Interview : Chelsea Surpris MFCTG

This interview was recorded on June 19th 2020, and was initially published in French on our friends Culture Soccer’s website.

Lucas Gibert : My first question will be : why Montauban, and how ?
Chelsea Surpris : Montauban kind of chose me through my head coach from the Haitian national team. But I don’t say that in the sense that the club recruited me. I was presented the opportunity to come here, to build a career playing soccer. I knew nothing about Montauban, I didn’t even know where it was on the map. I just knew it was in France and… Okay, awesome !

LG : It’s basically the Texas of France.
CS : Yeah ! It’s an opportunity to pursue my dream of playing overseas and I said yes.

LG : And did you initially have a preference when it comes to the country to play overseas ?
CS : Not really, I knew some clubs in France like PSG, Lyon, Montpellier, Bordeaux, just to name some of the tops. I followed some of those but I didn’t really have a preference. I don’t think so.

LG : And did you have other opportunities ? Or was it « Montauban and only Montauban ? »
CS : It was only Montauban.

LG : Now that you’re here, what are your plans as a player, but also what are your plans as a person ?
CS : As a player, I want to understand and fully integrate in the culture of France, playing soccer. I also want to continue to grow, looking forward to being out on the pitch with the team and getting that first season in with it. As a person, I think tackling my language barrier here would be my number one priority ! It’s been amazing being here so far, but as a person I am focused on learning French and understanding the culture, making friends groups within the club, on my team, things like that… Nothing too serious.

LG : Très bien ! I know a little bit about this now but let’s talk about your situation here. Are you getting paid by the club or is it totally amateur ?
CS : I don’t really know how to explain this or if I should explain it…

LG : Alright I’m out then ! No seriously, maybe my question wasn’t clear. I wanted to know if in this club with an amateur status (French’s Second Division is officially amateur despite having some pro clubs), you had to find a job next to soccer, you know, stuff like that.
CS : I will be working with the club if that kind of answers something. I live with my host family, but that’s pretty much it. I don’t think that I’d take on too many responsabilities, knowing that I can’t speak French fluently yet, so I don’t think it’d make total sense for me to go out and get a job and not being able to communicate with people. 

LG : And not a lot of people can speak English here so… Yeah it’d be quite tough ! And for how long have you signed here ? Did you sign a contract, a licence ? How does it work exactly ?
CS : I signed a licence and I’ll be playing for the club for a guaranteed full season. I don’t really have future plans made yet. I’m more focused on starting here and figuring out how to navigate in the club, and put my first step…

LG : …On this field behind us. And have you noticed some cultural differences between Texas and France. What are the things you like, and the things you don’t ? Don’t be shy this is no trap question, and you can say whatever you want to say. Especially with me because now you know how much I don’t like life here. Not saying this to discourage you of course, it’s just my personal opinion about my personal experience.
CS : There’s not many things that I don’t like about being here, and about the culture of France. I’ve learned that they’d be an abundance of wine, bread and cheese at all times.

LG : And this is the case in your host family ?
CS : Yeah pretty much ! And I live it well ! In the US, and I’m not saying this to say « you’re only drinking wine if you’re rich », not at all. But usually you’d have wine at a nicer dinner, it’s not as common as here. Wherever you go it’s like « do you want wine ? ». And there’s thousands of cheeses. All I knew was cheddar, Swiss and provolone before coming here. Now I feel like I know 50000. Besides the food, there’s so many things that are different that you just don’t know how to describe them. It’s a different country, different language, temperature… When I came here it was raining all the time and I was like « what did I sign up for ? » ! It never rains in Texas, and it’s always, always, hot.

LG : For Christmas you have a BBQ so…
CS : It might snow maybe once a year, I promise, it won’t snow more than that.

LG : It can snow in Texas ?
CS : Yes it can. I will clarify that, it can. But it’s bizarre and people are like « what’s that white stuff on the ground ? ». It’s snow.

LG : People are shooting at the sky yelling « what the hell is that ? », no ?
CS : I don’t think so.

LG : Haven’t you heard about those guys in Florida pulling out their guns and shooting at tornadoes?
CS : Oh gosh, I didn’t know…

LG : So, how and when did you start soccer ?
CS : I started soccer in the town I lived and grew up in, Crowley, TX, at the age of 6. I started because of my older brother who’s been playing soccer since he was 3. I was watching him for a couple of years trying to understand a little bit, and it looked fun to me. So at 6 I was begging my parents « please I want a tryout, I want to be on a team, I wanna play soccer ». I was skinny as a stick, a little skinny girl, sot hey were like « no you’re not gonna like soccer, let’s put her in dance », something that wouldn’t hurt me.

LG : So stereotypical!
CS : Yeah ! So they were like « no, no » and I was like « PLEASE ! » and they answered « okay, we’ll put you in a season and see how you do ». That’s pretty much how I started.

