During my conversation with Brentford forward Yoane Wissa, one word keeps cropping up as we watch back some of his goals from last season: instinct.
It’s clear that the attacker believes that intuition played a part in several of his goals during the 2021/22 campaign.
“A big part of being a striker is having those instincts,” he says.
“When the chance comes to you, you have two seconds or less. It’s very rare to get ten seconds. Sometimes you just have to shoot. Maybe you have just one second. One split second.”
On whether such instinct can be learnt or taught, he responds: “No, I think it’s just in me. Because most of the time you have to be calm in front of the ‘keeper.
"When you get the time to shoot, you have to be calm. It's difficult.”
When you take a closer look at some of Yoane’s most important goals from last season - while acknowledging some incredible technique - it seems as though there wasn’t much thought involved before he put the ball in the back of the net. He just knew what to do in the moment.
His first Premier League goal came against Liverpool in a 3-3 draw at the Gtech Community Stadium, which he cheekily chipped over Reds goalkeeper Alisson, having been on the pitch for less than five minutes.
A week later, he came off the bench again, this time to fire home the winning goal in stoppage time against West Ham United, as Thomas Frank’s side recorded a 2-1 win at the London Stadium.
Later in the season, his goal against Chelsea was strikingly similar to the one he scored against the Hammers, as he lurked around the edge of the box and fired a first-time finish past Édouard Mendy.
But it’s Yoane’s second strike in the 7-0 Carabao Cup victory over Oldham Athletic last September that is perhaps the best example of the know-how he refers to.
As Saman Ghoddos crossed into the box, Yoane beat the offside trap and, with the ball slightly behind him, the only way he could reach it was with an acrobatic attempt towards goal.
He says the strike, which won the competition’s Goal of the Tournament award, was something he didn’t even know he was capable of.
“The ball was behind me so the only thing I could do to get to it was that. But I never expected to score a goal like this, honestly,” he explains.
He asks for the replay to be paused and points at his foot making contact with the ball on the laptop screen. “When I kicked it, I couldn’t see it,” he says. “I only saw it when it was in the back of the net.”
When, again, talking about instincts, Yoane highlights Taiwo Awoniyi’s winning goal for Nottingham Forest against West Ham earlier this month - a game that was part of a recent edition of Sky Sports’ Super Sunday.
That might have been a game that most footballers would have let pass them by, especially if they had played a part in a 4-0 win over Manchester United the evening before.
But it soon becomes clear that playing football is more than just a job for the DR Congo international, who grew up around a family obsessed with the sport.
"My father played football, my older brother played football, everyone loved football around me,” he says.
“This is why I think it was easier to play football because I would watch it all the time.
“I still watch it at home, all the time it's football. I love to watch football, maybe it’s too much football! I can spend all day watching it.
“On a Sunday, I’ll sleep and then, because of the kids, I’ll wake up at 7am or 8am. The games start at 12pm and then there’s a Premier League game, after is a French game, after is a Premier League game, and then after is another French game.
“Saturdays and Sundays are the best days! If it’s raining outside, I just stay at home with the kids and watch football.”
Yoane started playing football in France at the age of seven. Perhaps surprisingly, during his early years he was attempting to stop goals rather than score them.
“I actually started as a goalkeeper because the day before a game I played with my friend and, when I was in goal, he didn't score,” says Yoane.
“The ‘keeper wasn’t there and my friend told the coach I did well. I played there for maybe four years from when I was seven until 11.
"After that, I moved into midfield because my mother said that she didn’t want me to play there anymore because the ‘keeper doesn’t do much during the game!
“So, I told that to my head coach and I moved to play as a No.6 in midfield for maybe two years, then the next two years I played as a No.10 and a winger.
“And then I started scoring a lot of goals and then, when I went to Châteauroux, I started as a striker.”
He continues: “Honestly, I didn't expect to be a professional footballer. My father wanted me to study and one year he stopped me playing football altogether because I was bad in school.
“But then I went to Châteauroux and you study and do football. And I thought, ‘This is the time.’ I left my parents and I felt like I had something to do.
“I was still focused on school as well because my father kept pushing me on that, but I then became more focused on my football.”
Yoane’s focus wasn’t always on football; he took up rugby union during his time at school. He was forced to choose between the two sports at the age of 14 and admits that it was a difficult decision.
