It’s 22 April 2017 and the scores are level in the West London derby between Brentford and Queens Park Rangers. As the clock ticks past the half-hour mark, Jota’s corner passes through the crowd and falls at the feet of Yoann Barbet – one touch, crossbar, in. 1-0 Bees. It’s a moment the 24-year-old ranks amongst his best since crossing the Channel in June 2015.
So, Yoann, it’s been over two years since you made the switch from Bordeaux; how do you assess your first two seasons in a Brentford shirt?
During my first season at the Club we had three different gaffers. I didn’t feature for the first nine games following my arrival but then I played two matches in a row and was named Man of the Match for the second game. Just as I thought I was making some progress, Lee Carsley took over and didn’t want to play me. I started a lot of games during my time in France so to find myself on the bench was quite frustrating. However, ever since Dean Smith has come in I’ve played a lot more regularly. We’ve had good competition with four of us vying for two spots – and I’ve had to play at left-back sometimes – but I’m happy to fill in wherever required. I’ve played three games in a row now so I’m hoping to play well and keep my shirt.
… And if you had to name a highlight so far?
Either my long diagonal to assist Alan Judge’s goal against Preston North End or my strike against Queens Park Rangers. I know what that fixture means to the fans so to score the first goal of the game with my friends watching in the stands was a great feeling.
What’s Dean Smith like to work with?
He’s a clever Coach. He was a player himself so he’s got a good knowledge of what we like to do and what we don’t like to do. From a personal point of view, it’s great to receive advice from a former centre back. He’s very open and honest with the players and we can have a joke with him - I like working with Dean.
With yourself being more of a ball-playing centre-half and Andreas Bjelland and John Egan possessing great physical attributes there’s a nice balance to the backline, isn’t there?
I’m a centre-back that likes to play out from defence; I’m better technically than physically. Andreas and John are bigger and stronger whereas I’m more comfortable with the ball at my feet. Whatever the combination, we complement each other nicely.
Do you feel as though more responsibility now rests on your shoulders following Harlee Dean’s exit?
I’ve been used to playing with Harlee (Dean) for the past two seasons but now that he’s gone I’ll have to get used to playing with a different partner. Harlee’s a big loss but his departure gives me the opportunity to take on more of a leadership role and speak up more within the group. It’s up to me to become a leader and drive the team forward.
It looks as though Chris Mepham will make the step up from the B Team to provide competition for places at the heart of defence. How much do you know about Chris’ abilities?
I’ve played with Chris a few times; he’s a really good player with a similar mentality to Andreas and John. He’s got great physical qualities and loves a tackle – he’s got the British spirit. He’s a nice lad who works hard in training so if it’s him that takes that fourth centre-back slot then he fully deserves the opportunity.
Having begun your career in France where the B Team system is more widely adopted, what did you make of Brentford’s decision to introduce a B Team themselves?
I’m very impressed with the B Team here. It’s not like in France where only players under the age of 23 can feature. At Brentford we have some older heads in amongst the group to help the young lads with their development. I’m pleasantly surprised by the quality of the squad, they’ve won every game that they’ve played so far this season and that can only be good for the First Team, too. If there are injuries to First Team players we know that the B Team lads can step up and deliver; we’ve already seen that with Reece (Cole), Meps and Theo Archibald.
Finally, what are your ambitions for the months ahead, both personally and as a team?
Personally, my goal is to be in the XI every weekend. I’d like to feature regularly this season and show the fans that I deserve to play. From a team perspective, we want to finish as high up the table as possible. We’ve played well this season but we’ve only taken two points from five games – we need that first win to give us the confidence to kick on.
Ultimate 5-a-side team: Buffon; Sergio Ramos; Zidane, Modric; Ronaldo.
Describe yourself in 3 words: Friendly, funny, professional
If you weren’t a footballer what would you be? Physio
Best subject at school? French
Favourite food? Duck/foie gras
Best thing about living in London? There’s lots to do, lots to see and it’s not too far from home.
What is one item you could never live without? A chain that was given to me by a friend – I always keep it close.
Best way to spend a day off: Sightseeing, shopping, chilling at home and talking to friends on FaceTime.