Zachary Brault-Guillard: The Humble Lyon Product With the Heart of a Lion

Back in March, when Canada Soccer was in Vancouver for the week leading up to their crucial Nations League qualifier against French Guiana, we had the chance to interview a couple of players, including young starlets Jonathan David and Ballou Tabla (Check out our piece on Tabla here.). The third player we got to interview was Zachary Brault-Guillard, a young and talented right back currently with the Montreal Impact in MLS, on loan from French giants Olympique de Lyon. Despite his immense talent, he has become one of the most forgotten commits of the recent Canadian Men’s National Team era, with names such as Alphonso Davies, Ballou Tabla, Stephen Eustaquio and Alessandro Busti the names being bandied about when people talk about Canada’s future. But, despite flying under the radar for Canada, he is a young player on the rise who already appears to be a staple of John Herdman’s backline. Here is a look at the Lyon product primed to make bursting runs up the flank as Canada marches on this Gold Cup and towards the 2022 World Cup qualifiers.

While much has been made of the proficiency Canada’s Men’s National Team now holds in attack, the defensive side of things has been a lot murkier, as they lack some of the star talent that they currently employ up front. While the goals may end up getting all the glory at the end of the day, the recent tournament success of teams like France and Germany have proven that defence can be the catalyst behind which teams can find success offensively and in the wing column in the long run.

So when it was announced that Zachary Brault-Guillard, a young full back plying his trade in the prestigious ranks of French giants Lyon, was going to pledge his future to the country that he called home before moving to France at 7-years-old, it was big news for a nation starved for talent on the backline.

But, despite occupying what has traditionally a defensive position over the years, he loves to get up the pitch and get involved in the attack.

“I’m a player who loves to go forward” Brault-Guillard said when speaking to us back in March. “I’m pretty good on the defensive side of things, but I love to participate in the attacking play. Sometimes, I end up going too far forward and they remind me to push back on the field, but it’s because I love to add that offensive touch to my game”

Which is good news for Canadian fans, as he comes from what is a new mould of full backs, in which they are expected to provide as much going forward as tracking back in their new roles. So, when asked about some role models on the pitch, Brault-Guillard did not disappoint as he cited some of the players who he admired growing up.

“Like any other kid my age, I idolized Lionel Messi” Brault-Guillard replied. “ But, he is obviously not at my position, so to model my game I looked at legends like Cafu, as well as younger guys like Dani Alves and Marcelo.”

But, having grown up in France since a young age, another player that every young full back in the country knew was Bacary Sagna, who has picked up 65 caps for the French National Team and has played in Ligue 1 in France, Serie A in Italy, as well as in England with Premier League giants Arsenal and Manchester City, before eventually making a move to Montreal last fall. So with Brault-Guillard making his loan move Montreal this winter, it was no surprise to hear that he had made a good connection with Sagna since coming over.

“He has become my mentor here” Brault Guilard said of Sagna. “He teaches me a lot everyday about football, as well as life in general. He teaches me a lot about the right back position, giving me tips about my positioning, better decision-making and analyzing the game. He has become like an uncle for me”

ZBG, as he is sometimes called, has adapted Montreal nicely in other aspects as well. For someone coming to MLS having spent so long in France, Montreal is a great landing spot, as the city and club has shown to be very accommodating of French-speaking players, giving them a leg up on big French talent looking to come to MLS.

Brault-Guillard speaks very highly of the Montreal staff, as they have helped him adjust quickly as he makes his first foray into the professional game after having played at the youth level for Lyon.

“It’s different to (think of football) as going to work” Brault-Guillard said of playing pro for the first time. “ But, at least on the field, it’s similar to Lyon as we’re trying to build a possession-based style and we try to play nice football, so I’m not too lost on that front. It’s been good to get my feet under me with some matches to start the season, and there’s a lot to look forward to with the season being long as it is. It gives us a chance to continue on our path and aim for the playoffs, and once we get there we believe that we can win the title.

So for Brault-Guillard, his biggest adjustment has mostly been cultural, as the MLS is a pretty unique in terms of the off-field challenges it presents, including travel. That is why many players who come to MLS, expected to dominate based on what is supposed to be inferior talent, can be surprised as the talent level has risen the last few years, as well as having to deal with culture shock and having to travel long distances commercially, something rarely done in Europe.Brault-Guillard in action against French Guyana

Not only that, the different climates each city presents can be a surprise, as you can go from winter to summer on one road trip.