“I started playing rugby in college,” he recalls. “I was maybe 12 years old, I played for about four years. I was just playing at school but then I had to choose: rugby or football?
“Before I went to Châteauroux, my teacher wanted me to play rugby. But my father said, ‘No, I want him to go and play football’, and that's it.
“There are some similar skills in both sports, it’s about being light on your feet and the contact sometimes as well.
“I think it helped me manage my runs and athleticism as well. You use those things but it's a very different kind of sport. It's similar but it's obviously not the same.
“I think I enjoyed it as well because it was in school so I was with my friends, and we went to play in good competitions. It was very good.
“It was a very hard choice, but I think I made the right decision!”
Bees fans would undoubtedly agree. Yoane enjoyed a successful first season at the Gtech Community Stadium, scoring seven goals in 12 starts.
When I ask Yoane about how the move came about, he reveals that it was a transfer that could have happened a year earlier, after his former club Lorient’s promotion to Ligue 1 in the 2019/20 season.
“The first call was during COVID when it was lockdown,” he says. “I spoke with Thomas and Phil and it was very good.
“They wanted me to come but, for me, it wasn’t the best time because it was COVID and we had just got promoted.
"I wanted to come but I thought it would be difficult because the coach wanted me to stay. So, I extended my contract and told them that I wanted to move next year.
"Brentford came back in January but the coach said I couldn’t leave because we were fighting to stay in the league. But it was very close - I was very close to joining.
“But then the deal was easy to get done during the summer.” It was my first choice. Honestly, it’s the dream.
“As soon as I knew I was going to play football, I told myself that I had to play in the best division in the world - and everyone knows which one is the best league!”
Yoane’s feelings were probably confirmed after results like the exhilarating 3-3 draw with Liverpool and the 3-2 victory over their Merseyside rivals Everton in May.
The striker played a big part in our win against the Toffees, registering a goal and an assist at Goodison Park, but Yoane is still claiming that he got a brace that day, even though his first ‘goal’ was credited to Everton defender Seamus Coleman.
When I ask if he tried arguing that the strike that went down as an own goal was his, he exclaims: “Yes, of course, 100 per cent! I claimed that. Everyone came to me because they knew it was mine!”
There was some ambiguity as to whether Yoane attempted to find a team-mate in the box or go for goal himself, but he confirms that it was a shot.
Despite meaning to score from his first attempt, Yoane admits that he wasn’t going for goal when he did find the back of the net, as his clever flicked header found its way in at the far post.
“Most of the time when you flick it, it’s for the man at the back post. That’s what I was trying to do,” he says.
“Honestly, it was a very bad cross! And I was lucky with the header. I just wanted to say to everyone, ‘I scored today’.”
The atmosphere at Goodison that day was electric; one of the best we experienced during our first season in the Premier League.
A huge crowd welcomed the Toffees’ team bus with flares and fireworks (which were also used the night before outside the Brentford team hotel).
“It was an amazing atmosphere,” says Yoane. “I think it was the best atmosphere I’ve felt away from home.
“I didn't play against Newcastle, some of the guys told me that was amazing as well. But, for me, that was the best.
"They were fighting to stay up, so it was very important for them to win. You could feel the fans on the pitch.”
Yoane compares the atmosphere at Goodison to the scenes at the Gtech during Manchester United's visit to West London. He replaced team-mate and good friend Bryan Mbeumo during the second half of the 4-0 victory over the Red Devils and says it was a result that the players were stunned by after an incredible opening 45 minutes.
“I think since we’ve been in the Premier League, it’s obviously the best first half we’ve had. And Thomas just said keep working hard.
“I was sat next to Bryan and just reminded him: ‘It’s 4-0, it’s Manchester United, it’s 4-0.’ Everyone was just wondering what happened!”
Looking ahead, Yoane’s aim is simple.
“What do I want to do this season? Score some goals,” he says.
“And I just want to play. I want to give a headache to Thomas and make sure he can’t sleep at night!
“For the team, we want to be safe earlier than last year. That’s the main thing.”
Time will tell whether Yoane’s evaluative instincts are as sharp as the ones he uses when in front of goal.
This interview first appeared in our match programme. Printed locally using sustainable materials, each 100-page issue is available online and around Gtech Community Stadium for £4.
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