After moving from Tonno Callipo Calabria Vibo Valentia to Allianz Milano this summer, France middle blocker Barthélémy Chinenyeze is beginning his third year in Italy's Lega Pallavolo SuperLega Credem Banca. A member of the French national team who won gold at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, he spoke to the French Volleyball Federation about how he aims to raise his profile in the top club league in the world.

What was the beginning of the season in Italy like for you?

Good! Our start in the league hasn’t been bad. It is neither exceptional nor bad. We have played against some big teams, so it hasn’t been easy. But we will soon play matches that we will need to win to do well this season. We are working hard and I think we are ready.

It is true that you have had some challenging matches to play, including against Lube, Perugia and Piacenza...

And Monza too, who have started the season well. We have played against four big teams. Vibo Valentia were arguably a little below the others, but they are still a good team. We did well, which is encouraging for the next stages of the competition.

Is the Italian league even tougher this season?

Absolutely! It gets tougher every year. The league is more and more competitive, all the teams recruit top players, international players. There is less and less of a difference between the top and the bottom teams.

On a personal level, what was the beginning of the season like for you?

I started really well with an MVP award in the first match. Then there were two matches when I was not quite as good, but I continue to work hard. We train a lot, we work a lot. During matches, I need to be at my best. My goal is to continue building on this summer’s success. Often, it’s a little difficult when you have played all summer. There is always a period of time when your level of play decreases. But the goal is to make sure it doesn’t decrease too much, keep working and stay focused.

How did joining your new club go? You joined Jean Patry there…

Jean plays in Milan, and I already knew some of the other players in the team. It went really well. We really have a fun team and I get on with everyone. With Jean it’s even easier.


Barthélémy Chinenyeze prepares to serve

It is your third year in Italy. Do you think you have become a different player as a result?

Yes, absolutely. It is true that it is already my third year here. I have progressed quite a bit. I think that people in Italy have got to know me, so it is also getting more difficult. Our playing style is analysed, other teams expect you to play in certain ways. And with the results we had with the French national team, everyone saw us play this summer, so people have higher expectations now. I think I have shown I have the level to play in Italy, however. Now I need to show I can be one of the best in my position in this championship.

Which areas of your game do you still hope to improve?

I am working on serves a lot this year. My attacking skills are good and I need to maintain my level in that area. When it comes to blocking, you can always improve. So the main areas I am focusing on are blocking and serving.

You wanted to go up a level by joining Milan after two seasons with Vibo Valentia. Have you felt a big difference between the two clubs?

There is a little more pressure in Milan, without it being too much. How things are organised is a little different, especially when we play in Milan. The other teams don’t look at you the same way. At Vibo Valentia, we were outsiders. Our opponents needed to win against us. At Milan, the other teams are a little more wary of us, believe it will be a little more difficult. Their approach is different. But it’s positive, it has done me good to change clubs. To come to Milan was the best option. And I will give everything I have this year and see where it takes me.

Milan are aiming to be in the top four or five in Italy. Is that also a goal for you?

As a team we need to qualify for the playoffs. We can do it, but it won’t be easy as the league is more competitive every year. To get into the top five we will have to play well against the big teams, and perform well against the weaker teams. I would like to do well too and play in the top four or five in the country. For that, I have to show myself, but my team also need to win. That is the best solution. It is up to me to be playing well every weekend.

The fans are back at matches in Italy…

It’s great, it has been such a long time that we have been playing in empty gyms. It was a little strange to start with, but even if capacity is limited to 65 or 75%, it is really nice.

Do you enjoy living in Milan?

Definitely. It’s probably the biggest city in the league, but it isn't too big either, which I like. Compared to Vibo, it’s a change and I like it. Vibo is very small. Milan is also very easy to get to, so I can travel to France when I have a couple of days off for example.

It sounds like you enjoy life in Italy…

Oh yes, it suits me perfectly. That’s why I’m still here. Life in Italy is similar to life in France, if you compare it to the way things are in countries like Russia or Poland.

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