It’s fair to say Mathieu Baudry is not your average Football League central defender both in terms of his pedigree and playing style. Born and raised in Le Havre, France, Baudry has caught the eye over the last 18 months with his stylish performances in the heart of the back four where he believes passionately that his job is to build not just repel the opposition
“I don’t have in my head a view of a defender as someone that’s job is to destroy,” explains Baudry, “I’m not there to kick the ball in the stand, I’m part of the team. People say when you defend, the strikers are the first defenders and for me equally the defenders are the first attackers when you get the ball. If I can win the ball back and then find someone else with it in front of me then I will always try and do that. Sometimes what I do can be risky but I feel sometimes it’s about taking those risks and in the long term you help the team to go forwards.”
It’s a view of the game that he developed from the Le Havre Academy that has also produced the likes of Lassana Diarra, Paul Pogba and Charles N’Zogbia though Baudry admits there was something lacking in French football that he has found in the English game.
“I love the football and atmosphere in England. I took what I needed to from my time in France. In France it’s different. You get the ball so much more and we would keep the ball and pass it from left to right over and over, it got a bit boring but I still like to get on the ball and I think I try to find the middle ground between that way of doing it and defending the traditional way.
“I like Jamie Carragher and John Terry because they are brave and great defenders but I prefer Rio Ferdinand or David Luiz. I like players who can defend but also do something effectively and find a good pass and are comfortable on the ball. It’s about taking good risks. It can be a fine line, so I respect people who do that. Rio Ferdinand is a great example of it, he’s a great defender but is always looking for a pass rather than to kick it in the stand.
“When I was in France my teammates called me ‘Premier League’ as they thought I was a bit too aggressive in the tackle but I like this part of the game. In England teams are always looking to go forwards, there is no time where it slows down. The tempo is better. Sometimes though I don’t enjoy the games like we had at Bradford where it was just battle in the air. You have to roll your sleeves up and battle for the team.”
It’s not just on the field though where Baudry feels more at home in England. Off the field, the defender enjoys the lifestyle and the banter of the English dressing room where he is often on the receiving end from his teammates.
“It was easier for me to banter in France, I was the king of the banter there! English people are better at banter though, they like to come back a bit more and I’m enjoying it. I’m receiving it a fair bit but that’s cos I give it a lot so it is fair.
“I love it here in England with that side of things. In France when you finish training you just go home. Here it’s more involved. It’s that English culture I like where people will meet on a Sunday in the pub and things like that. I like to be involved with the lads and it’s great because it makes us closer.
“I’ve taught myself English too. When I first went to Bournemouth there was a good group of lads and it was really frustrating as I’d sit and watch them and be desperate to be involved but my English wasn’t good enough. In the end I would just go to the coffee shop with them and stay there. I couldn’t understand a word at the start but I could see they were good lads and I started improving so I could join in the banter. I still get some stick though as sometimes my English doesn’t make sense. I’m quite happy with it to be fair though. At the time it was a bit depressing, I remember going on a team bonding session and ended up just sitting there looking at them all and it was so frustrating.”
Despite being an Anglophile, Baudry admits he will be supporting France in next year’s World Cup and is fiercely patriotic but does see himself staying in England in the long- term now he has laid foundations in the country.
“I’m proud to be French because of my family and what they gave to me. I will never say I’m English and when I watch my national team I’m still 100 per cent behind them. But, I do feel like I could have been English. I feel like the mentality and the way of life here suits me with the socialising and people coming together. I’m really enjoying life here, more maybe than in France.
“When I came to England it was a bad time for me in France, I was very low and coming here rejuvenated me. Now I have my English girlfriend Jess too she makes me watch all the English rubbish on TV so I feel adopted here! I will probably end up living in England I think.
“England is more open to people and more sociable. There’s less people taking themselves too seriously. When I lived in France, I didn’t understand why English people said French people were arrogant but now I see. When I go back to France I see people or if French players come on trial here you see the different mentality and especially footballers and how people take themselves too seriously.”
Despite already feeling at home in the UK, Baudry has been joined by two fellow Frenchmen in the form of Romain Vincelot and Yohann Lasimant over the last 12 months. Nonetheless, Mathieu values their personalities over their nationality.
“I’ve been on my own in England for a while now, never with a French guy and I learnt my life here. I don’t see people as French or English, I like Romain and Yohann because they are good people not because they are French. With Romain sometimes we even forget and talk to each other in English.”
For Mathieu now the aim is simple: to get Orient to the Championship. After being released from Bournemouth, Baudry set himself a target and is sticking to it.
“When Bournemouth let me go, I went with a few of the lads there to Marbella. We were sat down having a beer and some banter and I said to them: “Lads, in two years I will be playing in the Championship.”
They all laughed at me but I believe in myself as I work hard. We’re in this position with Orient as we have a great squad nobody really fancies us but we are going to give our all and work hard to get us there. We want to do something special in the history of this club and live in people’s memories.”