Arriving during last summer’s heatwave, the 27-year-old proud Luxembourger, who spent most of his pro career in Belgium, recently talked in depth with MLSsoccer.com – in his native French – about his adaptation to the league, his team’s overall defensive improvements, the experience of playing with the likes of David Villa and Andrea Pirlo, and what Patrick Vieira is like as a manager.
MLSSoccer.com: After half a season in MLS, what kind of approach did you have in the preseason to better acclimate to the league?
Maxime Chanot: To be honest, I haven’t done things differently. Doing the preseason physical preparation and knowing Patrick’s system: that’s why I feel better, and you can see it on the field. Last year, I arrived in August: the team was already set up and fit. My adaptation was even more complicated by the hot temperatures in New York.
Which playing conditions are tougher: cold in Belgium or heat in Texas?
In Belgium, temperatures are still mild. In New York, we played and trained under 40 degrees (above 100 Fahrenheit). A steamy heat that was new to my body. It was tougher to play in such exhausting hot conditions. It was a question of adaptation: eventually, things started to run smoothly.
What did you have to get used to on the field?
First, the typical style of play of New York City. Patrick asks us to play on the ground, to build from the back with accurate short passes. I really appreciate that style, that we can see when watching big clubs as Bayern, Manchester or Barcelona. Now, we notice that it works well on the field for us too. But it requires time. Now, my adaptation time is over and I understand the requests of the coach. That makes me happy, players enjoy playing that kind of soccer.
A brilliant player career doesn’t guarantee success as coach. In your view, why is Patrick Vieira on the right path?
He’ll be one of the greatest coaches, I have no doubt about it. He still has his player mentality, he understands that it’s important to be close to the players. He acts humanely, and we all fight for him. Thanks to his experience, he gives us advice every day and helps out big time. His player career gives him legitimacy, as does his first season as coach here. You can only listen to him. He has already proven great things in MLS. I am convinced that he will confirm [that success] elsewhere.
Your defense doesn’t struggle as much as last season on set pieces. What has been done to correct that?
Actually, we have kept the same style, the same system where the defense is the part of the team needing the longer setup. We have plenty of automatisms requiring a long developing time. Patrick is only here for one year. When you are not on the field, it might seem hard to believe, but sometimes, it’s not long enough to build a strong defense. Players stayed here and, with them, we have continued to work on the same principles during the preseason. Thank God, things are working quite well. But the season is still young. We have only played 10 games. We should wait for mid-season to see if we really have improved.
Especially as there are still some times when the defense seems exposed?
Our team is attack-minded. That means that we have less players defending when we compare to teams playing with 10 or 11 guys behind [the ball]. That’s how New York City is: we score a lot of goals, but we also expose ourselves. Even if we suffer, our defense is currently the second best in the Eastern Conference. Quite good, isn’t it? But it’s not enough. We still need to work, and I’m convinced that we will improve a lot in the next months, even in the next years if we can keep the same core of players.
What does a defender learn when facing David Villa on training almost every day?
He’s the kind of player that can’t be left unattended for one or two seconds, because you know you’ll pay for it. It forces me to improve. That can only be to the good. I’ve learned a lot thanks to him, but also Andrea and Frank [Lampard]. They are technically more than accurate, they give the best of themselves every day.
What’s the feeling of sharing the locker room with such global stars? How does it reflect on a group of players having such a diverse background?
Our “stars”, as people call them, are actually very humble guys. They are always there to share their experience/ I’ve been impressed by that behavior since I’ve started to play here. All the players on the roster get along together just fine, whatever their past.
Despite the stronger competition for places in the defense, you’ve emerged as a regular. Did you expect it?
I know that whatever your name, the most important is to perform on the field. Of course, I’m very happy with my current situation. But it’s too soon to draw conclusions. We will do that at the end of the year.
You captained the team earlier this season. What kind of leader do you try to be?
I’m a guy who speaks a lot and who loves to share information, in my everyday life too. Even if I’m only 27, I already have some experience. Our group is younger than last season. As a captain, I’m more a vocal leader on the field, as it was the case in Kortrijk, where I also wore the armband sometimes. If you want more details, ask Patrick Vieira. He’s the one who could better talk about me.
How would you compare your opponents in MLS and in the Belgian Pro League?
Thanks to old stars but also to South-American players, MLS is technically better. I think that MLS is a bit stronger overall. Yet, the styles of play are different, and you must experience them to understand. In MLS, some players are tall and large, and some teams attach a prime importance to prepare to play physical.
You are playing in a league thousands of miles far from home, you are a binational, your national team is far from a world soccer power. This story sounds familiar to some Canadian supporters. Yet, playing for Luxembourg is very important to you. Why?
When you play for your national team, it’s so much more than sport. I am Luxembourger, feel Luxembourger. Even if I was not born there, three-quarters of my family are Luxembourger. Representing your country, in any way, is a duty. I do it on a soccer field, other people do a military service. I can’t describe how proud I feel when I enter the field with that jersey on my shoulders. We play better and better, and did well against France, the Netherlands, Switzerland or Bulgaria in World Cup qualification. Unfortunately, we weren’t rewarded by points. Even if it wouldn’t be enough to qualify Luxembourg for the World Cup, it would acknowledge what the group is doing for a couple of years.
How do you explain Luxembourg to New Yorkers and your teammates?
I faced some of my teammates in international games before signing in New York, including Alexander Ring with Finland and Andrea Pirlo with Italy. We’ve had the chance to talk about it. When I don’t talk about soccer, I explain that this little country is a nice place to live, I tell them the sweet lifestyle of Luxembourg. I invite anyone interested in a trip to Europe to stop in Luxembourg, that’s a very nice country.