ra­tion is drawn from sev­eral ex­am­ples along the south coast. “This club has a lot of po­ten­tial,” says Songo’o. The Premier League per­haps? “You see that is pos­si­ble with the ex­am­ple of lots of clubs who come up through the leagues – Southamp­ton, Bournemouth and now, maybe, Brighton. It can also hap­pen to us.”

Am­bi­tious: Yann Songo’o hopes to play for Cameroon

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