Fiorentina has developed a reputation as an academy that produces top-class wingers. Federico Bernardeschi, Federico Chiesa, and Niccolò Zanniolo are all contributing at top-notch clubs, and Riccardo Sottil surely looks like the next man up. The player who looks most ready to continue that legacy is current Primavera star Christian Koffi.
The 19-year-old Frenchman of Ivorian descent is in his second year in Florence, despite some serious interest from Liverpool, after growing up in AS Monaco’s prestigious academy. In 9 matches this year, he’s scored 3 goals and added an assist. He’s also worn the captain’s armband several times, indicating a certain amount of maturity that should stand him in good stead throughout his career.
While he’s yet to make a competitive appearance for the senior side (although he’s been called up several times), we think he’s one of the brightest prospects working under Emiliano Bigica at the moment. That’s why we were so excited to catch up with him recently. Here’s our conversation, lightly edited for clarity.
Viola Nation: How difficult was it to settle in at Fiorentina after spending your youth career at Monaco? What was hardest: the language barrier (although your Italian is pretty dang good after just a year), the different training methods, or just being away from family and friends?
Christian Koffi: Fortunately I had no problems moving to Florence. Since I was 13 I live far from home. As soon as I arrived, I started learning Italian with Professor Sussi, who helped me a lot.
VN: What attracted you to this Viola project originally? How does it compare to Monaco, which has a pretty well-regarded youth setup?
CK: I chose to come to Fiorentina with a lead, even though Monaco is an important team. Freitas convinced me with the project, here many players from the youth sector play in the first team. It is the right place.
VN: What’s your best role? Which players have influenced how you play the game? What’s your greatest strength on the pitch? What would you like to improve about your style of play?
CK: I can play both left and right, but I prefer the role of playmaker. My examples are Drogba and Neymar. My strength is the technique but I have to improve my realization phase.
VN: What are your goals for this year with the Primavera, with the senior side (we’re pretty sure you deserve at least a debut this year), and for yourself as a player? As one of the senior and most talented players in the youth side, what sort of leadership role do you take?
CK: My next goal is to pass the Coppa Italia round against Genoa. In my future I see myself playing in a great team.
VN: How has Emiliano Bigica helped you so far? Are there any other coaches or players who’ve really made a difference to you in Florence? Any other players who’ve really welcomed you and helped you feel at home? Any who you think are ready for the next step?
CK: Mister Bigica helped me a lot especially this year. He was able to exalt my qualities, [Mark] Gorgos helped and supported me a lot. I think Bobby [Duncan] is a good guy, who joined the team with the right attitude. In front of the goal he is infallible. I hope to see him in the first team soon.
VN: What does your average Tuesday look like? Walk us through your schedule: when do you wake up, train, study, and take your free time?
CK: In a normal Tuesday I usually wake up late in the morning, have breakfast then some physical exercise, call my family and then go to train. I often have dinner with my teammates in the evening.
VN: Florence is a very different place from Monaco, and we’re not going to ask you to choose a favorite, but what are your favorite things about the city?
CK: I really like Piazza della Repubblica in Florence, the view from Piazzale Michelangelo, the Badiani ice cream and my favorite restaurant is the Loggia. In this period I like sushi, in general also pasta with pesto.
VN: Time to turn the heat up. Who’s the best-dressed player on the team? Who’s the worst? Who’s got the best taste in music? And, of course, who isn’t allowed to DJ the dressing room music?
CK: The player who dresses best is me but also Bobby and Gorgos. The worst is [Marko] Hanuljak, [Samuele] Spalluto, [Alessandro] Bianco. The best in musical tastes is [Renato] Simic, the worst Gorgos.
Thanks, Christian! If you’re interested in keeping up with Christian, have a look at his Instagram profile. For more interviews, watch this space; we may have a certain Italian international striker whose name rhymes with Smilaria Smauro up next.