“You get used to that pretty quick” Brault-Guillard told us of those kind of adjustments. “ Luckily for me, I always had to travel when I got called up for Canada, be it to come play with the youth teams or now with the main team, so that part of MLS has not been too much of a shock for me”

“What can be surprising is how you can have the beach weather of San Jose, the humidity of Houston and the cold here in Montreal all on one trip.” He continued “Which means you have to be prepared to make those kinds of adjustments when you head out to play games away from home. It’s been a great lesson to learn as I adjust to becoming a professional”

So while off the pitch he has been adjusting to the rigors of MLS, he has a calmness on the pitch beyond his years, which he credits to Lyon’s system, which he speaks very fondly of.

“While I never got a chance to appear with the first team on the pitch or as a substitute, I got to train a lot with them” Brault-Guillard reminisced of his time in Lyon. “They taught me a lot about the European game, which includes possession, playing in tight spaces and developing your technique, which was a huge plus for me.”

But, despite having a fondness for Lyon, he has enjoyed his experience in Montreal and would be open to continue it beyond this season.

“Obviously I don’t know what will happen next year” Brault-Guillard reiterated. “We’ll have to talk with Montreal when the season ends to see what the plan is for the future, but for now it’s been great, and I have a great relationship with Montreal”.

“I’m trying to prove what I can bring to the pitch, both in terms of my play and also showing a strong professional mentality” He continued. “All I can do for now is to show that I can play well at right back, and after that, you never know in football. I might end up back at Lyon, I could end up staying in Montreal or I could end up anywhere else. So for now, I don’t worry too much about that and I try to concentrate on keeping a good standard with Montreal”

So for Brault-Guillard, who is continuing to grow and aspire to do great things in football, he has a great head on his shoulders, has evidenced by how he speaks of his mother when he talks about how she was a key mentor for him growing up.

“My mother was very important for me” Brault-Guillard said of her off the field influence. “ She has helped me immensely in life and she will always remain someone important for me”.

So look for the young full back to impress, as he continues to try and help Canada play attractive football. He should be a key player the rest of this Gold Cup and in upcoming events such as the Nations League and World Cup Qualifying, as well as continue to help Montreal’s playoff push. The sky’s the limit for his professional career, so make sure to keep an eye on him in the years to come!

For those of you looking to practice your French, here is the transcribed version of our interview:

Comment ça a été ce camp pour toi, pour les les quelques jours que vous êtes ici?

“Ca s’est très bien passé, on a bien travaillé tactiquement, physiquement, on c’est bien préparé pour ce match contre French Guinea. C’est une bonne équipe et il faudra faire un bon match parce que c’est vraiment important pour nous pour la qualification pour la Gold Cup et aussi pour notre classement” (de la Nations League)

Tu as eu de la chance de jouer quelques années à Lyon, comment est-ce que ton expérience là-bas t’a formé? Est ce que tu as eu la chance de pratiquer avec la première équipe?

Aux entraînements, oui, mais pas dans des matchs, je n’ai pas côtoyé de banc ni de matchs avec eux, mais, j’ai fait pas mal d’entraînements avec eux. Donc, ça m’a apporté un plus du tout ce qui est vision du jeu un peu plus européenne, avec plus de possession de balle, plus de jeu dans les petits espaces technique et tout ça. Donc, ça a été un plus pour moi.

Maintenant tu est à Montréal, en prêt de Lyon, comment est que Bacary Sagna, une légende de la sélection Francais, t’a influencé depuis ton arrivée?

Oui, pour moi c’est un peu mon mentor ici, il m’apprends beaucoup que ca soi au quotidien, sur la vie en général et sur le football surtout. En tant qu’arrière droit, mon poste, (il me conseil) sur mon placement, sur ce que je dois faire, si je dois sortir ou ne pas sortir sur certain temps, analyser le jeu sur pleins de choses. Franchement Bacary est juste top avec moi, il est devenu un peu comme un tonton pour moi. Franchement, tout va bien avec lui.

