Julien Serrano: Livingston full-back on Monaco, Mbappe & Martindale

By Thomas DuncanBBC Scotland
Julien Serrano goes up against PSG's Marco Veratti in 2018
Julien Serrano goes up against PSG's Marco Veratti in 2018

On his days off from training in Monaco, Julien Serrano was free to amble around the glittering streets of Monte Carlo.

He and his girlfriend could take in the eye-catching super yachts bobbing in the grand port, take a leisurely lunch in the sun or have a flutter in Casino de Monte-Carlo.

At work, he trained with Kylian Mbappe, Cesc Fabregas, Radamel Falcao, and Fabinho as coach Leonardo Jardim watched on in the shadow of the cliff-face that looms over La Turbie, Monaco's idyllically-situated training ground.

Now, the 23-year-old Frenchman can't even enjoy the shopping centres and roundabouts of Livingston due to Covid-19, as he scraps for points at the Tony Macaroni Arena. But, despite this rather cruel comparison, Serrano is relishing the challenge.

"I need to play," he explains. "I need to have a full season, because I played so few games for years. I need to begin my career, because I'm young and want to progress.

"Scotland is different - the weather firstly. It's a very good country but with Covid we can't go out when we want. In my first two months, we went to Edinburgh, Glasgow, and the Highlands were beautiful."

Serrano was born in Aix-en-Provence, a stunning city in the south-west of France, but grew up in the small town of Mallemort 45 minutes' drive further north.

His family loved sport, but football came most naturally. At 13, he moved to an academy in Aix-en-Provence, where he would go to school and train during the week, and play at the weekend.

At 15, Monaco came calling, and he packed his bags for the principality while leaving his family in Provence. Fortunately for a young Serrano, he was well-used to life away from home, and the potential reward of training at one of France's most prestigious academies was clear.

In 2016, he was part of the side which won the Coupe de Gambardella, a prestigious under-19 cup competition between France's elite clubs, alongside Mbappe.

"He was a good player then, and a brilliant player now," Serrano says with a grin, having just watched his old team-mate take Barcelona apart in the last 16 of the Champions League.

"I don't speak to him anymore, he is on another road from me. If I saw him in a game, we would speak no problem."

So who was faster back then? "Him! It's better to learn to defend against him, it's very good for taking [your game] up a level."

Monaco was a good place to be when Serrano joined, and it wasn't just the Mbappe effect. Jardim led the team to the Ligue 1 title in 2016-17, as well as the semi-finals of the Champions League.

Serrano did not play often, but learned a lot from those around him. Training with Fabinho, Bernardo Silva and Benjamin Mendy is bound to rub off.

"When I started in Monaco they were a big team. Everyone helped me to adapt to the first-team - Falcao the most. He was a good player, and he spoke to me a lot about my positioning, and my crossing, the small details. He was brilliant in the box."

After several players, then coach Jardim, left Thierry Henry arrived in 2018 for an ill-fated spell in Monaco. He gave Serrano his Champions League debut off the bench in a 2-0 defeat by Borussia Dortmund. Now the man tasked with getting the best from Serrano is David Martindale.

He had barely heard of Livingston before his agent told them of their interest in a loan deal last summer, but Serrano is enjoying his time in West Lothian, and the move is testament to Martindale's own breadth of contacts in the game.

Serrano (far right) won the Coupe de Gambardella with Mbappe in 2016
Serrano (far right) won the Coupe de Gambardella with Mbappe in 2016

Despite struggling to understand his incredibly vocal manager at first - "it's Scottish, not English" - Serrano was a key part of the 14-game unbeaten run which kick-started the Martindale era.

"I enjoy working with him," Serrano says. "He wants perfection, and I like that.

"He always speaks to me about the small details. I like that he tells me [what he wants], rather than say nothing and I don't know what he thinks. When he speaks with me I know what to do, it's better."

While there is far more to Livingston than meets the eye, hard work is the fundamental pillar. Even coming from an environment like Monaco, Serrano has been taken aback by the level of commitment.

"Here we work very hard compared to France, from the gym to the training," he says. "We have a good intensity in training, and we need that for the games.

"There is more contact, more duels. That's the biggest point, the intensity. On the pitch everyone works very hard to get a result. On the pitch is one thing, in the changing room it's another..."

Serrano is said to enjoy a laugh off the pitch, and is prone to the odd random outburst. He giggles as he talks about the fun the squad has together, another key element of their success.

Contracted to Monaco until the summer of 2022, he could yet return this summer with a medal as Sunday's League Cup final with St Johnstone at Hampden looms.

So has swapping the glamour of Monte Carlo for Livingston put him off Scotland? Far from it.

"If I have a good opportunity to sign here [Scotland] again, why not?"

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