D.enis Bouanga is having a great time. In his 10 games in the MLS and CONCACAF Champions League, the 28-year-old has scored his 11 goals and his 4 assists. Even when he was on international duty in his father’s native Gabon, he engineered his way back to Los Angeles on the weekend and scored the winning goal against FC Dallas.
Buanga scores a goal athletic We sat down with him at LAFC’s Performance Center to find out what drives him. From congratulating his mother to learning to be unselfish and stealing Gareth Bale’s free-kick technique, we break down how his game as a pro has evolved.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and a translator has been used.
Who was your biggest inspiration as a child?
R9 (Ronaldo Nazario) in soccer. The way he accelerates, the way he dribbles. That’s what he’s known for — and the quality of his workmanship.
In my family, it was my father, who was a football player, and my brother, Didier. Football is also his passion, so my father pushed us to be successful. Soccer is what we used to play when we were little.
Playing with my father, my brother and playing with my brother (Le Mans FC) created my desire to play football and pursue a career.
You shared a photo of you and your mother on Instagram a few years ago, describing her as generous and courageous. What role has she played in your life?
She has been with me every step of my career. For raising her brother and me, I want her to be proud every time she scores. She raised me wholeheartedly. So I always want to thank her.
After scoring a goal, would you like to give her a congratulations?
Thank God first. Of course, I am also thinking of my mother. I told her I thought of her every time she scored, but I owe her my career to God. I am here to enjoy my career and play well because of him. I am so grateful to have God in my life.
Going back to the beginning of your career, I saw this video on Instagram in 2014. A video of dribbling past many players. You can see how Ronaldo was a big inspiration for you.
When I was a young player, all I wanted to do was dribble past people. That was my only goal. Here, I was playing with the Lorient youth team in a tournament, this match against EA Guingamp. I think he was 18 — about four months before signing a professional contract.
You were slimmer back then!
(smile) yes. When I joined my first professional club, Lorient, I was really skinny. I had to start exercising. Luckily I bulked up really easily and quickly.It made me stronger and a better player. Because of my physicality, I was able to dribble past players much easier.
So have you always been forward?
When I was younger, I wanted to be a striker, but I was a little too small and skinny. I can play any position now. I was a full-back and played as number 10 and number 9. With my age and experience, I feel I can play any position.
Gabon vs. Angola (AFCON Qualifier) – 17/11/2019
You play in Gabon with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. How was playing with him?
I am very proud to play with him. I always look forward to playing with him for my country. I hope that next time you play in Gabon, we will be selected so that we can play together.
It was the national team’s fifth goal in an AFCON qualifier. Scored a goal in combination with Aubameyang.
He’s really fast, so as soon as he has the ball, you know you have to run as fast as you can to catch up with him. It usually pays off.
I had to learn to add that part of the game. As a young player I was very individualistic, but now I understand that running without the ball creates space for myself and other players to score.
Did Aubameyang have a big influence on you?
It was an easy decision for Gabon because from a young age they always tried to make sure I was able to play for them. It was even easier when Aubameyang messaged me and talked about playing together. After each session he was doing a finishing iteration, which is important as it can be the difference in the game. That’s what I’ve been trying to do too.
Lorient vs. Lens (Coupe de la Ligue) – 22 August 2017
Let’s go back to club football. What’s the best goal you’ve ever scored?
It was for Lorient against Lens.
I knew you would say it! It’s unbelievable. Talk to me through it.
It was natural. I was not able to hit the free kick well, and the ball bounced back, so I had to prevent counterattacks. The best way to do that was to take a shot. And luckily I scored. It was a great moment.
He scored a similar goal last week in a 3-0 win over Austin FC. Is it natural to hit the ball with a volley?
That set-play routine was something I did in training, so I do it regularly. When the ball came out, I thought, ‘Okay, it’s time to do what I learned in training.
Saint-Etienne vs PSG – 28/11/2021
Back in France, the last club I played for was Saint-Etienne. There is a photo on Instagram of him standing next to his former teammate Zaidou Yusuf. Captain #NoRacismo pointing to my skin. What inspired you to do this demonstration?
I am always in favor of fighting racism. But this was after receiving racist messages from fans: I wanted to prove that the color of my skin doesn’t change the way I play, it doesn’t change who I am as a person.
I can imagine it was a rough time.
Yes, it was the day before the game. i was really angry. I really wanted to score so I could prove to people that I can help my team win, regardless of skin color.
You had a strong final season at Saint-Etienne – perhaps the strongest in the league up until this season with nine goals and six assists – but the club suffered relegation.the club lost 6-2 in two games against Paris Saint-Germain That season you scored two goals. what was it like?
As a team, we had some regrets that we could have done better in that game, but if you make mistakes around (Kylian) Mbappe, he pays the price.
Two games, two goals, one on the left and one on the right. Was playing with both feet always part of your game?
So when I was really young, I only used my right foot. Later, I was told to use my left leg as it helps if I can use both legs. I started developing my left arm when he was 10 or he was 12 and it’s now a big part of my game.
How is PSG seen in Ligue 1? Are they the sticks teams and players use to measure themselves?
In my opinion, they are still a strong team, although they are not the PSG they used to be. Every player is looking to play against them and beat them. (Lionel) Messi, Neymar and Mbappe are big stars, but when you play against them you forget the Ballon d’Or and World Cup medals.
Who is the best in your opinion?
Messi has won the Ballon d’Or seven times and it’s really hard to tell them apart. They are all great players.
LAFC vs FC Dallas – March 25, 2023
Speaking of the best, you’re building your best career with LAFC. How did the decision to leave France to join MLS come about?
The club and coach really wanted me. I wanted to go where I really wanted to go. I feel really good in this team. It’s my goal to score every time I’m on the pitch and when he scores once, twice or three like he did last weekend it gives me the confidence to score again next week.
How was it working with former LAFC teammate Gareth Bale? Did you learn a lot from him?
I talked to him a lot! He spoke so slowly that I could understand him (smile). He taught me many things I didn’t know. The time I spent with him was really precious and I was able to gain a lot of things that I never had before. He taught me to close shots (shoot close to the post) instead of opening my body and shooting toward the far post. I also learned his free-kick technique at practice once a week.
Let’s talk about this goal. This came right after you got off the plane from an international mission in Gabon, right?
It was a really long day because I spent the whole day on the plane. We landed in LA and went straight to the stadium. The coach wanted me to watch the game, but I asked him to play. He put me on the pitch and I scored. It was perfect – as it should have been.
Was it a cross?
(smile) Yes, it was a cross.
(Photo: Christopher Morris Corbis/Getty Images)