Le Teacher

Monday 7 January 2002

By Patrick Mascall (this feature first appeared in the Fulham v Manchester United matchday programme)

The man charged with helping players like Steed to gain a greater understanding of English is Philippe Patry, known affectionately around the training ground as "le teacher".

Fluent in five different languages Philippe is a master linguist who specialises in helping the new foreign players and their families cope with the cultural transition to English life. We asked him to explain why cultural integration and learning the language is so vital to the success of our foreign imports.

"I arrived with Jean, Christian and Roger because none of them spoke any English before they came here. Now I come back periodically to keep working with them and the new foreign players. It is so important to realise that the personal development of the player is a very important consideration when they move to a new country, and that it can have a major bearing on their football. Cultural integration is so important. Not just language but culture in a wide sense of the meaning. There are so many things that people new to this country have to get used to, and if they don't do it quickly it can create a depressing situation for them. In turn this can affect their football. So I work not just with the players but also with their families - the children, the wives, the companions, to help them settle down very quickly. The family is as important as the player himself - family happiness has a sizable impact on the all round integration of the player. If they know their family is settled they are more relaxed. If the player worries that his wife knows nobody, doesn't speak the language, cannot go to the shop, cannot call the doctor if their child is ill, it can be worrying.

Of course it is portrayed as being all glitter for players but it is a major step moving abroad. From one point of view they are stars. But from another they are out of their depth, and so they need support. That is why an intelligent way of dealing with their integration is needed. That doesn't mean doing everything for them. It means teaching them to become autonomous in a foreign environment very quickly. It is a very intensive educational process, but it is a practical one, not theoretical. It is real life. Obviously a major part of this integration is to become autonomous in the language in terms of conversation. It is like giving them the bricks to build a house very quickly.

I worked with John Collins when he first arrived at Monaco. He could only say "oui" and "non" when I first met him. Ten days later he was interviewed by a journalist and the journalist could not believe his ears. John didn't know everything but he had learnt to be autonomous in the short time I had spent with him.

Being in an environment where you can't communicate can be very intimidating. Take Steed. He is very shy in French - that is his personality, but he also has to cope with a place where everything is new where he can't be understood. Unless this is addressed it can be a major handicap which can affect you personally, and this is why we take it so seriously at Fulham.

Football is all about team spirit and banter between the players. Your team mates will give you a month or maybe two to settle in. But after that, they will sense, maybe subconsciously, that this new foreign player is making no effort. Maybe that player is trying, but he is very shy and has major problems in confidence with speaking the new language, and this can be a great burden. You see foreign players who do not integrate and nine out of ten times this is because they have not mastered the language of the country in which they play. Mastering the language is not the only key to settling well by any stretch, because obviously performance on the pitch is the priority. But if you can't communicate you are marginalised, which is terrible for everyone because your team mates will never know whether it is because you are not willing, or just because you are not able. Speaking the language is a detail that counts."