Umtiti: A leader at the earliest age

The year was 1996 when Samuel Umtiti's life took a 180 degree turn.

Alfonso Callejas

At two-years-old and acclimated to his birthplace of Yaounde, Cameroon, his family began packing to move to France just outside the heart of Lyon. After a few months in Villeurbanne, the family was finally settled in the Menival neighbourhood.

Umtiti soon began to find his true passion and now at the age of five, his school gave the go-ahead to his mother to allow the youngster to experience new things in his free time. Located between home and the school was the modest pitch of Menival FC and provided the backdrop for Umtiti's beginnings in the football world.

From the very moment he wore his first football boots, the now 22-year-old proved that he had the potential to go onto achieve success. "He was five-years-old and could already play in an 11-aside game without any problems," said former Medival FC president, Said Intidam.

Those same sentiments were shared by the current club president, Judi Bouzama, who claimed: "Very soon we saw a big difference between him and the others and he quickly became the leader of the team.

"He wasn't a player of Medival, he was instead worthy of bigger clubs like Olympique Lyonnais or Saint-Etienne."


Menival had given everything to Umtiti. Unfortunately for his friends in the local neighbourhood, it was soon time for the defender to arrive on the scene at Lyon.

By nine-years-old he was a small man but with very clear ideas, and the dream becoming a professional player began to take shape.

"It was impossible for him to continue playing for [Medival] because he had the strength and style of play to go to a bigger team," Bouzama added.


The timing of the move to Lyon would help further fulfil the aspirations of Umtiti, but at home the vision wasn't clear. Over-protection from his parents came to prominence and his mother soon became fearful for her child with so much going on in his life.

As a gesture of goodwill, former club Menival offered to take Samuel to training when his brother, Yannick, was unavailable in order for the dream to be kept alive.

In just one year he would become one of the greatest talents of the youth academy and although the first team was still too early to become part of, the goal of playing in front of the Stade Gerland crowd was clearly in sight.

But everything would soon change once again, as the injury of a team-mate allowed Umtiti to become a mainstay in the defence that would thus help mould and lead him to where he currently sits on the cusp of the Euro 2016 final and a move to Barça.

"He had a lot of talent and was a technically gifted player with great vision," his brother recalled.

Lyon may now be losing a born leader but they've helped Umtiti become the player he is today and they - along with Menival - will look on with a smile if he helps France win their third European Championship against Portugal on Sunday. 


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