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
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