Moussa Diaby is one of Leverkusen’s leaders when it comes to the charge for Europe this season. In this week’s interview, Bayer Leverkusen’s high-speed attacker reveals the reason for his good form since returning from the winter break. He also talks about the mood in the Bayer changing room, and the prospect of being part of the French national team at the World Cup.
How are your family? How did you celebrate your son’s second birthday on Monday?
We are doing well. My son had his birthday yesterday, so we spent some time in one of those indoor playgrounds. It was good fun for the whole family. Everything is going well.
How important is your family to you?
Family is important to everyone. Family gives us stability. Family also allows us to develop in life and to learn new things. They give us purpose too – we remain focused in order to provide for our family.
Your son was born when you were just 20 years old. Did it teach you to take on more responsibility?
Becoming a father at the age of 20 helped me to grow as a person. My wife, son and I are all very happy and we are enjoying life. It’s something that is hugely important to me. Having a child has allowed me to discover another side to myself and given me new responsibility. It’s all positive.
What is the reason for your good run of form since the winter break?
I think it is going well because I am working hard on a daily basis. I am giving my all in training. It is also a question of mentality. If you stay focused in training and in matches, you are capable of achieving good things.
You picked up seven yellow cards during the first half of the season. What has changed since then?
It’s true that in the first half of the season, I committed one or two fouls. I reflected a bit and realised that it wasn’t helping me or the team, and decided I needed to change something in order to improve my performances. So, I told myself to remain more calm in the second half of the season. As that would help me to perform at a higher level. That is the case currently and I hope it continues.
Are you at all surprised by your consistently strong performances since the New Year?
No, I’m not surprised. It is the reward for my hard work every day. And it is also thanks to my teammates and the staff, who are working hard and helping me to achieve success. Whenever I have a good match, it is thanks to my teammates and the staff, like I said. We need to keep going.
How good is the team spirit currently?
We have a very good team spirit in the dressing room. We are a young team but we also have one or two more experienced players, who stop us from getting carried away. The atmosphere is good – everyone gets on well. There are lots of people in the team who speak multiple languages so we spend a lot of time together.
Is it important for certain players like Robert Andrich to criticise the team now and again in order to motivate everyone?
Yes, that’s part of the game. If we ever allow ourselves to get distracted, there are players there who will help us to re-focus. I know too when you can have a laugh and when you have to be serious. But it’s good to have people like that – it helps us to get better as a team.
You seem to be getting better all the time – why is this?
The reason is the hard work I am putting in every day. Both in training and outside of training. I needed to improve in certain areas and that’s what I’m doing. I am improving all the time and I hope to get even better in order to help the club.
Is football fun or hard work?
It’s both. Football is one of the most popular sports in the world. It’s a sport I have loved since I was very small. So, match days are very fun. And I try to do great things – not only because it’s my job, but because it is something I have loved for a long time.
How do you explain your improvement in front of goal?
Getting in the right positions to score is not something you can rush. It is something I have been working on. I have been here for three years now. In my first year, I didn’t score that many goals. In the second year, I scored a few more. And I told myself that I was going to improve again in my third year. I have been doing well so far in this area. I hope to keep going in order to help the team. And also for myself.
Is it nicer to score a goal or provide an assist?
I think scoring is always nicer than providing the assist. But it depends on the situation. If I have to pass to a teammate so that he can score, I’ll do so. I enjoy providing assists too, but scoring is always nicer.
What does it mean to play against Bayern München?
It’s a big match against a big team, who are currently first in the league. So, we will have to perform well if we want to climb the table. I think it will be a great match. Whenever we face Bayern München, there’s always a lot of goals. So, I hope that’s the case again this weekend but in our favour.
Are you confident that you can beat Bayern?
Yes, always. I always have confidence in my team. I think we will put in a good performance this weekend.
Which of the French FC Bayern players do you know best?
The players I know best are Dayot Upemacano, Tanguy Kouassi, Choupo-Moting and Kingsley Coman. And I know the others too from my time with the national team.
Is it a dream come true to play for your country?
Yes, it was certainly an objective of mine. I achieved it and now it is up to me to work hard to make sure I am there every time. Playing with Mbappé, Griezmann, Benzema was amazing. They are big names in the world of football. And you learn a lot from playing with them as they have great experience. I think that is good for my progression as a player.
Do you expect to be part of the World Cup squad?
Yes, the World Cup is approaching. It’s up to me to work hard to be there. The decision has not been made yet. I will have to perform well on a consistent basis for my club. We’ll see if I’m there.
How would you describe yourself?
I enjoy my football and I enjoy helping my team. I think I have lots of sides as a person. I enjoy joking around with my teammates and I enjoy scoring goals and providing assists on the pitch.
What do you think about your teammate Florian wirtz?
Florian Wirtz is a young player. But he doesn’t come across as a young player and features for us in every game. He is very important for us. He reminds me a bit of Kai Havertz, though he is a bit younger. I think he has a bright future ahead of him.
Where do you need to improve as a player?
Like you said previously, I need to improve my defensive game. And also, my finishing. That’s something I would like to improve this season. I need to keep working so I can perfect my finishing.
What are your strengths as a player?
My speed. That is an important quality given my small size. I am also very energetic. Those are the two things I like about myself.
Does footballing talent run in the family?
I think that started with me as there aren’t many people in my family who played football. It’s something you have to work on.
Is speed your main strength as a player?
You have to analyse each situation – sometimes it makes sense to accelerate, sometimes it makes sense to slow things down. But my game is more focussed on acceleration. People may think that’s all I have. But if you watch my games closely, there are lots of moments where I choose not to use my speed.
Why did you choose to join Leverkusen and the Bundesliga?
I decided to come here because I liked the project here at the club and the league as well. It’s a league I like a lot as it’s very attacking. It suits my style as an attacking player. I am very happy here now and I hope that continues.
What are Leverkusen‘s objectives for this season?
The objective is to qualify for the Champions League next season. And to put together a good Europa League campaign. We hope to go as far as possible. But we will take things match by match. We are playing Atalanta next – they are a great side in Italy, so I am expecting a big game. I hope we perform well away from home, and that we can go far in the Europa League.
Why are you donating school supplies to students in your Paris district?
In my district in Paris, there are lots of players who participate in these events. We organise outings for them and provide support. Sometimes they come to the stadium to watch games. They came to watch us here in the Europa League against Betis. It’s very important because there are lots of young people who are struggling for direction. And who are on a bad path. They benefit from people like us, who can act as role models. So we do what we can to help them and to entertain them too.
What values did your parents teach you?
Respect, hard work and always supporting the family. Those are the important values.
What do you think about your teammate Lucas Alario?
He is a great guy. He is also someone who enjoys having a laugh with people. He likes to speak a lot even though he doesn’t speak the language. He likes to learn. He is a great person. When he plays, he gives us a lot. He is very valuable to the team. He works hard every day, he is never angry. That is the mentality that everyone needs.
What do you think about your teammates Exequiel Palacios and Charles Aranguiz?
Palacio is Argentinian and Aranguiz is Chilean. They are like Lucas Alario actually. They are always present and looking to help others. They also like to have a laugh. It’s important to have people like that in a group, who crack jokes now and again. They are good people, and I am glad to have them in my team.
How do you feel about representing your country?
It is a great source of pride to represent your country. You are representing an entire country. And France is no different. It is an entirely different level in terms of your career. To represent an entire country is special especially if you were born in that country. And that is why people say they are “proud to be blue”. France is a big country with a lot of ambition and lots of good players and people. Yes, I am proud to be French and proud to be at Bayer too.