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Panzo on facing Neymar and learning from Fabregas since leaving Chelsea


Jonathan Panzo was ready for a challenge.

It’s exactly why, just 12 months after becoming a World Cup winner with England Under-17s, he opted to leave Chelsea behind and head to France.

And challenges don’t come much bigger than the one he faced on October 24, 2020 – trying to stop Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.

Panzo, 20, played the full 90 minutes for Dijon in an eye-opening 4-0 defeat at the Parc des Princes earlier this season.

Whilst many could have been disheartened by the result, he emerged with a clear sense of perspective and focus on what is required to make it to the very top.



Panzo was a World Cup winner with England Under-17s back in 2017
Panzo was a World Cup winner with England Under-17s back in 2017

“It was a great challenge,” he recalls. “It sets the level.

“That’s the kind of level I want to be playing at, but from my level to that level, there’s a big difference at the moment.

“It always make me want to work hard so I can look at those players and say, ‘that’s where I want to be’. It was great to experience playing against those kind of top players.”

It is not the first time Panzo has been exposed to the best in the world since his move to France.

During his first season at Monaco, Cesc Fabregas and Falcao were amongst team-mates in a team briefly managed by Arsenal icon Thierry Henry.

As a wide-eyed teenager, you could forgive him for being a bit star-struck when those he once played with on FIFA suddenly became team-mates after he ditched west London for the glitz and glamour of Monaco.



Panzo says taking on Kylian Mbappe and Neymar set the standard for the highest level
Panzo says taking on Kylian Mbappe and Neymar set the standard for the highest level

“It was crazy,” Panzo recalls.

“Obviously they’re legendary players, the players I grew up playing with on FIFA, so to be with them in training it was like ‘wow, I’m really here, I’m really playing with these players’.”

He was left a little surprised when, six months after his own move, Fabgreas touched down in the Principality from Chelsea and recognised him instantly.

But there was little time to watch in awe as Panzo instantly set about trying to soak up as much knowledge as possible from two of the best of the modern era.

As a centre-back, he turned to Falcao who was happy to oblige with taking him under his wing.

Fabregas, likewise, passed on a wealth of knowledge and insight from his glittering career.



Panzo was able to call on Cesc Fabregas and Falcao for advice whilst he was at Monaco

Panzo says: “Falcao, obviously him being a striker and me being a defender, he helped me a lot.

“Just telling me certain things which helped me in a footballing sense, giving me tips and things like that.

“Fabregas, he speaks English and he remembered me from Chelsea which was quite nice as well.

“He’s got so much knowledge in terms of on the ball and off the ball stuff, so both of them helped me a lot to be fair.

“You just use that to your advantage to try and take things into your own career,.

“You only had to look at them, the way they model themselves, to see they’re big role models.

“Both Fabregas and Falcao, with everything they’ve achieved in football, they’re still out there doing extra work on the pitch and in the gym.

“For a youngster, it just makes you more motivated and want to do more for yourself as well, seeing what they do which has set them apart.”



Panzo left Chelsea back in 2018 as he did not see a clear first-team pathway
Panzo left Chelsea back in 2018 as he did not see a clear first-team pathway

From training with Fabregas and Falcao to marking Neymar and Mbappe, those experiences are exactly why Panzo took the plunge and left London behind.

When he made the move, he was open about the fact he simply did not see a clear first-team path at Stamford Bridge.

“It was a brave decision, but I felt I just needed to get out of my comfort zone,” he reflects.

“It was a chance to see more of the world, see different cultures and a different style of playing the game.

“Obviously it was brave for me but I feel it was worth it. It showed me a lot of new things, it made me mature at a young age.”

After spending last season on loan at Belgian side Cercle Brugge, Panzo returned to France by signing a permanent deal with Dijon last summer.

The move has served him well, playing 14 Ligue 1 games so far this term, taking his tally of top flight games up to 33 and counting – a considerable number for a 20-year-old defender.



Panzo was linked with a return to England last summer but opted to join Dijon
Panzo was linked with a return to England last summer but opted to join Dijon

“At a young age it’s always good to get those games get that exposure to help you develop quicker,” he states.

“To learn the game and just bring that experience to your game. Wherever you go after those games, you’ve got that experience under your belt and as a youngster it’s good to have that.”

Three years on from their World Cup success, Panzo is one of seven members of that England Under-17s team to have spent time abroad as part of their development.

It is a cultural shift Panzo believes will serve England well.

“It’s always good to have a different challenge,” he explains. “And maybe clubs abroad are willing to play you maybe more than British clubs?

“Why not take that opportunity to go and do something you love? It might be out of your comfort zone but, for me, it was a risk I needed to take.”



Panzo has played plenty of games and continued to rack up experience in France
Panzo has played plenty of games and continued to rack up experience in France

Panzo was strongly linked with a number of Championship clubs before joining Dijon.

“Personally, I thought I wasn’t ready to come back to the UK,” he admits.

“I wanted to come back to the UK more as a professional than a youngster, so I thought I’d stay in France and use that stepping stone to pave the path for my career.”

Since World Cup glory at Under-17s level, Panzo has risen through the age group ranks and is now an Under-21 international with five caps to his name.

But, despite being tipped by many as a future England defender, he has gone largely under the radar for the majority of English fans.

So just what can they expect from Jonathan Panzo?



Panzo describes himself as a "modern defender" who enjoys being on the ball
Panzo describes himself as a “modern defender” who enjoys being on the ball

“I would describe myself as a modern defender,” he says.

“I’m a person who likes to carry the ball, make nice, neat passes and I’m passionate when I play as well.

“I like to defend but also like to be on the ball as well.”

Growing up at Chelsea, it is no surprise he grew up idolising John Terry, whilst he also cites Sergio Ramos as a major influence.

One day, he wants to emulate those greats and makes no secret of the desired end destination of his rarely travelled road.

“As I said before, hopefully it will lead back to the Premier League,” he declares. “That’s my end goal.

“I’m just working towards that. I don’t know when, but the right time will come.”

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