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Mar 21, 2013

Zouma dreaming of Champions League

Kurt Zouma hopes to fulfil "a mad dream" of playing for St Etienne in the Champions League, but admitted his sought-after talents may lead him to pastures new.

Zouma, 18, has had no shortage of big-name suitors since making his French top-flight debut aged 16. The centre-back, for whom Manchester City reportedly offered €12 million in January last year, has so far shunned all advances, and extended his contract with Les Verts to 2017 last month.

With his club sitting just two points off a Champions League-qualifying place, Zouma told L'Equipe he hopes to be part of a St Etienne side facing up to Europe's elite next season.

"The Champions League, it's a mad dream," he said. "By extending my contract, I said to myself that I was going to stay another year. Having said that, you don't know what might happen this summer. Those are the unpredictable things in football, but it's enriching."

Though he will almost certainly feature for France's Under-20 side in Thursday's friendly with Denmark, Zouma is unlikely to be on the pitch when his club return to domestic duty at Troyes a week on Saturday.

After a run of 22 eye-catching displays in his maiden top-flight season, a knee injury slowed the Lyon-born defender's upward trajectory, and further spells in the treatment room this campaign have allowed Loic Perrin and Moustapha Bayal-Sall to establish themselves as Christophe Galtier's first-choice centre-back pairing.

"At the start, you're a little annoyed. When I was on the bench, I said to myself: 'But why am I not playing?' When I played with the reserve team, I sulked a bit," Zouma admitted, adding that being taken off after 50 minutes of a rare start against Lorient in mid-December had - as Galtier himself put it recently - "allowed him to learn that, in this job, there are pleasant aspects and less pleasant ones".

"After the Lorient game, the coach grabbed me and said: 'What happened to you?' I said to myself: 'You complain when you don't play, and this is what happens when you do. You need to take a long hard look at yourself.'

"I needed to suffer. You can't say that I've never suffered, but people have always opened doors for me. I needed a tougher challenge. It did me good."

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