LG : And you liked soccer as a sport, or watching your brother play made you think « hey, this ain’t too bad, I want to do that » ?
CS : I started because of him but soccer fully took over my life. I was always a little bit better than the team I was in, and it probably took two years for me to completely stall my social life, everything. I didn’t wanna go to sleepovers, I didn’t wanna see my friends… I wanted to be outside banging a ball on the wall until my parents got sick of me.

LG : Did you like any team growing up ? Any female or male player you were looking after ? Which team are you rooting for ?
CS : This is gonna sound ironic and everybody always teases me for it but I grew up watching Chelsea, because my name is Chelsea (thank you for the precision). Don’t get mad at me ! 

LG : Just because of the name ?
CS : It started just because of the name. But I followed the team, and grew up watching John Terry, Florent Malouda, Ashley Cole, Didier Drogba, Nicolas Anelka. I can tell you than from the age of 9 or 10, I could predict the starting lineup each Saturday. It was crazy, a little young girl telling you the starting Chelsea lineup, especially in the US because I don’t believe that soccer is as popular as it is here. But I also like PSG, and my current favorite player is probably Mbappé…

CS : I love Mbappé but my favorite female player is Kristine Lilly and I had the honor of being coached by her in my freshman year in Texas, she was our volunteer assistant coach. She’s an amazing role model and was an amazing player.

LG : Now that you play for the Haitian national team, you’re uneligible to potentially play for the USWNT. I know the question could eventually sound bad, but you know it’s not my intention. You’ve started playing for Haiti during the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifiers in Houston. Were you motivated to start your national team career because of the proximity, because the competition took place in TX ?
CS : No. Well, both of my parents were born and shortly raised in Haiti, and had the opportunity to move to the US with their families. Haitian blood runs in my veins. I just happened to be born in the US. So, I still feel a part of my Haitian background. I always wanted to rejoin, and I say this because I went to a camp with Haiti before college. After college I wanted to be a part of the group and I reached them out. So yeah I didn’t join just for an international cap, I look forward to a long career with the Haitian national team.

Just after this tough question, getting the answer I wanted, we got interrupted by Montauban’s captain Charlotte Fromantin and people from the club.
To restart the interview and prepare the next question, we talked the French born Haitian MNT player Soni Mustivar who used to work (and play Call of Duty with me, but that’s another story) with our website (then named Soccer France) a few years ago. He’s still one of our readers, so… Hi Soni !

LG : You’re almost exclusively an English speaking person. How does the national team in Haiti deal with such a multicultural group, with many players coming from a lot of different cultures ?
CS : I’m not sure… It’s an interesting dynamic that I stepped into and I’d say it takes a lot of patience from both parties to understand and deal with the language barrier. I perfectly understand and have every intention to try to learn French. Here, I don’t have to impose English on a French person, and the same applies when I’m in Haiti. They comfortably speak Creole and French. It takes patience, Google Translate, things like that… It’s as simple as that in my opinion.

LG : What are your personal or collective goals with the Haitian NT ?
CS : For me it’s another opportunity to play soccer, to represent my family and my blood. It gives me a great exposure at the national level when I’m playing against the likes of the USA or Costa Rica in the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifiers, but also a great experience that I can bring to a team like Montauban. 

LG : Let’s talk about your player profile. By the way you’re listed at 5’6 but you’re definitely taller.
CS : I don’t know if I’m 5’6 or 5’7 but I believe it says 5’6 on the internet.

LG : Yeah it says 5’6.
CS : It might be a little off…

LG : So how would you define yourself as a player, and who would you compare yourself with, male or female ?
CS : I’d say that I’m a finesse player. I’m composed, and I’ve been accused of being too composed by some of the coaches in my younger days. I’d be dribbling with the ball and being the « last man », and if anything happens it’s a goal, I get past two people, dribbling, and I’m out while my coach is on the bench having a heart attack. I can play with both feet, and also more attacking roles in the midfield. 

LG : Can you tell me about your strengths, and what you’d like to improve ? Are you fast for instance, knowing that you had some track & field experience even if, as you told me itw as « just to stay in shape », etc.. ?
CS : I don’t consider myself fast because I know there’s faster, you know ? And I’m such a competitor that I couldn’t classify myself as fast…

LG : … Until you’re the fastest.
CS : Yeah… So my strengths are my technical abilities. I can move out of pressure. Of course if three people close you down you gotta be soccer smart and hit it off. I always wanted to be a better player in the air, but I don’t really believe in weaknesses, I know what I’m great at and I know what I wanna be better at. 

LG : That’s a great answer from my point of view, I don’t know how people would take that but…
CS : …I’m not saying that weakess is a negative word, I just prefer to say « I think I could be better at that », it’s just how I like to say it !

LG : I understand that. Everyday, I’m waking up thinking « how can I be better than yesterday ? » and everyone should think that way, in my opinion.
CS : That’s a positive mindset ! It’s better than thinking « I didn’t get this or that done ». You just look forward. Yesterday was yesterday, you can’t go backwards.

