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      Guéhi: Captaincy, England and bigger ambitions


      At just 22-years-old, Marc Guéhi has enjoyed a remarkably swift rise. Or has he? The defender doesn’t think so. Here, he explains why he’s not yet satisfied…

      This interview was originally published in the Crystal Palace v Aston Villa matchday programme.

      Marc Guéhi has played nearly 150 professional games, holds three England caps, and last season (21/22) became Crystal Palace’s youngest captain in 10 years. He is the youngest regular captain in the Premier League and has played at Wembley on numerous occasions.

      Presented with this list of achievements, the centre-back says without a shred of irony: “I would have preferred things to have gone a bit quicker.” He’s 22.

      Guéhi has enjoyed a nearperfect route in his still-green career: Academy football, progression through the England youth setup, senior substitute appearances, two highly successful loans, a Premier League move, international debut, wearing his club’s armband. On the checklist of accomplishments for professional players, Guéhi has used a lot of ink.

      But he’s not satisfied yet. “If I could write the path, it wouldn’t have looked like this,” he insists.

      “From the outside it’s easy to see it like that [that things have moved fast]. But when you’re in football and seeing different things and how other people are progressing or where other people are in their careers, you can get a bit carried away with your own journey and want it to look like someone else’s.

      “When you’re in this profession you want success and you want to do well, so maybe me wanting to do well would have looked different.”

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      There’s always the next game, next session and things ahead of me to focus on.

      Marc Guéhi

      This is perhaps a mark of the professional footballer; they’re seldom satisfied. Many, however, do view their careers as a series of successes: after the debut comes the first start, then the first goal, then it’s about moving up, and finally international football.

      Marc Guéhi doesn’t think like that. He says: “As much as you can you live in the present and deal with what’s in front of you… There’s always the next game, next session and things ahead of me to focus on.”

      Since 2018, England have reached the World Cup semi-finals and the European Championships final under Palace Academy graduate Gareth Southgate, and Guéhi has joined the senior squad.

      With three caps under his belt and an ever-growing Premier League reputation, he is back in the squad amidst a hugely talented defensive offering. After making his senior debut in March 2022 against Switzerland, the south Londoner returned to the squad for minutes against Italy and Hungary last June.

      It means that, back in the squad a year later – having also been called-up for, but not played in, this year's March international break – Guéhi has familiarity and confidence within the senior setup: two traits that take time to nurture.

      He explains: “You can get those feelings and those little bits of doubt, that it is another level – and it is, it’s a high level with the best players that have played for our country. But I’ve just been fortunate enough in my career that things have gone step by step and nothing’s really been too big of a leap for me.

      "That helps: things have naturally progressed in my career and that allowed me to feel as if this moment was the right time.

      “That first [England] camp they were just saying: ‘Be yourself.’ They said I was picked because of my abilities and the way I play, so nothing had to change when I got there from a game standpoint.”

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      I was picked because of my abilities and the way I play, so nothing had to change.

      Marc Guéhi

      If there’s a sense of assurance in Guéhi’s on-pitch character, it comes from a carefulness behind the scenes. He looked natural pulling on the armband for the first time, but then he should have: he’d prepared long in advance.

      “I refused it. I didn’t want it,” Guéhi says of the moment he was offered the captaincy for the first time. The answer catches us off guard.

      “I said no out of respect for the players there at the time, the senior lads. I didn’t feel like I could take it or that I should take it because there are players that have had bigger careers than mine, played football for longer than me and are senior members in the team.

      “When some people have been at the club for a lot longer than you it’s sometimes natural for them to take on the armband. Just because I arrived in that summer window it was almost foreign to me to think I could be up for that, that title and responsibility.

      “I had to go around making sure it was okay for me to have. I think that’s really important from my point of view because you never know how people will react when they see a younger lad take the captain’s armband. For some people it doesn’t mean too much and for some people it means a lot.

      “[Luka Milivojevic and James McArthur] said: ‘Take it, just take it.’ Literally just: ‘Take it, it will be good for you. Take it, take it.’... From then on it was great, speaking to other senior members as well… They knew it would be a good thing for my career.

      “When you wear the captain’s armband it represents many things: you’re representing your teammates, the club, the fans: when they see you wearing that it means a lot. For me I needed to make sure that I was okay with it or at least that I did it in a way that was respectful to every single person… To be wearing the armband for a club like Palace is an amazing feeling.”

      Guéhi says he tries not to change when he takes on the captaincy. “It’s a massive responsibility but one of the reasons I was up for it is I was myself,” he explains – and he isn’t wrong. From his steady confidence on- and off-pitch to his answers in interviews, Guéhi is in every way the archetypical leader.

      When he recalls his younger years it becomes clear to see why.

      “[My parents made] sure I had an education, that I went to school, that I did everything I needed to before football. That’s the most important because football is such a short career, so you have to do things after. That was why education was stressed at home.

      “I did okay [at school]. I wasn’t unbelievable but I wasn’t terrible! I agreed with my parents. Of course you want to play football and it was very, very enjoyable and still is – that’s the reason we get into football, because we love it – but I agreed. If my parents said ‘do this’ I’d go and do this. They were right in the end and still are.

      “They were always supportive from the get-go. From the age of seven or eight my dad would take me to training every single day from however far he was. So they were always supportive in both aspects, in education and football.

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      To play that many Premier League games, to get to the semi-final of the FA Cup, to captain the side, to have made my debut for England, that’s not normal.

      Marc Guéhi

      “When I’m down they’re down because of football; when I’m happy they’re happy, so they go through the same emotions I go through.”

      Guéhi lives with his parents and three younger sisters today, saying he thinks it’s best to be around them. “They’re all right,” he chuckles when we ask if he’s picked on as the only brother.

      The grounding influence of his family is clear: in his education, modesty, and tackling of life’s more trivial matters. Take, for example, his approach to social media: “I had social media before and have nothing against it – I think it’s great if you can use it in a positive way. I think it’s a fantastic platform. For me I stopped because I wasn’t productive around the house.

      “I’d just be on it scrolling, scrolling, scrolling… It’s just me – I need to be more productive with other stuff.”

      Did it work? “Yeah. I’m very productive, I would say, more so than I was before.”

      So while Guéhi shuns the endless scroll of Twitter and Instagram, he has time to reflect. His break-neck career has been too slow, he affirms, and his sights remain on the present, but a year at Crystal Palace has given him food for thought. Was 2021/22 a landmark personal season?

      “I feel like everyone else feels like that. I feel, I don’t know, it’s hard not to come across as if it’s a normal thing – because it’s not. Everything that’s happened isn’t. To play that many Premier League games, to captain the side, to have made my debut for England, that’s not normal, especially for someone who’s just made it to the Premier League. I understand and recognise and am eternally grateful for everything.”

      Now, nearly 150 professional games, three England caps, a remarkably early captaincy and one lengthy interview later, Marc Guéhi is finally ready to admit it: he’s not done badly in 22 years.