Didier Drogba. Laurent Koscielny. Florent Malouda. EA Guingamp has been a port of call for several star players over the years, and Lebogang Phiri is hoping to follow suit.
“There have been some big names that have played for Guingamp, such as Didier Drogba and one day I want to be a part of that,” he told the Siya crew. “I want people to say about Guingamp, ‘Well, Lebogang Phiri once played here and has gone on to do big things in his career’.”
The 22-year-old took opened a new chapter in his career last month when he penned a four-year deal with EAG, moving on from Brondby after four years at the club following his move from Bidvest Wits as an 18-year-old.
Having become a fan favourite in Denmark, playing nearly 150 games, Phiri decided that it was time to move on as his contract expired, wasting no time in finding himself a new club after Guingamp accelerated their interest in him.
Moving from Denmark, UEFA’s 21st-ranked league to France, in 5th – will test Phiri’s mettle, but he thinks he’s up to the challenge.
He said, “It’s a big step from me. Coming from Brondby, a big club in Scandinavia, I think this move was well suited for me. Going to France will open more doors for me and hopefully South Africans as a whole. Of course, I’m excited, but the nerves haven’t kicked in yet because I haven’t started.
“I’m hoping to do my level best… I signed a four-year contract for a reason, just like I did in Denmark with Brondby. I want to take another step in my career and with this deal at Guingamp and in the next four years I can progress and take the step after that.”
But what was it that persuaded him to join Guingamp? Why them? Antoine Kombouaré, he says.
“Most of it was the coach,” he explained. “As a player, you need a coach that believes in your ability, that believes that they can take the club to the next level and in doing so develop you as well. That was the main reason for joining the club, but the culture and the fans of the club also played a part.
“Their fans are similar to Brondby and were recently voted as the best fans in Ligue 1. That’s really motivating for me as a player, to play for a team with such a fanbase even though they’re a smaller club in the league. There were a lot of aspects I looked at before joining.”
Phiri joins the likes of Kermit Erasmus, Keagan Dolly and Lebo Mothiba contracted in France’s top-flight and he says he spoke to his compatriots before he put pen to paper.
“I actually spoke to Keagan before the move and he told me a bit about the club,” he said. “He told me that they’d be a good team to go to and that they have a passionate coach. Kermit said the same thing and he told me it’d be a great move because it’s about 20 minutes away from where he lives!
“Lebo always wanted me to come to France, so he persuaded me a lot. His guys helped me get here and now it’s time for me to step up. If I do my level best then only God knows where I could end up next. Hopefully, that can help enhance my chances in Bafana and help them too.”
Having recently made Stuart Baxter’s Bafana squad for the games against Nigeria and Zambia, Phiri will now be focused on keeping his spot in the national team by hitting the ground running against FC Metz on August 5th, the first day of the Ligue 1 season.