LG : And that’s how you succeed. If you take everything in a positive way, everything is gonna smile back to you. My next question, what is it like to play against players like the one you’ve played against during your first appearance against the USWNT ?
CS : I can’t say that I was as nervous as I was anticipating because I have been exposed to stars before. This was not my first sighting of players like Carly Lloyd. I was part of a pre-season in the NWSL with the Chicago Red Stars, and I met Alyssa Naeher, Julie Ertz, etc. Players that are literal godesses to some young girls who aspire to be in the USWNT. Personally it was a positive, and incredible experience. Box to box you’re running and playing against the best of the bests, back to back World champions. There’s no experience like it.

LG : The best player in the world is Christine Sinclair but we won’t debate this yet.
CS : Okay… (insert eye rolling emoji here ) No but the score was the score, and I have so much to move and grow from that game.

LG : I’m gonna go back to another question from earlier in the interview. How was it like to start representing Haiti while being at home in Texas in front of your friend or family ? You must have felt like it was « the best of both worlds ».
CS : For the first cap, to have some of my friends and my family in the stadium, it was the best of both worlds. And to wear the Haitian crest on my chest while battling the top team in the world… I mean it was incredible. I think it just worked that way like I said about life’s timing (something we talked about before the interview)… It just happend to be in Houston, five hours from my house… It’s crazy !

LG : And it’s crazy to consider how big the US are. You stay in Texas but you’re still five hours away from home.
CS : Yeah Texas is massive, everything is bigger in Texas.

LG : The roster here in Montauban is pretty young, and the club had its best season, being one point away from the second place. The club is improving (it seemed like it was at the time of the interview). Is going up to Division 1 the objective next season ?
CS : I believe that our goal is to get promoted to D1 this year. (I can confirm this being the volunteer PR guy at the club now, but it’d be a miracle if it happened after the start of this season). The roster fluctuates in age, younger being more so the case. But I’m excited because you don’t just set a D1 goal based on nothing. They had a draw against Bordeaux (French Cup) last season, and they could have finished higher (League). We have a quality squad.

LG : Next season is gonna be your first complete season with a senior team, is that right ?
CS : Yeah, I’ve never played for any club past college.

LG : Except for your pre-season with Chicago. What are your expectactions, and what do you think you’re able to bring to the team ?
CS : I bring the fact that alone I’ve been cultivated in the American system of soccer. We deeply believe in fitness, conditioning, physicality… Things like that. I also bring having some international experience with Haiti, being a collegiate in the US which is different from what it is here. We trained every single day, with two games per week, and that follows consistently from August to December. My experience being different is what I bring. My personal goal is to positively impact the club in any way, small level being impact the club for instance with this interview. On a big level it’s when I’m on the field and I can help my teammates and be the best player that can help us go to D1.

LG : That was the best way you could answer that question.
CS : And I meant it in every word.

LG : This is gonna be the last topic of this interview. You were appointed at 22 as an assistant coach for the University of Louisiana. Do you want to become a coach at some point ? Or were you especially motivated in joining Lance Key’s coaching staff ?
CS : Not every player is built to be a coach. Not that I was a bad or good coach but I personally don’t see myself becoming a coach after my career as a player. That’s how I feel now, who knows ? 

LG : But did things went well there ?
CS : It was like getting thrown into the fire except you weren’t burning. Once I got there, there was such an amazing community that helped me adjust, move in, and getting acclimated to the life in Lafayette. And I think, personally, the biggest change for me was that I wasn’t the player. When the game started I didn’t have my cleats on. In every other aspect I was helping the girls to understand that I was « a direct portrait of what you could be». Being around their age, helping them to also understand that I went through those expériences : weight sets at 6AM, conditioning Tuesdays, etc. As far as coaching and being with Lance, it was eye opening to see « the other side », the little details… If I had known some of those things as a player, I know I would have been better. I didn’t know coaches could think about these things. It was a really positive experience even though it was only during five months which felt extremely short, and I loved my whole stint there.

LG : And do you think that, now, in Montauban, it is gonna be a strength for you as a player to have that experience ?
CS : I realized how much coaches evaluate behavior. If you’re having an off day, if you’re frustrated during practice, those since come into a coach’s mind when chosing his/her starting XI. Now I can pick up my teammate because I know I need her for Sunday’s game, but right now she’s displaying « not wanting to be here » or whatever…

LG : To conclude this interview, here’s something I’ve always been doing : if you wanna add or say anything, now’s your time to speak ! It can be a topic we haven’t talked about, a message for someone or just something you wanna say out loud… Anything !
CS : I don’t think I have anything to say in particular…

LG : …Yeah you must be exhausted now !
CS : But I can never say thank you enough to certain people who have been there in every step, every important journey of mine, good and bad. I’d like to thank a thousand people and they know who they are : coaches, mentors, people that I text just for confidence and encouragement, people who have invested in me as a player and as a person, my parents, my family, my friends who I miss… Maybe one day I’ll see them (thankfully Chelsea went back to Texas some time after this interview) when Covid decides to stop ruining everybody’s life (still does). Thank you to all these people who’re very dear to my heart.  And thank you to you !

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