Dayot Upamecano learned football the hard way on the streets of France playing the game without rules among his friends. - © DFL
Dayot Upamecano learned football the hard way on the streets of France playing the game without rules among his friends. - © DFL
bundesliga

Dayot Upamecano on his football schooling, family support and RB Leipzig

Dayot Upamecano's unique defensive style was forged playing football without many rules and injuries being no excuse to call it a day - even when your Mum calls you in for dinner.

RB Leipzig's French centre-back has become a Bundesliga star since arriving at the Red Bull Arena in January 2017, making over 100 top-flight appearances. Now, at just 22, Upamecano is entering the final two months of his time with Leipzig, before a summer switch to Bayern Munich.

Not long ago, Upamecano was playing on the streets of hometown Évreux in Normandy, and it's there that the three-time France international developed his love for football, helped along the way by his parents, four sisters, younger brother and friends.

Watch: Upamecano's French football upbringing

"It was clear to my parents early on that I wanted to be a footballer," Upamecano told Fussball & Familie. "In the youth teams you also have a lot of frustrating moments, but when I came home disappointed, my parents said 'Cheer up! Come on, keep going!' They built me ​​up. With four women by my side, it was a bit difficult, it still is today. In my childhood, however, I spent most of the time outside and in the cages playing with the friends in my neighbourhood.

"There was no referee, there were always tough challenges. But we didn't need a referee either. The rules were clear and everyone obeyed them. We fought for each other. You learned, above all, to not let your teammates down. Even bloody knees were no excuse to let your team down. I had to learn how to win and how to lose. And it was about supporting your teammates. Those were very important lessons. The team was above everything, and giving up was not an option.

"It was difficult enough for mom to get me home at all. (laughs) She'd call: 'Dayot, come' now! It's over for today!' I'd reply, 'No, no, five more minutes, please. I'll be right there.' At home, I first had to take care of myself. A little ointment on it or a plaster to stop a bleeding wound. My knees are still marked from that time…"

It's in those games with friends where Upamecano discovered which areas of football he enjoyed the most. For him, scoring goals was not the be-all and end-all. Stopping others from scoring was his true calling.

Upamecano joined Valenciennes' youth team when he was 15 and told coaches "You can play me anywhere, just not in goal" and over time, the forming of one of European football's most talented centre-backs began. Starting in midfield - where he developed the technical ability on the ball that we see today - Upamecano was moved back into defence as he grew.

Playing football came naturally to him, but something which required more thought was communicating on the pitch, mainly due to a stutter that Upamecano had as a child.

Dayot Upamecano (c.) has become a leader for RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga. - DFL/Getty Images/Lars Baron

"That wasn't nice," Upamecano said when asked about his speech impediment. "It was a difficult time. Some classmates didn't treat me particularly well and annoyed me. That's why I spoke so little at the time and tried not to let them get to close to me. But on the contrary, it's strengthened and shaped me, not hurt me. I said to myself: 'I can do other things better.'

"I never had a problem with the language [while playing football]. Even back then, I gave instructions to my teammates or motivated myself. I was a different person on the pitch, I was radiant and played with a broad chest. But if the game was over earlier, it turned back immediately. Then the stutter came back.

"Between 10 and 13, I went there [to see a speech therapist] regularly. That helped me and also strengthened my self-confidence off the pitch."

Watch: Why Upamecano is the perfect signing for Bayern Munich

Upamecano's family values married with his conviction have helped him become one of Europe's most coveted defenders under the age of 25. From this summer on, he will be part of a new family - the most successful footballing family in Germany - at the Allianz Arena in Munich. But until then, his mind is only in one place.

"At the moment, my thoughts are more about my career. I‘m concentrating on my game, my club RB Leipzig and our goals."