A part de Bacary, est-ce qu’il y a d’autres footballeurs ou peut-être des gens hors du jeu qui ont eu une influence sur toi, ta carrière et puis ton style de jeu?

D’ailleurs, il y a ma mère déjà qui a été vraiment important pour moi et qui va être toujours important pour moi, après cela j’ai des idoles comme tout autre jeune comme se soit Lionel Messi, mais il n’est pas à mon poste, alors après à mon poste c’était plutôt Dani Alves et Marcelo a l’heure actuelle, sinon à l’époque il y avait Cafu. Il y en a tellement des des grandes légendes alors après tout (le reste) dépens.

Comment est-ce que tu as trouvé l’expérience à Montréal jusqu’à date? Comment est ce que te sens comparé à Lyon?

Ce n’est pas pareil, il y a une grosse touche française à Montréal vu le staff et tout ça qu’on a, mais c’est différent aller travailler. Sur le terrain, ça se rapproche pas mal a Lyon donc je ne me vois pas perdu parce qu’on essaie de le faire un fond de jeu sur sur de la possession et on essaye de produire du beau jeu.  Ca se ressent sur les performances derrière moi, et la saison elle est longue. C’est a nous de continuer sur notre lancée et viser les playoffs, et pourquoi pas viser le titre?

Comparé à la France, ce qui est un pays très petit (comparé au Canada), puis tu viens ici et c’est beaucoup de vols, par exemple tu dois faire un vol juste pour aller à Toronto, l’équipe la plus proche à votre équipe, comment tu t’adaptes à cela en plus que la différence de culture?

C’est différent qu’en France, mais en fait j’ai beaucoup voyagé avec la sélection canadienne, que ça soit avec les jeunes ou que ca soit avec les “A”, parce que je vivais en Europe et je faisais pas mal de voyage pour rejoindre la sélection lors de mes convocations. Donc, je me suis habitués assez vite aux différents climats qu’il y a, que ça soit on peut passer de San Jose à Houston inverse comme retourner à Montréal, les climats, ils sont très variés (sur ce continent). Donc il faut se préparer puis c’est c’est dans l’apprentissage de devenir un footballeur.

Jouant à l’arrière droit, c’est quoi ton style de jeu? Tu te sens confortable allant plutôt vers les phases offensives ou est ce que te crois plutôt un joueur défensif?

Je suis un joueur plus portée sur l’avant, après je suis pas mal aussi défensivement mais c’est vrai que j’aime bien participer au jeu de l’avant. Des fois je monte trop haut et il faut qu’on me rappelle sur le terrain mais j’aime bien porter une touche offensive a mon jeu.

Après cette année à Montréal, vous avez un contrat à Lyon, quelles sont vos ambitions après cette saison avec Montréal, qu’est-ce que vous avez envisager pour ton futur?

Je ne sais pas encore, après on va discuter avec Montréal si ils veulent me garder pour le futur ou quoi que ce soit, mais je sais que pour le moment on est très bien, on a une très bonne entente entre Montréal et moi. Après cela, c’est à moi de prouver mes qualités, il est après moi de prouver ici à Montréal que j’ai la mentalité pour pour le futur (comme professionnel) et que je suis capable de remplir mes fonctions attendus en tant qu’arrière droit. Après, on sait pas ce qui peut se passer dans le football, mais tout peut arriver, je peux retourner à Lyon comme je peux rester ici à Montréal ou même partir ailleurs. Donc, pour le moment, je ne me prends pas la tête et je suis avec Montréal et concentrer sur ca est plus important

Comment tu te sens pour demain? Tu te sens prêt?

C’est bien, l’équipe se sent bien, on a bien bossé tout le long de la semaine et demain on sera prêt pour un rendez-vous devant tous les fans et devant tous les Canadiens, ce qui sera très important.

Est ce que tu est excité de voir la foule à Vancouver pour la première fois,est-ce que tes coéquipiers ils ont en parler?

On est tous excités, on est à la maison, il faut faire un résultat. Il y aura du monde, alors il faut produire un beau football devant les spectateurs et nos chères compatriotes. Donc, c’est important pour nous de bien préparer ce match, déjà ce soir ca commence et on va bien préparer aussi demain avant de commencer sur le terrain et de montrer ce que l’on a travaillé durant cette semaine afin de revenir avec la victoire.

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